By BLAKE NELSON , Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Minutes after Mike Parson was sworn in as Missouri’s new governor, he said he believed he might have the power to appoint someone to the position he vacated.
“I do believe that there is some validity in appointing a lieutenant governor of the state of Missouri,” he said.
When former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned earlier in the day, he reopened a longstanding legal debate over how the state should go about filling a vacancy in its lieutenant governor post.
The state constitution is clear on a governor’s succession, but there is no such clarity for the recently-vacated office of lieutenant governor.
Julia Hurst, executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, said Missouri’s situation was not rare.
“We’ve seen it several times, that there is a lack of clarity in how to fill the number two position,” she said.
Historically, some Missouri governors have claimed the right to appoint a replacement, while lawmakers have often argued that the position must remain vacant until voters have a say since Parson and Greitens were listed separately on the ballot and won their respective races. A legislative effort to clarify the process failed in May.
Parson said that he thought the position was important to the state but acknowledged that his power wasn’t clear-cut.
“We’re going to look into that thoroughly,” he said.
The Missouri Constitution devotes just two sentences to who can be lieutenant governor and the duties of the job, which mainly involves casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate. That last happened in 2017. State law also dictates that the governor-in-waiting sit on several boards and commissions.
But the constitution includes zero sentences on how a lieutenant governor should be replaced.
It does give governors the power to fill vacancies, “unless otherwise provided by law.” Missouri law, meanwhile, notes the governor’s ability to fill empty elected offices, “other than in the offices of lieutenant governor,” among a few other positions. Another law says the governor and lieutenant governor should remain in office “until their successors are elected and qualified.”
That language has resulted in a mixed historical record.
Over the past few decades, two governors have appointed men recently elected as lieutenant governor to begin their terms early. Joe Maxwell’s appointment was successful in 2000, while a Senate leader in 1969 blocked just-elected Lt. Gov. William Morris from presiding over the chamber before his term officially began.
At other times, the office has remained vacant until an election. Parson was elected as lieutenant governor in 2016 to a four-year term, meaning the office could remain empty until 2021.
The Senate approved a proposal in May that would allow a governor to appoint a lieutenant governor as long as the candidate received Senate approval, but the measure died in the House.
Whether through appointment or election, behind-the-scenes maneuvering to replace Parson may have already begun. Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said Wednesday that he thought his fellow Republican senator, Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe, would make a good replacement.
Kehoe wouldn’t rule the possibility out.
“If doors open I always look at ’em,” he said. “I don’t eliminate any options in the future.”
AP reporter Summer Ballentine in Jefferson City contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect the Missouri Constitution gives governors the power to fill vacancies, “unless otherwise provided by law,” not “unless prohibited by law.”