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Lt. Gov. Kehoe talks about transition to statewide job

Lt. Gov. Kehoe talks about transition to statewide job

June 24th, 2018 by Bob Watson in Missouri News

Mike Kehoe poses in his Capitol Senate office. Kehoe, who most recently served as Majority Floor Leader in the Senate, was named lieutenant governor Monday.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

The rumors had been flying for weeks — state Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, would be Gov. Mike Parson's choice for Missouri's next lieutenant governor.

Parson became governor June 1, and according to the new governor, state law and the Constitution allowed him to appoint Kehoe as lieutenant governor, though that decision has been challenged in a lawsuit filed late Monday night only hours after Parson announced his choice.

Kehoe said he's comfortable with the legal advice Parson received saying the governor could appoint a new lieutenant governor — and he's willing to let the courts sort it out.

Parson called Kehoe, 56, with the appointment request last weekend.

"I wasn't thinking about being in this position at all," Kehoe told the News Tribune during a half-hour interview last week. "It's an honor to be here, and I do not take it lightly."

Even before Parson became governor, and the rumors were flying, Kehoe said it would be a family decision if that call asking him to be lieutenant governor ever came.

"Claudia (his wife of 28 years) and the kids are OK with me being in politics, in the public eye," he said, "but they were also ready for me to get out."

When Parson asked Kehoe if he would be interested in the job, Kehoe said his wife told him: "This is probably a time when you'd be good for the state."

He noted the troubles Missouri's experienced in the last few months — especially the stories and uncertainties surrounding former Gov. Eric Greitens, who faced two felony criminal charges (which eventually were dismissed) and the possibility of the House voting to impeach him.

Greitens resigned June 1.

"And I think I could help play a role with Gov. Parson," Kehoe said, "in kind-of getting people back to understanding all the good things we have going for us, and how we just keep moving forward."

The lieutenant governor is the lowest-paid of the six statewide office holders, and the Constitution gives him, or her, only two main jobs — to become governor if the need arises, and to preside over the state Senate's debates, including voting to break ties if they occur.

"The Senate is near-and-dear to my heart, so that, actually, was attractive to the job, because I love the Senate (and) I love the institution and (its) people," Kehoe explained. "The second thing is continuity of government.

"God forbid, if something were to happen, you need the government to be able to continue almost instantaneously."

He sees the lieutenant governor as a partner with the governor and as a spokesman for the governor's priorities.

"I'm going to keep doing my thing," he said, "meeting people and talking about transportation, workforce development, tourism, veterans — the things that the lieutenant governor needs to do and the things the governor has asked me to do."

Kehoe — the youngest of six children — grew up in a cash-strapped family in north St. Louis City.

His father left the family when Kehoe was 1, and his parents later divorced.

His mother, Lorraine, now 90, held two or three jobs to make ends meet, including sending her children through St. Louis' Catholic Schools system.

"We did not have much when I was growing up," Kehoe recalled last week. "My mom did the best she could, and I was very appreciative of other families, different neighbors and relatives who were able to help us provide some of the things we needed.

"My mom always told me that the Good Lord gives to those who will re-invest in the community."

That led to his being involved in many community groups.

He went to Chaminade High School, then took the bus to Dave Sinclair's Ford dealership in South St. Louis County — where he washed cars until sometimes as late as 9:30 p.m., before taking the bus for the half-hour ride back to his home.

Kehoe said that job taught him to treat people well.

Sinclair also taught the city-raised boy to appreciate agriculture, and the family now owns a 700-acre cattle and hay farm in Phelps County, near Rolla, where Kehoe often goes to tackle a different kind of work from the government and business duties that fill most of his days.

"I'm not really good at relaxing at all," Kehoe noted. "But I enjoy getting out and spending outside time doing things that keep you busy — and seeing the result of cutting something or building something."

He got into politics because "I was one of those aggravated small businessmen who wasn't sure their tax dollars were going to the right spot," Kehoe said.

Already active in community programs, including the Jefferson City Area United Way, Kehoe saw running for office as an "extension" of that community service.

And, with four children, he saw public service as a way for them "to have the same opportunities that I did," he said. "If government is not run the way it's supposed to be — if it gets too interfering with people's lives — I think that some of those opportunities that I saw 30 and 40 years ago, when I was starting my business career may not be available for them, their friends and that generation."

After getting into the Legislature, Kehoe said he learned "state government works much better than probably most average Missourians think it does. The biggest thing that I realized — and it took me awhile to get this — was that the ability to change or to craft policy differences in this building takes a long time.

"At first, that's very aggravating to understand," but, he said, "I think our Founding Fathers wanted it that way.

"They wanted there to be debate, for people to understand it (and) for citizens to weigh in."

When asked what people don't know about Mike Kehoe, he quipped: "Nothing I'd want to be quoted about."

He hasn't thought about what happens, politically, in 2020.

"I think the most important thing (now) is helping Gov. Parson get things in order and getting the state settled down," Kehoe said, "and going in a good direction."

Kehoe has no regrets about the life-path he's taken or about becoming lieutenant governor.

"We've made some incredible friendships," he said, "and I've met Missourians who do incredible things every day.

"Those relationships and those people that you meet, they're the things that keep you going in this job."

He's still thinking about whether he'll keep doing his pancake/flapjack tours that were a part of his past political life.

"I'm sure we'll fire that grill up at some point in time," he said.