The inauguration of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder today is historic because it’s only the second time someone has taken the oath for this job a third time. But Kinder is one of the leading candidates to replace Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, who is to retire in a few weeks. Questions are being raised about whether Governor Nixon will have the authority to appoint a replacement if Kinder is elected. Nixon has assured one and all that he has that authority. After all, he was the state’s top lawyer for 16 years and once during that time the situation came up. But years ago a judge said something to the effect that an opinion from the Attorney General is as valuable as an opinion from any other lawyer.
Here’s a history of the issue as we have dug it out. This is not to say some other diggers will find other instances, but these are the instances where this has been an issue and how it has been handled.
The first time a vacancy in the Lieutenant Governor’s position came up was in 1825 when Lieutenant Governor Benjamin Reeves resigned to help survey the Santa Fe Trail. The office remained vacant until Governor Frederick Bates died of pleurisy. With the vacancy in the number two position in state government, the duties of governor fell to Senate President Pro Tem Abraham J. Williams of Boone County. His only listed duty under those circumstances was to call a special election to pick a new Governor. John Miller was elected to replace Bates and Williams went back to his Senate job.
In 1855, Lieutenant Governor Wilson Brown died in office. The office remained vacant until Hancock Lee Jackson was elected in 1856 and took office in 1857.
Lt. Governor Thomas C. Reynolds fled the state at the start of the Civil War, along with Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, and established a rebel government in exile in 1861. A State Convention that had been called to consider whether Missouri should secede reconstituted itself and picked Hamilton Gamble as a wartime governor and Willard Hall of St. Joseph as Lieutenant Governor. Hall became governor when Gamble died and the office remained vacant until the next regular election.
In 1903, Lt. Gov. John Adams Lee resigned after admitting that he had carried bribe money to four members of the Senate as part of the Baking Powder Scandal. He was replaced by Senate President Pro Tem Thomas Rubey for the rest of his term. After the 1968 election of Thomas Eagleton, who defeated incumbent Edward V. Long in a primary election, Long resigned from the Senate on December 27 so Eagleton could be sworn in and gain a few positions on the seniority list. Governor Hearnes appointed William S. Morris of Kansas City, who had been elected in November, to finish Eagleton’s term. But the leader of the state senate, Earl Blackwell, refused to recognize Morris as the President of the Senate, one of the duties of Lieutenant Governor until he had been inaugurated a few days after the legislative session began. Morris waited to be sworn in as Lieutenant Governor before asserting his role as Senate President, which set off another confrontation with Blackwell, who was angry that Hearnes had not supported him in the Democratic Lieutenant Governor primary that Morris had won.
In 2000, Lieutenant Governor Roger Wilson became Governor on the death of Mel Carnahan in October. He waited until after the November election, when Senator Joe Maxwell of Mexico was chosen by voters, then appointed Maxwell to take the office until he was formally sworn in on January of ’01. Maxwell assured us a couple of years ago that he had checked into the legality of the move and was convinced it was proper.
In all of these cases except the Maxwell case, the office of Lieutenant Governor was a pretty minor office. The legislature met only in alternate years in those days and until Bill “Fulltime” Phelps was elected in ’76 there wasn’t much reason otherwise for the Lite Gov to even be in Jefferson City except during the legislative sessions.
Bill Phelps made the office a fulltime one and in later years the legislature has added responsibilities to the office–mostly memberships on boards and commissions–to give the person holding the job a reason to be in the office more often.
Now it’s an issue.
What happens to the Lieutenant Governor’s staff if there’s no Lieutenant Governor and it turns out the governor cannot appoint a successor? Who carries out the responsibilities of the office if there’s no Lieutenant Governor? Does the Senate President Pro tem inherit those staff management and official duties without assuming the title?
Proposals have been introduced in the legislature to clarify the situation. Of course, if Mr. Kinder does NOT go to Washington, the question becomes academic and we might not see much done. But history shows this won’t be the last time these issues are raised.