Democrat Roger Wilson knows how it feels to be Missouri’s lieutenant governor one day and the governor the next day. He assumed the role as the state’s chief executive officer in October 2000 after Governor Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash. Wilson served as governor for less than three months.
“The state of Missouri was enjoying a heavyweight match between Governor Carnahan and Governor Ashcroft for the U.S. Senate. It was probably the biggest match in recent political times. Everybody was on their toes, watching, paying attention to government and who their elected representative was going to be. Then it was just completely cut off. It was one of the saddest things that I had seen during my public service.”
He tells Missourinet he knows from personal experience that filling the lieutenant governor’s seat soon is important, especially during the transition of a new governor.
“You can eliminate a whole lot of political gymnastics if you go ahead and make the appointment,” Wilson says. “Otherwise, people are going to start looking at ‘who’s the next person in line, how can I help them or what kind of leverage can I get on them?’”
Wilson appointed fellow Democrat Joe Maxwell as lieutenant governor in November 2000 after Maxwell was elected by Missourians.
The state Constitution does not lay out the specific steps to fill a lieutenant governor’s seat when it suddenly opens. Officials are studying how to fill the vacancy after former Governor Eric Greitens quit last week – moving fellow Republican Mike Parson into the top office and leaving Parson’s previous position unfilled. Parson is considering whether he can call a special session to close the gap in the Constitution.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, offered a bill this year that would have allowed the governor to appoint a lieutenant governor when the lower position is abruptly empty. The measure died in the legislature.
After Wilson recalls his initial days as governor. He quickly came to an understanding with department heads that the remainder of the term was not the time to “try and pull any fast ones” by attempting to maneuver policy changes.
“We were all in agreement that if anyone did anything untoward and would happen to embarrass the state of Missouri, the people of Missouri and the Carnahan family, during that time that their services would probably no longer be needed,” he says.
Wilson says he also hurried to assure Missourians that the state was in good shape in education and through its finances.
“My immediate though was thank goodness the state of Missouri is in great shape and we will not fall prey to some of the monkeyshines that had been going on in Florida and Ohio where they couldn’t even get elections straight and people were totally inappropriate. I thought Missourians were a class act,” says Wilson. “We tried to finish out the term in a way that would honor Mel and that’s what happened.”
Wilson says he was acting governor many times, including during the flood of 1993.
“I was very pleased that Governor Carnahan gave me a lot of responsibility and I was able to hopefully give him a lot of help,” he says. “I think teamwork is going to be really refreshing to the people of the state of Missouri.”
The Carnahans, who were vacationing in Italy at the time the flood waters started rising, quickly packed their things and headed home to get back to work. Wilson says the Carnahans had not been on a vacation in ten years.
“As much as he loved his wife and as much as they needed that vacation, if Missourians were going to undergo harsh circumstances, he was going to be there with them. That was probably the shortest Italian vacation that anybody has ever taken,” he says.
Wilson speaks highly of Missouri’s new governor.
“I think Mike has some problems to deal with. I think the road situation has deteriorated, but he’s already starting to address these. He knows that the board of education has been put into a tumbler and he will straighten that out. I think he has some things he will unwind and set straight that he will get around to,” Wilson says.
He goes on to say that Parson’s experience in both the House and Senate and having relationships with several legislative members are comforting.
“Knowing the process well eliminates a whole lot of problems. It eliminates people trying to pull a fast one without being detected,” says Wilson. “I think he’ll take it at a reasonable pace. I don’t think you’re going to rush him.”
Wilson says Parson has had to “walk a tight rope” this year.
“He did not want to undercut the governor he was serving with. I’m sure he probably didn’t approve of some of the things going on either. I thought he handled himself well. I think he went about his business, did his job. I’m sure he and his staff are sharp people and they were probably preparing for several scenarios and really didn’t have control of that. I think the way the lead up occurred and then the transition occurred, I think they handled it as well as they could,” says Wilson.
Wilson served in the state Senate from 1979 to 1992 in a district including Columbia. He was Missouri’s lieutenant governor from 1993 to 2000.
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