WWET: What would Earl think?

Senator John Lamping is proposing a state constitutional change that would take away the public’s right to choose a Lieutenant Governor, ending a practice that has existed in Missouri since statehood 192 years ago.  He wants to let each party’s Gubernatorial primary winner select his or her running mate and have them run as a team in November. Missourians no longer would be able to vote for a Lieutenant Governor candidate in the August primary or in the November general election.

Thus would end one of the more interesting quirks of Missouri’s voting record–the election of a Governor and a Lieutenant Governor of different parties (think Nixon-Kinder, Ashcroft-Carnahan, Teasdale-Phelps).  The committee chairman says the proposal is “something worth talking about.”

But Sen. Lamping thinks we should have two people representing the executive branch who would be “extensions of each other.” Here is the reasoning behind his proposal that has us wondering what Earl would think.

“We all very often hear from the second floor when the things we are doing are not pleasing them and there are a lot of times when we don’t hear from the second floor and we’d like to have that relationship be a little bit closer,” Lamping told a Senate committee the other day.  He continued, “With the two parties being represented in each of those two offices, each have access to a podium. Each has an access to be heard.  But more often than not they’re going to conflict in their messaging.  So what I’m hoping would happen if these two offices were held with members of the same party is that whatever it is the administration is trying to propose and push forward, that they would be heard more consistently and that ordinary people who don’t often understand what’s going on down here might better have an opportunity to hear what’s going on down here.”

Earl, in his prime, would eat Senator Lamping alive for that kind of thinking.

Earl Blackwell was a Senator from Hillsboro.  He was a Democratic Senate President pro tem  when Democrats controlled every statewide elected office except Attorney General.  He was describe in his time as “colorful.”  Others called him a bully.  Some saw him as a hero. He was Governor Hearnes’ worst enemy in the Capitol . Having a closer relationship with the second floor (that’s legislative lingo for the Governor, whose office is one floor below the third, or the legislative floor) was the LAST thing Earl Blackwell wanted to have.

Blackwell wanted a Senate completely independent of the Executive Branch. He considered the House under the control of Hearnes, and so did many others who had seen three-time Speaker Tom Graham replaced by Jim Godfrey, a Hearnes ally.
The issue was more than a purist’s view of the separation of powers in government. Blackwell also held a grudge.  He thought that he was going to get Hearnes’ backing for Lieutenant Governor in 1968.  But Hearnes supported William S. Morris of Kansas City and Morris won, replacing Tom Eagleton.

Remember that the legislature convenes several days before statewide officers are sworn in.  When Eagleton resigned to take the Senatorial seat of Ed Long in Washington, after Long stepped aside so Eagleton could have a few days of seniority, Hearnes appointed Morris to fill the vacancy.

Blackwell refused to recognize Morris as a legitimate Lieutenant Governor. He said the appointment was illegal.  And he said that if Morris showed up to preside over the Senate on opening day, 1969–one of the constitutional duties of a Lieutenant Governor as Senate President–he, Blackwell, would throw him out of the chamber.  Morris decided not to push things and didn’t try to enter the Senate. Blackwell was formally elected pro tem that day.

After Morris, Hearnes, and others were sworn in, Morris was allowed to preside. But that didn’t last long.  The day Morris presided, the Senate adopted rules that effectively removed his abilities to preside, assign bills to committees, or sign bills passed by both Houses and transferred those responsibilities to the President pro tem, Blackwell.   Blackwell thus had the power to decide whether Morris could preside.  Morris said he would not preside again as long as his presence depended on the whim of Blackwell.  He did not want the embarrassment of going in to preside only to be kicked out by the pro tem.

Then the confrontation in 1969 escalated.  This was back in the days when patronage politics was far more prevalent than it is today, although it would be incorrect to say our system has been purified of political patronage.  We all know that’s not so.  When Blackwell got power to throw the Lieutenant Governor out of the chamber whenever he wanted to do so, Hearnes ordered that any Senator who wanted a constituent to get a job in state government had to clear the deal with Morris. And Morris said he would look carefully at those requests in light of what the Senate had done.

The Senate reminded Hearnes that it had advice and consent power over any appointments he might want to make.  Hearnes reminded the Senate that Morris had to approve any payment vouchers the Senate issued for its expenses before the state comptroller would issue checks and Morris wasn’t going to sign any vouchers until the mess was cleaned up.

The confrontation between Senate President pro tem and Lieutenant Governor festered until Republican Bill Phelps was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1972 and ran into Democrat Senate President pro tem Bill Cason of Clinton.  The Supreme Court settled that confrontation by ruling that the Lieutenant Governor could preside over the Senate any time he wanted to do so because the state constitution says he can. Otherwise, said the court, the senate has the power to make its own rules. That is why to this day, the pro tem, not the Lieutenant Governor, assigns bills to committees.  To this day, it is the pro tem, not the Lieutenant Governor, who signs bills passed by the Senate and the House before they are sent to the governor for a decision.

Blackwell’s heavy-handedness eventually caught up with him and on January 19, 1970, just a few days more than a year after he had put Morris in his place, the senate voted to remove Blackwell as pro tem.  But his war with Hearnes was not over.

The legislature had approved a tax increase Hearnes wanted in 1969.  But Blackwell, who once complained in language that sounds completely contemporary these forty-some years later, “We have too much government, too much taxation, too much unnecessary spending, and too much waste of taxpayers’ money,” circulated a petition to overturn that tax increase. And in April, 1970, voters did that.

Blackwell left after four terms in the Senate.  He finished fourth in the 1972 Democratic primary for Governor and called it a career as a Senator in ’74.   He died a little more than three years ago. He was 85.

Senator Lamping needs to give thanks that he’ll never know Earl Blackwell, who chewed up and spat out a Lieutenant Governor of his own party because the last thing he thought state government needed was a Senate that had a close relationship with the second floor.

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One thought on “WWET: What would Earl think?

  1. Wow…interesting history!!! Thank you.

    How on earth did Blackwell manage to avoid Article IV, Section 10 of the Missouri Constitution? It took the court 3 years to assert the authority in the state constitution?

    I’m against the consolidation of power. Putting the lieutenant governor and the governor on the same ticket consolidates power, so that’s why I would oppose it.

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