Nixon appointments could be questioned by state Senate

Monday, July 27, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon picked two allies for spots on key state commissions, but state senators went home without signing off on either. So the governor appointed them to different jobs, which could lead to a dispute when the Senate returns next year.

Because the second round of appointments came when lawmakers were not in session, the governor's guys can serve immediately. When the Republican-controlled Senate returns in January, however, it must approve the nominations for the men to continue.

At issue are the Democratic governor's appointments of longtime aide Joseph Bindbeutel and former Missouri Democratic Party Chairman John Temporiti.

In April, Nixon appointed Bindbeutel to the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, and Temporiti to the Missouri Development Finance Board. When senators didn't confirm them before the end of the legislative session in May, Nixon withdrew their names and appointed them to different posts. Bindbeutel was named to the Administrative Hearing Commission, which resolves disputes over state agency decisions, and Temporiti to the Missouri Housing Development Commission.

Missouri governors frequently appoint aides, allies and donors to government boards and commissions. Many appointments must be approved by the state Senate, and unlike the federal government, the confirmation process is seldom hostile. Even when disputes arise, the Senate typically still confirms the nominee.

But concerns already have been raised about Temporiti, and Bindbeutel could face added scrutiny because of recent concerns about the state agency he just left, the Department of Natural Resources.

Bindbeutel's first appointment was derailed simply because it came too late in the legislative session. But since then, the Department of Natural Resources — where Bindbeutel had been deputy director since Nixon became governor in January — has come under fire for revelations that it withheld for about a month a report of unsafe E. coli levels in the Lake of the Ozarks. A Senate environmental committee has said it will investigate, and Attorney General Chris Koster is looking at whether state open-records laws were violated.

Meanwhile, Temporiti's nomination to the first post already had faced opposition from some Republican senators because of his previous role as a leader in the Democratic Party.

"My gosh, he's a very, very visible political heavyweight, constantly saying very negative things about your party — there's been people denied for a lot less reasons for that," Senate Majority Leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said of Temporiti.

Nixon spokesman Jack Cardetti defended the nominations of both men. He said Bindbeutel and Temporiti would have served well on their initial boards and that the appointments were switched because of "pressing needs" at the Administrative Hearing Commission and housing agency.

"We continue to work with senators," Cardetti said. "The governor is confident that the Senate will give them a full and fair review."

Both Temporiti and Bindbeutel also have the support of their hometown senators. By tradition, a nominee's home senator must agree to sponsor the appointment, and with some exceptions, the Senate defers to that judgment.

Bindbeutel's hometown senator, Republican Kurt Schaefer of Columbia, serves on the Senate committee that will investigate the Department of Natural Resources. He said Bindbeutel has been involved in water quality enforcement for a long time and that it would be surprising and troubling if Bindbeutel were involved in delaying the report's release.

"I know that Joe's name has been put out there, but as far as I know, I don't know that Joe had anything to do with anything," Schaefer said. "So I still stand by my sponsorship, because I have no reason not to."

Temporiti's hometown senator, Republican Eric Schmitt of Glendale, said he didn't have objections to the selection of Temporiti and is not sure why the initial nomination stalled.

"It's the governor's appointment, and I didn't see any reason not to move forward with it," Schmitt said.


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