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Will Missouri be without a governor -- and lt. governor -- at same time?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2009 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon plans to return to Missouri late Wednesday after being out of the country since Friday. He's now in Germany, a spokesman just said.

Nixon and a few other governors -- including Illinois' Pat Quinn -- have been traveling the Middle East in a super-secret tour in which they've visited National Guard troops from their respective states in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

And beginning Tuesday, Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder -- who complained to the Beacon a few weeks ago about being ignored by Nixon -- will be out of the country himself in a trip to Canada. The lieutenant governor won't return until Saturday.

Which raises the question: Does that mean state Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, will be in charge today and Wednesday should a state emergency arise? (According to theMissouri Constitution, Shields is No. 3 in line. State House Speaker Ron Richard is No. 4. That's the reverse of the federal line of succession.)

Nixon communications director Jack Cardetti said Monday that Nixon has remained in constant contact with his staff and has not relinquished his power to Kinder. As a result, Nixon considers himself to still be in charge.

Cardetti also said that, for security reasons dictated by the military, he couldn't divulge many details of the trip, such as where the governor was going and when he would be back in the state. (As of Monday night, the governor's Web site gave no indication either, but it did offer some photos and comments from the governor about his Iraq stop.)

Cardetti could only say that Nixon already had visited Iraq and Kuwait. Today, press secretary Scott Holste reported that Nixon had spent two days in Afghanistan and now was in Germany preparing for his return to Missouri.

Said Nixon in a statement just released:

“Each and every day, soldiers from Missouri and across the nation are putting their lives on the line in Afghanistan in defense of freedom, liberty and peace,” Gov. Nixon said.  “I was deeply honored to be able to meet these soldiers in person, on the front lines, to thank them for their service and offer my prayers and good wishes.  I am extremely proud of the dedication, professionalism and tenacity I saw in every Missourian I met during my visit, and I have every confidence these tireless heroes will accomplish their mission and bring security and stability to Afghanistan and the region.”

During his visit to Afghanistan, Gov. Nixon and his fellow Governors visited the U.S. Embassy and military installations in Kabul, and they also met with soldiers in Bagram. The visit to Afghanistan followed a two-day stop in Iraq, during which Gov. Nixon met with Missouri soldiers and toured U.S. military facilities in Baghdad and Basra.

Kinder's staff disclosed Monday that he was unaware of Nixon's trip until late Sunday morning, when Kinder got word that Nixon was holding a conference call with some Missouri reporters. (The Beacon was not among them.)

Nixon's predecessor, Republican Matt Blunt, did alert Kinder about his overseas trips -- and during at least one, in June 2008, Blunt allowed Kinder to sign a number of bills into law and call out 175 National Guard troops to deal with flooding.

In any case, we can assume that Nixon's office wasn't informed of Kinder's plans to be out of the state, and the country, as of today. Since there's no security issue, Kinder's staff says he'll be back on Saturday.

Now we know that Nixon will be back before then.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.