A governor forced out of office is a monumental moment for any state.
But just imagine what would be happening in Missouri now if the successor to Republican Gov. Eric Greitens were a Democrat? The uproar on both sides of the aisle would be volcanic.
The state constitution allows for such a possibility because Missouri is one of 17 states that elects its governor and lieutenant governor separately. So, Missouri can have a Republican governor and a Democratic lieutenant governor — or vice versa. Then, if the office of governor is vacated, a party switch of extraordinary consequence could take place.
It could have happened multiple times in recent history. For all eight years in office, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon had Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.
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Republican Gov. John Ashcroft had Democratic lieutenant governors in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Republican Gov. Kit Bond had a Democrat under him during his second term.
Such a scenario would be untenable. What’s needed is a change in the state constitution that calls for governors and lieutenant governors to run as a team. Missouri lawmakers should stick that on their 2019 to-do list. The possibility of a Democrat succeeding Greitens would make little sense in a state that swung as heavily Republican in 2016 as Missouri did. Greitens defeated Democrat Chris Koster by nearly six points. Donald Trump carried the state by 19 points.
The race for lieutenant governor wasn’t close either. Republican Mike Parson prevailed over Democrat Russ Carnahan 55-40 percent.
But what if Carnahan, who hails from the state Democratic Party’s best-known family, had managed to win? Now, Missouri would be preparing not only for a new governor, but also for a dramatically different direction. Republicans would be in near-revolt and understandably so.
Imagine how much differently the General Assembly’s handling of Greitens’ potential impeachment might have played out if lawmakers knew that a Democrat stood in the wings ready to take over. Would House Speaker Todd Richardson have called for an investigative committee? Would Republican lawmakers have signed off on a special session to consider impeachment?
Nationwide, voters in 26 states elect a governor and lieutenant governor in tandem. In 18 of those states, governors pick their lieutenant governors much the same way presidential candidates pick their vice presidents. They run for office as a team. Eight other states do it a little differently. Those states hold separate primaries for governor and lieutenant governor. Then, the winning candidates in each primary appear jointly on the general election ballot.
In the future, Missouri candidates should run as a team. A gubernatorial candidate’s selection of a running mate would be one more important criterion for voters to consider when they cast their ballots for the state’s highest office.
Kansas does it this way, and the system has worked well.
In Missouri, the existence of party splits in the top two state jobs has served one purpose, and that’s to generate sparks when a governor from one party and the second banana from the other engage in inevitable disputes over state issues. Ashcroft and Mel Carnahan, for example, famously carried out an ongoing argument over who runs things when the governor is out of state.
The sniping accomplished little besides generating headlines. It’s time for the days of governors and lieutenant governors hailing from different parties to go the way of the dinosaurs.