Missouri once again has a lieutenant governor, despite legal questions over how that vacancy was filled.
Gov. Mike Parson has named state senator and fellow Republican Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City to fill the No. 2 statewide post. Kehoe was sworn in Monday inside the governor’s office by Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce.
The move comes a little more than two weeks after Parson took over as chief executive following the resignation of Eric Greitens.
“When Gov. Parson called and asked me to assist him in this role, it was one of the most monumental experiences of my life,” Kehoe said. “Like the governor, I believe that public service is a privilege that no one should take lightly.”
Kehoe’s ascension to the post comes amid legal questions as to whether Parson has the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor, because filling vacancies in that office is not specifically addressed in the Missouri Constitution.
But Parson told reporters Monday he had sought the advice of two attorneys who had worked for former Missouri governors: Lowell Pearson, general counsel to Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, and Joe Bednar, general counsel to Democratic governors Mel Carnahan and Roger Wilson.
“[They] believe the law clearly states the authority of such an appointment currently exists,” Parson said.
When asked about any potential legal challenges to his appointment, Kehoe said “that’s what the courts are for.”
“We will let the team the governor has put together, and other interested parties, defend that position.”
Among those defending Parson’s authority to appoint Kehoe as lieutenant governor is former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. He said in a written statement that he had researched the issue in years past, when he was both governor and attorney general.
“In 1992, Missouri voters added significant additional duties to the [lieutenant governor’s] office that would be unmet if the position remained vacant,” Nixon said. “Also, Missouri’s unique succession laws could cause constitutional challenges if the governor becomes disabled when the lieutenant overnor’s office remained vacant.”
Kehoe, 56, is a native of north St. Louis. According to his Senate biography, he grew up in a single-family home and as a teenager washed cars at a St. Louis County Ford dealership. After working there several years he rose to sales management, and then moved to central Missouri to manage a company that manufactures ambulances.
In 1992 he bought an automobile dealership in Jefferson City, and his name become well-known throughout central Missouri through TV commercials. That name recognition is believed to have largely contributed to his being elected to the State Senate’s 6th District seat in 2010. The district includes the state capital, a small portion of the Lake of the Ozarks, and the town of Hermann, known for its German heritage and wine production.
Before that, he was appointed in 2005 to the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, and was elected commission chairman in 2009.
In 2015, early into his second Senate term, Kehoe was elected Majority Floor Leader after Ron Richard, R-Joplin, became president pro-tem. As floor leader, Kehoe regularly decided which bills would come to the floor in which order.
As a former car dealer and transportation commissioner, Kehoe regularly championed transportation issues in the Senate. He’s a strong supporter of efforts to raise Missouri’s gasoline and diesel taxes, saying on several occasions that the amount of revenue currently being raised is not keeping pace with the rising cost of maintaining roads and bridges.
He was a key backer of a proposed constitutional amendment in 2014 that would have created a temporary 0.75-cent sales tax, with proceeds earmarked for roads and bridges. The proposal failed, with 59 percent of Missouri voters rejecting it.
Kehoe has also worked with former Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, on efforts to get a lobbyist gift ban through the legislature. During the last two legislative sessions, Kehoe would take over sponsorship of the proposed ban once the House passed it. But each time the bill failed to make it to the Senate floor for debate. Alferman was recently named Parson’s legislative director.
Kehoe will serve out the remaining nearly two and a half years of Parson’s term that began in 2017.
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