State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, is Missouri's new lieutenant governor, effective Monday afternoon.
New Gov. Mike Parson announced the appointment in his Capitol office.
Parson, elected as the lieutenant governor in 2016, became governor June 1, after Republican Eric Greitens resigned.
He said he began considering the "characteristics I believe would be important for individuals to possess, if they, themselves, received an unexpected call much like I did, and were asked to serve at the highest level of public trust — (including) leadership, humility, meaningful experience, a willingness to listen to your adversaries, and the heart of a public servant."
Parson said he didn't have a list of names in mind to fill the post he left vacant when he became governor — but, with that list of character traits in mind, he said: "There was one person who clearly emerged — state Sen. Mike Kehoe."
Kehoe told reporters, "When Gov. Parson called and asked me to assist him in this role, it was one of the most monumental experiences of my life.
"Like the governor, I believe that public service is a privilege that no one should take lightly. Governor, you have my commitment that I will work tirelessly to bring about many more great days for Missouri and for Missourians (and) I am humbled by the confidence placed in me."
Parson said the selection was made as part of his effort to "assure leaders from all levels of government that the people of Missouri (that) our transition will be smooth, and the function and operations of Missouri state government will continue to serve the people, without interruption."
The governor said he intends to keep his pledge "that Missourians will have a fully functional state government — they expect and deserve no less. This means having an active, and engaged, lieutenant governor — (which) is an important position, not just because of the duties assigned by Missouri law and the state Constitution, but also to reassure Missourians that all operations of state government will continue."
Kehoe said it also holds true for constituents of the 6th Senate District, although details of how that office will operate while vacant were still being worked out.
Kehoe's current staff — the people who answer the phones and have helped him with constituent questions — are moving with Kehoe from the Senate to the lieutenant governor's office.
However, district residents can still call his "old" number, 573-751-2076, for assistance.
A long-time Jefferson City auto dealership owner, Kehoe was first elected to the state Senate in 2010 and is term-limited under Missouri's Constitution — so he could not run for another Senate term.
State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City; three Democrats — Bryan Struebig, of Eldon, Nicole Thompson, of Jefferson City, and Mollie Kristen Freebairn, of Jefferson City; and Libertarian Steven Wilson, of Jefferson City, all are running in this year's elections to succeed Kehoe.
However, the winner won't be chosen until November.
Some lawyers have questioned Parson's legal ability to fill the lieutenant governor's vacancy, created June 1 when he succeeded Greitens as governor.
Parson told reporters Monday in his Capitol office, "I believe it is necessary, and within my authority, to appoint the next lieutenant governor of the state of Missouri.
"My position is not unique — in fact, it is the same view that has been held by nearly every governor in recent history."
In his news release, Parson included statements from five former governors, all supporting the idea the governor has the power to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office.
The supporting statements came from five of the seven still-living former governors — Christopher S. (Kit) Bond, Bob Holden, Matt Blunt, Jay Nixon and Roger Wilson, using news accounts from 2000, when Wilson named newly-elected Joe Maxwell to the office which Wilson had held until he became governor after Mel Carnahan's fatal plane crash.
Kehoe acknowledged not everyone agrees with that legal analysis.
"That's what the courts are for," he explained, "and we will let the team the governor's put together, and other interested parties, defend that position."
Mid-Missouri and other lawmaker comments
Several lawmakers applauded Parson's decision.
"The governor couldn't have appointed a better person to fill the vacancy," state Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, said.
Although only a small portion of Fitzwater's 49th House District also is in the 6th Senate District, he added: "Sen. Kehoe has been a friend, mentor and a statesman in his time in public service.
"He will do the job of lieutenant governor with integrity and his typical hard-working nature."
State Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, said: "Sen. Kehoe has served citizens in the Moniteau and Cole County parts of Missouri's 50th (House) District, and will do an incredible job serving all Missourians in his new role."
Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said: "I have known Mike for almost a decade (and) during that time he has displayed a passion and a commitment to improving our state for all Missourians.
"I believe his experience in public office and his leadership abilities have uniquely prepared Lt. Gov. Kehoe to serve as our state's next lieutenant governor."
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said: "(Kehoe) knows how to communicate with people and has always displayed a willingness to listen to both sides.
"As majority leader of the Senate, he was able to work across the aisle reasonably and fairly, and I know he will bring those values to his new role."
And House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said: "He has never forgotten his roots as a lifelong small-business owner striving to remove governmental burdens and build a world class infrastructure so Missouri businesses can succeed and grow."