JEFFERSON CITY - The House Elections Committee passed a bill Tuesday clarifying how the governor can fill vacant statewide offices.Passage comes less than a week into the 2013 legislative session.
The bill addresses a conflict between the state constitution and state law first reported by KOMU 8 News on Thursday concerning whether the governor has the power to appoint a new lieutenant governor. Republicans in both chambers are concerned Gov. Nixon may appoint a Democratic replacement for Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder if Kinder wins a special election to succeed retiring U.S. Representative Jo Ann Emerson.
Under the bill, if any statewide office was vacant, the governor could appoint someone to fill that office until the next election or a special election. The appointee would not be eligible to run in that election, but could run for the same office again in subsequent elections. The bill uses the same procedure for the offices of lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor and state treasurer.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said his motivations were legal rather than political. He said he wanted to make sure a clear replacement policy was in place.
"A lot of people would think that by pushing this legislation, it is in direct odds to what I'm wanting, but this is the best policy for Missouri," Smith said.
Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, said she wasn't convinced Smith's bill is not politically motivated. She noted the bill would go into effect immediately on receiving the governor's signature, which puts the house under greater pressure to pass the bill. Newman was the only member of the 12-person committee to vote against the bill.
"This is not a prime issue facing our state, so I don't see the need to focus on it right now," she said, adding she thought the elections committee as well as the entire General Assembly had more urgent problems to attend to.
Smith said he was confident the Senate would pass his bill once it reached that chamber.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder's office told KOMU 8 News Kinder supports the bill.