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Missouri GOP questions legality of Maxwell appointment

November 15, 2000
By: Suzanne Bessette and John Sheridan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Top Missouri Republican officials are investigating the legality of Joe Maxwell's early appointment to lieutenant governor.

John Hancock, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said the party's attorneys are researching the issue on a constitutional level.

"We are looking at whether or not a lieutenant governor who is now governor has the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor," Hancock said.

According to Hancock there is no law to support the constitutionally of Gov. Wilson's appointment of Joe Maxwell to the empty post.

Republicans are not the only ones who are uncertain of the legality of the appointment.

MU Political Science Professor Rick Hardy said that, according the the constitution, there is no specific rule prohibiting the governor from appointing a lieutenant governor if the post if vacant.

But governor Wilson's spokesman Jerry Nachtigal said the decision was thoroughly reserached by Attorney General Jay Nixon, and the process of appointing Maxwell to the post was deemed legal.

Nixon cited article 4, section 4 of Missouri's constitution which notes the governor has the right to fill vacant state-wide offices as the reason why he gave the go ahead.

Behind the constitutionality issue lies the question of why Gov. Wilson appointed Maxwell not two months before the traditional inauguration date.

Nachtigal, said that there is still work to be done by the lieutenant governor's office this year. Sen. Ed Quick, D-Liberty, agreed.

"That office has to function and for it to go through a couple months wihtout an office would be a little short-sighted and not fulfill what the constitution says," Quick said.

But some Republicans see a less innocent motive.

Sen. Peter Kinder R-Cape Girardeau is not convinced there is work to be done. He suggests there are other reasons for the appointment and questions the legality.

"I searched the Constitution in vain to find a legal reason for his appointment but could not find anything," Kinder said.

Republican suspicisons lie in the fact that as lieutenant governor, Maxwell has the power to break a tie vote in the Senate. Although due to recent resignations of three senators to higher office, Republicans will hold a majority of Senate seats until special elections on Jan. 24. Maxwell's influence over the Senate's votes, therefore, would be purely informal.

That leaves Republicans wondering whether Maxwell and other Democrats are trying to increase their power. "The question is whether or not they're going to try to inject Maxwell as if he were a full-fledged senator," Hancock said.

As for Maxwell, he said he wishes to remain above the partisan bickering. "I'm going to avoid those debates," he said. He said he trusts that the governor's staff and the Attorney General have thoroughly investigated the issue and he downplayed the significance of his early appointment.

"I was going to be lieutenant governor one way or the other -- January 8 or today," he said. The appointment comes about six weeks before he was to be sworn in officially.