JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Gov. Jay Nixon has set an Aug. 5 special election to fill three vacant Missouri House seats - a date that ensures the winners won't be around for this year's regular session but could take office in time to decide whether to override any potential gubernatorial vetoes.
Nixon announced the House election dates Friday but did not call for a vote to replace state Sen. Ryan McKenna, whom he appointed in December as the state labor department director.
Nixon's election proclamations came as he is facing a lawsuit from 10 Missouri residents contending he has been shirking his duties by not promptly scheduling special elections. The lawsuit, which was to be argued as soon as next week in Cole County Circuit Court, asks a judge to compel Nixon to set special legislative elections.
Friday's news release announcing the special election dates included no explanation for why Nixon chose August. Nixon spokesman Scott Holste offered no immediate elaboration, nor any explanation for why Nixon had not scheduled a special election for the vacant Senate seat.
The Missouri Constitution gives the governor the power to set special elections for vacant legislative seats. A state law says the governor "shall, without delay, issue a writ of election" to fill vacant legislative seats.
The lawsuit had suggested that Nixon could set special elections to coincide with the April 8 municipal elections, which could have saved money while allowing the winners to take office for the final, busy weeks of the legislative session that ends May 16.
The Aug. 5 special elections will coincide with Missouri's primary elections for candidates seeking to take office in 2015. That also should save the state money. It could result in some candidates appearing on two ballots simultaneously - one that would allow them to serve in the House for the final five months of the year, the other that would make them their party's nominee for a regular two-year term to begin in January.
Pamela Grow, a Republican from Rolla, was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking to compel Nixon to call special elections. She laughed when informed on Friday of the Democratic governor's decision to hold the elections in August.
"That does not provide representation during the all-important ongoing legislative session," Grow said. She added: "It's really not what I and many other people probably would have hoped for."
Grow lives in the 120th House District, which has been vacant since Republican Rep. Jason Smith, of Salem, resigned in June upon winning a special election to Congress.
The two other House seats opened up in December. Democratic Rep. Steve Webb, of Florissant, resigned while facing criminal charges. Republican Rep. Dennis Fowler, of Advance, resigned when Nixon appointed him to the state Board of Probation and Parole.
Fowler's appointment reduced the Republican House majority to 108-52 over Democrats - one seat shy of the two-thirds majority required to override gubernatorial vetoes. That frustrated some Republican senators, who have refused to confirm Fowler's appointment to the parole board.