Missouri House bill would require special election for statewide offices

Thursday, February 11, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY − Missouri's governor would be denied the ability to replace the state's secretary of state under a bill approved by the Missouri House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The bill, approved by an 88-59 vote, would necessitate a special election for midterm vacancies in the offices of secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and both of Missouri's U.S. Senate seats. Under current law, the governor is able to appoint a replacement to any vacant statewide office except lieutenant governor, which requires a special election. Current law also requires a special election for vacant Missouri Senate and House seats, as well as U.S. House seats.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem,  said the legislation arose from constituents' questions about the governor's appointment powers following a scandal involving former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich has been charged with corruption for attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama.

"Anytime I talk to someone who does not understand that if there is a vacancy for U.S. Senate or another statewide office that the governor would appoint it, they go crazy," Smith said.

Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said he worries holding a special election would leave positions open for an extended period of time, restricting the government's ability to work efficiently.

Smith, however, said his bill allows for the governor to appoint an acting official to a position until a special election is held.

"I don't remember seeing this bill when we had a Republican governor," Roorda said.

Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, said she asked all registered voters in her district by questionnaire about the issue and 100 percent of those who responded support the legislation.

Smith said the governor's appointment powers are largely unknown to many Missourians.

"I don't believe the people of Missouri are aware that whenever a vacancy occurs in the U.S. Senate that they don't have the right to choose who represents them," Smith said.

Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said he trusts the ability of Missouri voters to know the powers entrusted to the governor when they vote.

"If you don't think that they are smart enough to figure that out, then you have less faith in the people of this state than I do," Talboy said.

The House needs to vote on the bill a second time before it can move to the Senate.

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