The educated voter and some education from a state rep

UPDATE: In the original version of this post the author wrote with a misunderstanding of Rep. Jason Smith’s questions of the Governor’s power to appoint successors in vacant statewide offices. We appreciate Rep. Smith’s courtesy in calling attention to a more accurate description of his position and of his legislation.  In doing so he has cast new light on an issue we discuss and raised a new question. — Bob Priddy

We’re working on making a connection here. It involves the concept of the educated voter, a cherished part of the American tradition and a state representative surprised that he didn’t know something that we would bet a lot of other people don’t know either. Join us as we wander through this process.

First we have Senator Chuck Purgason of Caulfield who thinks educated voters can do a better job of determining the ethics of public office-holders than the office-holders can.  As the Senate began discussing the ethics reforms bill put forth by Senator Charlie Shields, Purgason argued that the effort ultimately would prove futile because scofflaws would find ways around whatever standards are set within three years.  The responsibility for honest government, he argued, rests with the informed voter.

Purgason’s trust in the informed voter, however, goes only so far.  He thinks term limits are still a good idea although the term limits law keeps informed voters from having a chance to send their state legislators back for more terms after eight years in the House or Senate if they want to do so.  (We’re posting an interview with him at the end of this blog.)

Shields argues that his bill is designed to minimize temptations for office-seekers and their backers, and office-holders and those who court them.  He also says his bill will help voters become better educated because it will make the records of campaign financing more open.,

Here’s the problem:  You can lead a voter to information, but you can’t make him think.

That doesn’t mean people like Senator Purgason shouldn’t have trust in the voters. He thinks more voters are becoming more educated these days.  It doesn’t mean Charlie Shields should drop his efforts to make election and government processes more open to those voters.
Now we shift to the other legislative chamber where Representative Jason Smith of Salem wants to change the state law to require elections to fill vacancies in all statewide offices.  The Governor appoints people to fill those vacancies until the next general election now.  Smith says he was “surprised” to lean the Governor had appointment power for all statewide offices except one.  Recent history indicates at least one former Governor might be equally “surprised.”  State law requires a special election to pick a new Lieutenant Governor but allows appointments of other statewide office-holders.

This is an opportunity to educate some voters, at least one reporter, and perhaps once, present, and future Governors.  .  .

Here’s some history on appointments of statewide officers:

The last time a Governor appointed a successor to fill a vacant statewide office was when Roger Wilson appointed Jean Carnahan to replace her husband, Mel, who had been elected to the United States Senate posthumously in 2000.  She served until Jim Talent beat her in 2002 for the right to serve the rest of Mel Carnahan’s Senate term. He lost to Claire McCaskill in 2006, concluding a wild seven-year stretch in which foura people served as Senator (Ashcroft, Jean Carnahan, Talent, and McCaskill), a fifth person was elected but did not serve (Mel Carnahan), we had three elections for the same seat.   .

A few weeks before Jean Carnahan was appointed by Governor Roger Wilson, Wilson had appointed Senator Joe Maxwell of Mexico to succeed Wilson as Lieutenant Governor after Wilson became Governor on the death of Mel Carnahan. Maxwell was the Lieutenant Governor-elect at the time.  But state law (Rep. Smith refers us to section 105.030.) pretty clearly indicates the position should have been left vacant until Maxwell started his term.

In 1994 Mel Carnahan appointed Richard Hanson to succeed Secretary of State Judi Moriarty who had been impeached and removed.  He also appointed Bekki Cook when Hanson resigned.

The state auditor’s office was a textbook for appointments for about a decade.  When Auditor Christopher Bond became Governor in 1973, he appointed John Ashcroft to finish his term.  When George Lehr quit as Auditor in 1977, Tom Keyes was appointed to finish Lehr’s term.  And after Jim Antonio became the first Auditor in years to win a second term then resigned, Ashcroft appointed Margaret Kelly to succeed him in 1984.  .
The history of appointed office-holders in Missouri for the last four decades is a pretty good one. All of the appointees served responsibly.  Some were later elected to full terms or were elected to higher office.

Nonetheless, surprises lie in state statutes and even seasoned lawmakers (and veteran reporters) are surprised to find them.

The unique status of Lieutenant Governor in the chain of succession might be the reason it is the only one of the top state offices singled out in present law for a special election.  Missouri does not elect the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor as a unified ticket entry.  That’s why we have had Governors and Lieutenant Governors of differnet parties from time to time, including today.  If something were to happen to Peter Kinder, a Republican, for example, would it be fair to Missouri voters for Jay Nixon, a Democrat, to appoint a Democrat to the office that voters had chosen a Republican to hold?   The same question could be asked about the other statewide offices.  But the special status of the office of Lieutenant Governor elevates the issue.

Wonder if Roger Wilson knew he was violating 105.030 that day in 2000, or would seem to a layman reading the law to have violated it?
We have a call in to him to find out.

AUDIO: Interview with Senator Purgason (8 min)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email