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Wilson sworn in as state's 52nd governor

October 18, 2000
By: Paul Monies
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In a solemn ceremony surrounded by family, friends and officials, Columbia's Roger B. Wilson was sworn in early Wednesday as Missouri's 52nd governor.

Wilson becomes governor after Mel Carnahan was killed Monday night in a plane crash along with his son, Roger, and top Senate campaign aide Chris Sifford.

At 1:15 a.m., Wilson took the oath of office administered by Callaway County Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton. He then kissed his wife, Pat, son Drew and daughter Erin.

"It's sad for every Missourian that a man as great as Mel Carnahan would be struck down like this," Wilson told about 35 people gathered in the governor's office in the Capitol.

"I have a committment from his staff that they will finish his term with style and grace," he added. "If I had a wish that could be granted, it would be that we turn our attention to the Carnahan and Sifford families to help them in any way we possibly can."

As to the widespread suspension of political campaigns Tuesday, Wilson said it wasn't his decision but that he expected the campaigning would resume soon.

Wilson also said it was too early to tell what would happen with the now-vacant lieutenant governor's office.

"It's not even on the radar screen right now," he said.

Prior to the ceremony, Carnahan spokesman Jerry Natchigal confirmed that the Jefferson County Medical Examiner positively identified Mel Carnahan and Sifford as two of the passengers in Monday's plane crash south of St. Louis. Investigators continue to work to confirm the death of Roger "Randy" Carnahan.

Carnahan's casket will lie in state at the Governor's Mansion on Thursday for public visitation.

President Bill Clinton is expected at a memorial service Friday morning at the Capitol.

Earlier, scores of state workers spent much of Tuesday evening constructing a massive platform outside the capitol.

On Wednesday morning, Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to come to Jefferson City for a private visit with the Carnahan family.

Work crews from the Capitol began setting up scaffolding Tuesday evening in preparation for Friday's service, said Lin Appling, director of facilities management. The Missouri National Guard is helping with service.

"We met with the National Guard mid-morning and talked to them about the plans for the funeral," Appling said. However, he added that finalized plans for the memorial service and state funeral may change.

Wilson met with the governor's cabinet Tuesday to brief them on the status of the crash investigation.

"I told them the same thing I told the staff this morning," Wilson said late Tuesday. "They [staff members] were hired because Governor Carnahan trusted them--I trust them--and if they want to pay homage to him, the best thing to do is finish this term on the strongest note possible, which is going to be hard."

Wilson said he was focused on the short-term.

"There are a lot of major decisions or conclusions that have to be made before you start looking way down the road," Wilson said.

In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Nachtigal said Wilson and other state officials visited the Carnahan family after the state cabinet meeting.

"The family is doing as well as you would expect having lost a father and son," Nachtigal said.

Jim Grebing, spokesman for Secretary of State Bekki Cook, said gubernatorial succession was different in this election year because the governor's office is in caretaker mode until a new governor is elected.

"Roger's role is to keep the spirits up and help the state through this dark time," Grebing said.

Carnahan's name remains on the ballot for the U.S. Senate race. Regardless of the election result, Republican Sen. John Ashcroft will remain senator until Jan. 3, when members of Congress are sworn in.

The Missouri Democratic Party has until Oct. 27 to certify a write-in candidate to take Carnahan's place. But Grebing said that it would be impractical for a Senate race.

"It could work in a county race, but not in a race with one or two million voters," Grebing said.

If Carnahan is elected posthumously, the governor would appoint someone Jan. 3 to fill the vacancy until the 2002 general election.

Although Missouri legislators are sworn in Jan. 3, statewide elected officials, such as governor, are sworn in Jan. 8.

The U.S. Senate appointment does not need approval by the Missouri legislature.

Mourners continued to leave flowers and memorials outside the governor's office in the Capitol and at the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City. Flags flew at half mast and Capitol police officers wore black bands over their badges.

The Carnahan family has requested that people wishing to remember Carnahan make a donation to the Children's Trust Fund, P.O. Box 1641, Jefferson City, MO 65102. The charity helps abused and underprivileged children in Missouri.