Nixon says precedent gives him authority to appoint Lt. Governor

Posted January 24, 2013 at 12:00 am

by Brendan Cullerton

Missouri could be headed to a constitutional fight over how, if at all, a vacancy is filled in the office of the state’s lieutenant governor.

Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has expressed interest in running for Missouri’s 8th U.S. House District, which current U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson has said she is resigning from in February.

If Kinder were to win, he would leave the lieutenant governor’s office, which has caused a debate as to how the position would be filled.

Democrats, including Gov. Jay Nixon, say the vacancy should be filled by a gubernatorial appointment, citing a section of the state Constitution that allows the governor to “fill all vacancies in public offices unless otherwise provided by law.”

“The two times in recent history where that position has become open…the governor has appointed lieutenant governor,” Nixon said Thursday, Jan. 10, referencing two past instances where Missouri’s governor has filled a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office.

The latest vacancy in the office occurred in 2000, when Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson assumed the office of governor after the death of Gov. Mel Carnahan. Shortly after his election in November as lieutenant governor, Wilson appointed Joe Maxwell to the job two months before his official inauguration in January.

Republicans, however, cite state law they argue prevents the governor from filling a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office.

On the opening day of the 2013 session, both Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, and House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said they would prefer a special election should Kinder vacate the office. They said that lawmakers need to work to clarify state statute regarding this issue.

House Democratic Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, said the only reason Republicans want a special election is because they think Nixon will appoint a fellow Democrat.

“If the governor was a Republican, I don’t think we would even be having this discussion,” Hummel said.