Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
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By Mark D. Hughes
«RM75»«FC»COL5.MDH - Power of Position: Which State Official is Truly No. 2?
The speaker of Missouri's House of Representatives has been often referred to as the "second-most" powerful state official behind only the governor. This may be because the speaker appoints members who serve on committees, assigns bills to committees knowing well which committe may pass -- or kill -- a particular bill and who presides -- or decides who does preside -- when the House is in session. Debate in the House -- as a matter of necessity for a sometimes raucus body of 163 members -- can be cut off to force a vote on whatever issue the speaker wants to advance or kill.
For most of Missouri's history, there would have been no question about the speaker's power. In 1970, however, a Senate rule change usurped the executive branch's control over the Senate and shifted the power from the lieutenant governor to the Senate president pro tem -- the only official in the upper chamber who is elected by Senate members of both political parties.
This rule change may also have pushed the president pro tem past the speaker in terms of power over not just legislation, but state government as well.
Like the speaker, the pro tem has the power to appoint committees, assign bills and to preside or decide who presides in instances in which the lieutenant governor does not wish to preside.
The pro tem is also the Senate parliamentarian, ruling on points of order in the often strategic protocols under which the Senate conducts debate. Unlike the speaker, however, who can rule with a heavy hand if he or she so chooses, the pro tem must keep a careful balance of happy members. The pro tem can be replaced at any time by a simple majority vote of 18 members. It would be much harder to rally the 82 members needed to overturn a speaker.
Unlike the House, debate in the Senate is seldom cut off. Senators in the past often quoted Thomas Jefferson -- who wrote the baseline rulebook still used by the United States and the Missouri senates -- that "One senator with courage is a majority."
Essentially, that means that as long as one senator feels strongly enough to stand up and talk, a bill cannot not pass. In fact, the previous question halting debate was not used in the Missouri Senate from 1820 until 1970 -- and only 14 times since.
Both the speaker and the pro-tem have similar power over passing or killing legislation. In controlling state government -- more specifically the officials who runs state boards, divisions and departments -- state law empowers the pro tem and his Senate with control over virtually every appointment the governor makes to key positions in state government.
For all major positions filled by the governor, the law requires the Senate give and affirmative vote known as "advice and consent." The pro tem serves as chairman of the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee, which must okay appointments by the governor before they are voted on by the full Senate.
This process is not always smooth -- and governors sometimes temporarily get around this by appointing "temporary" officials.
Ultimately, however, the Senate -- and its pro tem -- have legal authority needed to approve those who serves in these positions, giving the upper chamber and its leader a distinct opportunity to control government in Missouri.
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]
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