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Rep. Smith Put Principle Over Ambition in Lt. Governor Vacancy Bill

Collin Reischman

Rep. Jason Smith is sponsoring a bill that would change the way vacancies are handled in statewide offices. Smith’s bill might seem, to a casual observer, as legislation aimed at protecting the highest-ranking statewide office of an elected republican, the Lt. Governor. JasonSmith

With Lt. Gov. Kinder running for a vacant congressional seat and the future of his office uncertain, Smith understands the assumption that he’s trying to protect the position. Unfortunately, the assumption is still wrong, Smith says.

“This is the fifth consecutive year I’ve sponsored legislation like this,” Smith told The Missouri Times. “My constituents in my district, and I imagine constituents all around the state, they are wondering how we replace statewide officers. They want their voice to be heard.”

Current Missouri provides that a vacancy in the Lt. Governors office would be filled by gubernatorial appointment and that special elections will be held to locate a permanent replacement. Smith’s bill would allow the governor to choose a temporary replacement and compel him to call for a special election for the vacancy to fall on the next general election.

“Letting the special election take place the same day as the general is purely a fiscal note,” Smith said. “We can save the taxpayer around seven million dollars by not holding an election on a random day.”

Smith’s bill would also not allow the special interim appointee to run for their position right away. In other words, anyone appointed by governor Nixon to replace Kinder — should he vacate his seat — would not be eligible in the August 2014 general election for the position.

Smith said the appointee would have to vacate the office for at least one term before running again, removing any tactical advantage democrats might gain by stacking the Lt. Gov office with someone friendly to Nixon.

Kinder’s Director of Communications, Jay Eastlick, said Kinder was supportive of the legislation.

“[HB 110] has been on our radar well before the 8th district [congressional race] came up,” Eastlick said. “It was certainly fast-tracked when the 8th began to emerge as an issue, but this is something with vast support in the legislature and with the people.”

Versions of HB 110 passed the House on four occasions and once, as an amendment to an elections bill, reached the governors office, only to be vetoed.

“I’ve actually spoken to the governors office recently,” Smith said. “They are open to this, they are receptive to this, so I think this is something to be happy about, I think it can become the law.”

Smith’s election bill has made it to conference committee before, and sometimes lost. But Smith told TMT that he received assurances from several Senators they would support the measure. A similar version of HB 110 has already been introduced into the Senate, which is a first.

“It’s never been introduced in the Senate before, so this is a very good sign,” Smith said.