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Governor slow to fill vacant seats in Missouri Legislature

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When the 2014 session of the Missouri Legislature begins on Jan. 8, one of the biggest things to greet Gov. Jay Nixon will be a lawsuit. The suit was filed in Cole County on January 2, on behalf of ten people from various State Representative and State Senate Districts. The suit states that Governor Nixon has been remiss in his duties as Governor by not setting dates for special elections to fill three vacant State Rep. seats and one State Senate seat.

Currently, the 120th House District, has been open since Republican Rep. Jason Smith won retiring Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson’s seat in a special election. Rep. Steve Webb (D-Florissant) from the 67th House District recently resigned his seat amid possible criminal charges. Rep. Dennis Fowler (R-Advance) left an open seat in the 151st District when Gov. Nixon appointed him to the state parole board. State Senator Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City) resigned his seat in the 22nd Senate District after being appointed by Nixon to take over as the State’s labor department director. Right now, there are roughly 300,000 Missourians who are without representation in the Missouri House or Senate.

The Missouri Secretary of State’s Office has April 8, 2014 as the date scheduled for a General Municipal election. According to the Sec. of States office, the deadline to file for candidacy in the April election is January 21, 2014.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of those residents in the unrepresented districts has asked for a Writ of Mandamus. This action is justified when legal authority requires an official to perform an act in particular circumstances. The purpose of the Writ is to compel one to perform a duty that he has been charged with but has failed to perform. The Constitution of the state of Missouri also requires the Governor to issue a Writ of Election so that the vacancies can be filled “without delay”.

The vacant seats involved were held by two Republicans and two Democrats, so House Republicans maintain a 108-52 majority, however, it is just one seat shy of the two-thirds majority they would need to override a gubernatorial veto. Over in the Senate, Republicans have a 24-9 majority with the vacant seat.

Writs of Election must come from the Governor’s desk no later than January 17, 2014 in order for election officials to prepare to fill the vacancies. This would also save Missouri taxpayers the expense of yet another special election if all of the necessary paperwork is completed for the April election.

But is saving taxpayer dollars a priority for Jay Nixon, given his support of Medicaid expansion, and opposition to tax cuts? Three hundred thousand Missourians would hope so. They would like to be represented in the Legislature in the last crucial month of the session.

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