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Nixon sets June 4 to fill vacant 8th District seat, much later than Republicans wanted

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 22, 2013 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has announced that he is setting a special election for June 4 for voters in the state’s 8th congressional district to choose a replacement U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau.

That’s two months later than Emerson had hoped. She had decided to step down as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, a move up from her initial retirement date, to give Nixon the legal 10 weeks to call the special election for April 2.

Still, a spokesman for Emerson said today that she recognized that it was up to the governor to set the date.

Nixon’s staff says the hangup is compliance with federal and state laws set up to enable members of the military stationed overseas to vote.

“Under the (federal) MOVE Act and state law, the deadline for military ballots to be printed and made available, and for local election authorities to begin transmitting those ballots to military and overseas voters, is 45 days before a general, primary or special election for federal office,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

“The deadline for candidates to file is no later than 5 p.m. on the day that is the midpoint between the date when the election is called and election day. Independent candidates also must submit their petitions by this midway point. Local election authorities then have at least 10 days but no more than 40 days to process those independent candidate petitions.”

By the deadline that candidates are allowed to file, his staff says there's not the adequate 45 days left (for the military vote requirement) to set the special election April 2.

April 2 versus June 4

Emerson is leaving to begin a job March 1 as the new chief executive for the national Rural Electric Cooperatives Association. The district's congresswoman since 1996, Emerson handily won re-election Nov. 6.

Emerson had sought the April 2 date to prevent a long vacancy in her seat. She also had believed that the April 2 date would save money because local authorities often have other items on that same ballot.

Nixon noted that June 4 also is a regularly scheduled election day in Missouri so the additional costs may be minimal, if local authorities have other matters on the ballot.

Nixon, a Democrat, didn’t mention that keeping the 8th District seat vacant for a longer period could benefit his party.

Longer vacancy may help Democrats

The GOP margin in the U.S. House is smaller than it was in 2012, and therefore a vacant GOP-held seat could help Democrats.

In Missouri, a crowd of Republicans is vying to replace Emerson, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. Missouri Republicans currently are trying to outmaneuver Nixon, who would appoint a replacement to Kinder should he win the congressional seat.

The Missouri House is planning to deliberate a bill later today to restrict the governor's power to appoint a replacement for statewide vacancies and require a special election instead. (Congressional vacancies already require a special election.)

If the 8th District special election is set for June 4, that could complicate the picture for the state. If Kinder won the party's 8th District nomination, his lieutenant governor post wouldn't be vacant until after that special election.

The Missouri House also would be in recess at that time. So should a bill pass the General Assembly this session to curb the governor's appointment powers, such restrictions -- even if approved by legislators -- might not be in effect by June 4.

The governor also would be expected to veto the measure, which could kick any legislative override attempt to the fall veto session.

The upshot? The governor might still get to fill any lieutenant governor vacancy.

Timing may be crucial. If the General Assembly passes the bill early enough in the session, Nixon must act within 15 days. That could give the General Assembly time to override a veto. And all that could happen before June 4.

And there's another wrinkle: The Missouri House's GOP majority, now 109 votes (the exact number to override a Nixon veto), might drop out of veto-proof territory if the 8th District Republican leaders who choose the nominee select -- instead of Kinder -- one of several state House members vying for the congressional seat.

Emerson offices to remain open

Emerson chief of staff Jeffrey Connor said that until the vacancy is filled, her offices will remain open -- in Washington and in the 8th District -- to deal with constituent services.

The offices will not handle any legislative issues, and no proxy votes could be cast on Emerson's behalf.

Connor said the staff will officially work for the House clerk until the replacement is elected and sworn into office. Connor and other Emerson aides won't be allowed to talk to the news media without approval of the clerk.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.