The Green Papers: News

Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan of Missouri killed in plane crash
Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Governor Carnahan, his son Randy, and an aide were killed in a plane crash Monday evening October 16, 2000.

Governor Carnahan was elected to the Governor's chair in 1992 and re-elected in 1996. Due to term limits, he was unable to run for a third term as governor. Mel Carnahan was running for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Senator John Ashcroft.

Tuesday morning, October 17, 2000, Lieutenant Governor Roger B. Wilson was sworn in as Governor.

Political Implications of Governor Carnahan's passing

A Carnahan victory against Incumbent Republican Senator John Ashcroft was key to the Democrats' plans for regaining control of the United States Senate. Under Missouri law, even though he is dead, Carnahan remains on the ballot. That is, the Democratic Party cannot change the ballot. We are now 3 weeks away from the election and the filing deadline has passed.

Should former Governor Carnahan win the election for the Senate seat, the Missouri governor would appoint a replacement to serve until the next general election. What's unclear is which governor: the Lt. Governor taking the Governor's chair in place of Carnahan, or the governor elect who wins the November election.

Overview - Issues regarding the Missouri Class 1 Senate Seat

The relevant sections of Missouri law regarding

  • the appearance of a deceased candidate on the ballot and
  • the appointment of a successor to fill a vacancy which MIGHT (and, of course, the key word here is "MIGHT"... incumbent Senator John Ashcroft winning re-election come 7 November renders all of this moot!) occur come 3 January:

As to the death of a nominated candidate to office

  • Mo. Rev. Statutes 115.379. 1. Whenever the only candidate of a party for nomination or election to an office at a primary election, general election or special election to fill a vacancy dies after the filing deadline and before the election, his name shall be printed on the primary, general or special election ballot, as the case may be, unless another candidate has filed for the office pursuant to the provisions of section 115.361 or a new candidate has been selected pursuant to the provisions of sections 115.363 to 115.377. Whenever any other candidate for nomination or election to an office at a primary election, general election or special election to fill a vacancy dies after 5:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday prior to the election, his name shall be printed on the primary, general or special election ballot, as the case may be. The election and canvass shall proceed, and, if a sufficient number of votes are cast for the deceased candidate to entitle the candidate to nomination or election had the candidate not died, a vacancy shall exist on the general election ballot or in the office to be filled in the manner provided by law.

If the late Governor Carnahan were to be "elected" come 7 November over the incumbent Senator John Ashcroft, then- per the last sentence of this statute- a vacancy would exist in the Class 1 Senate seat from Missouri as of the expiration of Ashcroft's term at Noon, 3 January 2001.

A source of the controversy re: WHICH Governor gets to appoint a new Senator to fill the resultant Class 1 vacancy SHOULD the late Governor Carnahan be "elected"...

  • Mo. Rev. Statutes 26.015. The governor and lieutenant governor shall hold their offices for a term of four years beginning at 12:00 noon on the second Monday in January next after their election and until their successors are elected and qualified.

The second Monday in January in 2001 is 8 January... that is, regardless of who wins the Gubernatorial election on 7 November [the Democrat Bob Holden or the Republican James Talent], he would not take office until 5 days after a vacancy would already exist in the Class 1 Senate seat [assuming, of course, Ashcroft "loses" to the deceased Carnahan]... acting Governor Roger B. Wilson would still legally be the Governor of the State at the time said hypothetical vacancy would occur.

The U.S. Constitution, in the 17th Amendment, reads as follows:

  • "When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: PROVIDED, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct."

In other words, a Senate vacancy must always- ultimately- be filled by election BUT a state legislature may authorize the Governor of the state to appoint someone to serve until the election to fill said vacancy.

There IS a provision in the Missouri State Constitution (which was adopted in 1875, though this was prior to the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution being adopted in 1913):

  • Article IV, Section 4. The governor shall fill all vacancies in public offices unless otherwise provided by law, and his appointees shall serve until their successors are duly elected or appointed and qualified.

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