Capitol 101: Senate Vacancies

   

Capitol 101 is a continuing series of informative pieces regarding the workings, experiences, and curiosities of the Missouri State Capitol.

 

In the past year, Senators Scott Rupp and Ryan McKenna have left their elected office for their gubernatorial-appointed positions.

The Missouri Constitution lays out a few details of consequences of vacancies. The governor has the ability to issue a writ of election to fill a vacancy in either chamber (Article III, Section 14). Statutes further outline that if a special election is called and the district encompasses more than one county, the first county listed is sent the election mandate. It seems that most vacancies are generally filled during the following election; such is the case with both Rupp and McKenna’s former districts.

In other states, such as Alaska and Nebraska, the governor is responsible for selecting a replacement. In Colorado, the political party that held the seat last selects a replacement; the replacement is then approved by a committee and holds the seat until the next election.

Jim Howerton
Jim Howerton

According to Senate Administrator Jim Howerton, once a Senator vacates an office in the Senate, the process of serving their constituents does not end with the vacancy.  The process is based off of policy and tradition.

“We will keep staff in the office to serve constituents – answer calls, respond to letters,” he said.

When former Senator Ryan McKenna left to become the Director of the Department of Labor, Mary Lois Gerdes stayed in the office and continues to serve the constituents of Missouri’s 22nd Senatorial District by answering the phone, assisting in the navigation of bureaucracy, and setting up constituent visits.

Having been in the Capitol for over 18 years, this is the second time that Mary Lois has worked for a senator who has left office midterm. The first senator was current Public Service Commissioner Stephen M. Stoll.

Other staff in similar positions as Gerdes shared with The Missouri Times that upon the senator’s intention to vacate, they were given the option by the vacating senator of staying in the office or continuing to staff the vacating senator in their new position.

Gerdes says that not much has changed for her specific position, beyond the lack of legislation. She refers constituents to their state representative when they call to voice their opinion on legislation and political issues.

Instead of serving at the pleasure of a state senator, she serves the Senate, answering to Jim Howerton.

“He’s been wonderful to work for,” she said.