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Governor's Main Opponent Challenges His Right to Run

May 07, 1996
By: Kimberly Lohman
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - When Jefferson City resident Ruth Redel filed to run for governor, she carefully paged through a copy of Missouri's constitution given to all candidates seeking public office.

A section regarding term limits caught her eye and triggered a supreme court lawsuit seeking to toss Missouri's incumbent governor off the ballot.

"I didn't know about the law when I filed and I wasn't looking for something to bring attention to the governor's campaign," Redel said. But she concluded a section in the state constitution prohibits Gov. Mel Carnahan from seeking a second term.

Redel referred specifically to Article IV, section 17, of the state constitution which reads, "No person shall be elected governor or treasurer more than twice."

Carnahan has served one term as treasurer and is finishing his first term as governor.

The constitution generally has been interpreted to mean that one can serve two terms in each office. In 1980, James Spainhower unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor after serving two terms as state treasurer.

But Redel filed suit in the Missouri Supreme Court, claiming that the constitution limits a person to two terms in either office - so that Carnahan cannot seek another term.

"I want an answer either one way or the other," said Redel. "This book is given to everyone who files and if the law isn't true, it needs to be rectified."

Redel, by the way, has filed for the Democratic nomination for governor. So winning her case would knock off her major opponent.

But attorney Gene Bushmann, former chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party, read the law differently. "My interpretation is that the law does not prohibit [the governor] from succeeding himself," said Bushmann.

Bushmann said Redel has a right to challenge the constitutionality of Carnahan's second bid, but "she ought to file the suit in the proper process through a circuit court. By filing a suit with the state Supreme Court and issuing a press release, I question whether she is genuine."

Bushmann also contended that the state Supreme Court is an appellate court, and will throw out the case because it does not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

But the state supreme court has original jurisdiction over matters regarding the executive, according to Redel.

The court has not yet decided to take the case.

Whether or not the court will review the case, the state Democratic party is not worried. Mark Farinella, spokesman to Carnahan's campaign, said the lawsuit "doesn't have much meaning and won't have an impact on the race for governor."

Farinella said Redel's interpretation of the constitution is strange. "Anyone who reads it sees she's wrong and is stretching the interpretation in her favor. She's doing what she can to win her campaign," Farinella said.

The Republican Party is not taking the claim too seriously either. They do not plan to support Redel's challenge. "We'll take our best shot at beating Carnahan straight," said GOP state Communications Director Daryl Duwe.

The debate over term limits for governor has historical precedence. In 1890, Lawrence "Lon" Stevens from Boonville was appointed state treasurer. He won two successive bids for treasurer and governor, but was prohibited from a second gubernatorial run.

By the 1960's, term limits for these two offices were relaxed, allowing a person to serve two terms as governor, as well as two terms as treasurer - maybe. That's the issue Redel has put before Missouri's Supreme Court.