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Government, Politics & Issues

House panel OKs bill curbing governor's power to fill statewide vacancies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 15, 2013 - Legislation significantly altering the way statewide vacancies would be filled appears to be on the fast track in the Missouri House.

The House Elections Committee on Tuesday approved House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith’s legislation to curb the governor's power to fill any vacancies in other statewide offices.

The bill would allow the governor to appoint temporary officeholders for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and U.S. senator.

But Smith’s bill would require the governor to call a special election to fill a statewide vacancy permanently.  To save money, the election would be at the same time as a scheduled general election.

The governor's temporary appointee would not be able to run in that election.

The committee approved Smith's bill by a vote of 11-1.

Nixon and his staff already have signaled his dislike of any such measures.

Republican House leaders, who now oversee a GOP veto-proof majority, have a reason for acting quickly.

The bill has received increased attention because of the uncertain situation in the 8th congressional district, which U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, is leaving to head the national Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, is among his party's candidates vying to win their party's nomination to replace Emerson. A special election is required for congressional vacancies.

But as it stands, Nixon says he would appoint Kinder's successor, should Kinder get the 8th District nod. Nixon points to previous actions by governors to fill vacant lieutenant governor posts, most recently in 2000.

Since Nixon is a Democrat, it's assumed that the governor would name a Democrat to replace Kinder.

Some Republicans and lawyers dispute the governor's power to replace Kinder, citing conflicting provisions in state law. Smith's bill is aimed at short-circuiting the dispute.

In an interview, Smith said this particular bill was essentially the same as one  filed last year, except that it includes a provision causing it to go into effect immediately. Smith has filed other bills in the past that would have filled statewide vacancies differently.

For instance, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed election legislation in 2011 that included Smith's earlier attempts to curb the governor's appointment power.  Among other things, the governor argued that calling a special election to fill statewide vacanies would cost the state too much money.

For Smith, the current bill eliminates that disagreement. He says it also would ensure that “there’s no bias and that there’s not a position of incumbency" since the governor's placeholder couldn't run for election.

“By doing that, you’re going to have someone who’s just planning and working to carry out that office,” Smith said. “And I think they’d do a much better job.”

Smith, by the way, also is seeking the 8th District congressional seat. The district's Republican committee members will choose the GLOP nominee.

For his part, Smith doesn't see his bill as being a factor in the 8th District contest. 

“I think they’re focused on the reckless spending in D.C. and the fact that they’re really not accomplishing or finishing the major tasks,” Smith said. “That’s what they’re focused on. And there’s so many good candidates that I don’t think that one issue alone is going to be a deciding issue for anyone.”

Jo Mannies, Beacon political reporter, contributed information for this article.

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