Former Governor Roger Wilson reflects on unexpected time in office

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COLUMBIA - Gov. Mike Parson's ascension to the state's top office may remind Missourians of the last time a lieutenant governor assumed the role. It was nearly two decades ago, under very different circumstances.

In October 2000, Roger Wilson became governor after his predecessor,  Mel Carnahan, died in a plane crash.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought something like this would happen,” Wilson told KOMU 8 in an interview after Carnahan’s death. “And to tell you the truth, you have my whole political career if we could undo the tragedy to the Carnahan family.”

The crash came a month before the U.S. Senate election, in which Carnahan was running as the Democratic nominee. By law, it was too late to change the name on the ballot. This created many questions for Wilson.

"When the tragedy happened, it just took the air out of everybody," he said. 

When November came, Missourians still elected the late Carnahan over Republican incumbent John Ashcroft. Wilson then appointed Carnahan’s wife, Jean, to fill her late-husband’s seat.

Now, Parson is in the same shoes Wilson once stood in.

In January, when then-Governor Eric Greitens addressed the public about an affair, he said he would continue serving Missouri as governor. His resignation on May 29 came as a surprise to many. Several lawmakers said they were not told about it in advance.

Wilson said experience in office can help leaders manage if they are asked to step into an unfamiliar role.

Although news of the 2000 crash came as a shock, he said, his thirteen years in the Senate and two years as lieutenant governor prepared him for the job. 

"I didn't have any surprises as far as governance," he said. "It ran smoothly, it was just tough to be stuck in a sad state of mind." 

He said he expects Parson to be just as prepared.

"He's given many years of public service, locally as a sheriff and in the state as a representative, senator and as lieutenant governor," Wilson said, "Although it's a different job, he's still the same guy. He has the same goals and his mission is to help the state of Missouri."