Pandemic offers reminder of Lt Gov's role

Bouts with coronavirus infections by Gov. Mike Parson, President Donald Trump and other top officials are timely reminders of a basic but no less important role of being lieutenant governor of Missouri - being able to step up and act as governor if it's not possible for the governor because of some kind of absence or crisis.

If a governor-elect should die before taking office, the lieutenant governor-elect is tasked with taking over the governor-elect's term, according to the Missouri Constitution.

If a sitting governor dies, is convicted, impeached or resigns, the lieutenant governor takes over the remainder of their term.

If a sitting governor becomes disabled or absent and cannot fulfill their duties as governor, their powers, duties and emoluments transfer to the lieutenant governor for the remainder of the term or until the governor is no longer disabled or absent.

Missouri has had recent experience with several of those situations or - as with Parson's recent illness - situations that could have led to a lieutenant governor stepping in.

Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash in October 2000, leaving then-Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson to take over.

More recently, then-Lt. Gov. Parson became governor in June 2018 when former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned.

When Parson left for an economic development trip in Europe in summer 2019, incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Kehoe temporarily assumed some duties - submitting on Parson's behalf a request for a federal disaster declaration following tornado and flooding damage in Jefferson City, Eldon and elsewhere in the state.

Kehoe said last week Parson has drilled into him as a lieutenant governor to "have a plan and be ready," and he's thankful Gov. Parson, first lady Teresa Parson and Trump have all been doing well.

In terms of health precautions Kehoe's taking, he said when asked to or when required by local authorities, he does wear a mask, and his campaign has been practicing social distancing and has been using more open spaces.

Democrat candidate Alissia Canady said it's important to be prepared as lieutenant governor to step and be governor, if necessary, and it's also important to be supportive and allow a governor to be present when they can.

Canady said her campaign has also been taking health precautions - social distancing, wearing masks and limiting crowd sizes.

She said it's important for state leadership to model taking the pandemic seriously and not going against the advice of medical professionals.

She also said there cannot be a "cavalier attitude" that COVID-19 is something to just get over. Businesses are not just getting over it, she said, and the longer a delay in addressing the public health crises, the longer the delay for economic recovery.

Given Libertarian candidate Bill Slantz's platform of abolishing the position of lieutenant governor to save taxpayers the money, he said if he was successful in that and then a crisis hit, the state Senate could pick the next governor.

"That's probably the most popular way," Slantz said of the approaches of states that do not have a lieutenant governor.

He said there are other models out there for filling a leadership vacuum left in a governor's office that doesn't have a lieutenant governor, however, such as having a state House and Senate together selecting the next governor.

According to the state constitution as it's currently written, if there is no lieutenant governor or they are incapable of acting because of any of the reasons a governor may be, the order of succession is the president pro tempore of the Senate, the speaker of the House, the secretary of state, the state auditor, the state treasurer and then the attorney general.

Slantz said if he were successful in abolishing the position of lieutenant governor, that would be effective immediately from the date of being abolished, and he would just become a private citizen outside of state government.

Green Party lieutenant governor candidate Kelly Dragoo said leaders' recent bouts with coronavirus have gotten her to look into the roles of a governor a bit closer.

"I think (as) a lieutenant governor, you always have to be prepared for the unexpected," she said.

Dragoo said she's been practicing social distancing in her campaigning, and she added there should be a statewide mask mandate.