Missouri Democrats sue over lt. governor appointment

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JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Democratic Party and a World War II veteran are suing to block the appointment of Mike Kehoe as lieutenant governor.

The suit, announced in a press release Tuesday, reopens a longstanding legal debate over whether the governor has the power to appoint someone to the second-ranking executive position.

Darrell Cope, a WWII veteran and Missouri voter from Hartville, is the lead plaintiff on the suit. He said in the press release he earned his right to vote for state leaders.

“I don't need Republican politicians picking the state veterans advocate in back room deals. I want an opportunity to vote for my lieutenant governor, and as a World War II combat veteran I’ve earned that right,” Cope said.

Traditionally the lieutenant governor serves as the Missouri’s veterans advocate. According to the lieutenant governor’s website, “The priority for this office is to increase awareness of programs the State of Missouri and Federal Government have available to assist Veterans and their families.”

Gov. Mike Parson appointed former Senate Majority Floor Leader Kehoe as the state’s lieutenant governor Monday. Kehoe took the oath of office soon after. The two offices are elected separately in Missouri, and the state constitution isn’t clear on succession.

The suit, filed in Cole County, asks the circuit court to declare Parson’s action illegal. It cites a Missouri Revised Statute from 2011.

The statute says, “Whenever any vacancy, caused in any manner or by any means whatsoever, occurs or exists in any state or county office originally filled by election of the people, other than in the offices of lieutenant governor, state senator or representative, sheriff, or recorder of deeds in the city of St. Louis, the vacancy shall be filled by appointment by the governor.”

Cope said in a phone interview that if the power to appoint is not in the constitution, Parson should have let the people decide.

“I think he should have called a special election and allow the people to vote on who they want for their lieutenant governor,” Cope said.

Missouri Democratic Party Chair Stephen Webber said in the press release that Parson has flipped his thought on the issue.

“As a State Senator, Mike Parson voted to hold an election in this exact situation,” Webber said. “It’s disappointing that Parson is willing to abandon his beliefs to grab more power for his political buddies.”

The press release said Kehoe also voted for there to be an election if the lieutenant governor’s office was vacated.

The lawsuit said appointing Kehoe now gives him an advantage over others running for the office in 2020.

“If Governor Parson is permitted to appoint a Lieutenant Governor, then Mike Kehoe will be in a position to run as an incumbent Lieutenant Governor in 2020,” the lawsuit said. “Incumbent elected officials have significant fundraising and name recognition advantages over challengers.”

The lieutenant governor’s office was vacated June 1, when Parson ascended to the top spot after former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned.