JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It only took a few hours following the appointment of Mike Kehoe to the Office of Lieutenant Governor for the move to be challenged.
On the same day that Gov. Mike Parson appointed his former colleague to serve as his number two in the executive branch, the Missouri Democratic Party filed a lawsuit seeking to require that a vacancy in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office be filled only by election.
Many have questioned whether the governor has the authority to appoint a lt. gov., as state statute allows for the appointing of several other offices, but fails to mention the lieutenant governor at all. It’s been a debate that has been ongoing for decades now, and in the course of that time, both Republicans and Democrats have taken both sides of the issue.
And with the legality of such an appointment unclear, the Democrats and lead plaintiff Darrell Cope of Hartville are seeking an injunction from a Cole County judge to block the appointment of Kehoe, and instead give voters the chance to elect the next lieutenant governor.
Cope, a veteran of World War II, says he is suing because one of the duties of the lieutenant governor’s office is to advocate for veterans.
“I fought Nazis in World War II to defend our freedoms, including our freedom to elect our leaders,” Cope said in a statement. “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.”
Democrats argue that the appointment should be nullified, saying that Governor Parson is “without legal authority to appoint a Lieutenant Governor” in the lawsuit.
Missouri Democratic Party Stephen Webber released a statement, calling out Parson for voting to hold an election in such an instance when he was in the legislature, but taking a different stance as governor.
“Veterans like Darrell have earned the right to choose their own leaders by voting,” Webber said. “As a state senator, Mike Parson voted to hold an election in this exact situation. It’s disappointing that Parson is willing to abandon his beliefs to grab more power for his political buddies.”
Parson’s office is in the process of reviewing the lawsuit at the current time, but after Kehoe was sworn in, several former governors issued statements regarding whether the authority to make such a move exists in the power of the Governor’s Office.
“Missourians are best served by having a Lt. Governor in office. In 1992, Missouri voters added significant additional duties to the office that would be unmet if the position remained vacant,” former Governor Jay Nixon said. “Also, Missouri’s unique succession laws could cause constitutional challenges if the governor becomes disabled when the Lt. Governor’s Office remained vacant. As Attorney General and later Governor, I researched this issued extensively and firmly believe the Governor has the authority to fill a vacancy in this office by appointment.”
“The Legislature has not provided any alternative to the Governor making the appointment to fill the Lt. Governor’s position when vacant and past practices based on legal counsel from prior Governors based on their legal opinions of the Missouri constitution and the statutes is that the Governor shall make an appointment to fill the Lt. Governor’s position,” former Governor Bob Holden said.
“I believe our constitution empowers the governor to fill this and other vacancies. Given the many assigned responsibilities of the Lieutenant Governor it is clear to me that the intent was and is that Missouri should have a leader in that role,” former Governor Matt Blunt said.
Some legal minds in Missouri politics say there is no law authorizing the governor to appoint someone to serve as lieutenant governor in the event of a vacancy, but they also point out that there is no provision saying that an election should be held, either.
It comes as no surprise that the appointment is being challenged, however, simply because the discussion has identified an issue in statute, which was not addressed by the legislature, thought attempts to pass amendments to fix the statute were discussed on the floor. In the end, it will all be up to the courts, until such a time that the legislature can take up the issue again.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.