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Former Missouri Gov. Warren Hearnes 'gravely ill,' family says

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 13, 2009 - The news out of southeast Missouri is somber, as relatives report that former Missouri Gov. Warren Hearnes -- the state's first chief executive to serve two consecutive terms -- is "gravely ill."

The former governor's wife, Betty Hearnes, used those words in an interview this morning, confirming the report in the Southeast Missourian newspaper. The couple's three daughters have joined them at their Charleston, Mo., home.

Betty Hearnes said her husband, 86, has been ill with various age-related ailments for several months, and is "resting at home."

"Everything is being done that could be done for him,'' Betty Hearnes said.

A colorful, candid politician, Warren Hearnes was born in Moline, Ill., but moved across the Mississippi as a child to Charleston, where he grew up.

After stints in the military and at West Point, he graduated from law school in 1952 at the University of Missouri-Columbia. At the time, he already was a member of the state Legislature. Hearnes served more than a decade in the state House, from 1950-61, some of it as majority leader. He left the Legislature when he was sworn in as Missouri secretary of state, a post he won in the 1960 election.

Hearnes went on to be elected governor in 1964, after a nasty party primary. He won re-election in 1968, after voters in 1965 approved a change in the Missouri Constitution to allow governors to serve consecutive terms.

As a result, Hearnes also became only the second Missouri governor to serve two terms. A fellow Democrat, Phil Donnelly, was the first: he won elections as governor in 1944 and 1952 (sitting out 1948 because of the constitutional ban.)

Since Hearnes, Missouri has had three more two-term governors: Republicans Christopher S. Bond and John Ashcroft, and Democrat Mel Carnahan.

As governor, Hearnes particularly focused on increasing state spending on public education, expanding the state's highway system and civil rights. He signed the state's public-accomodations law that did away with many of the separate public facilities for whites and blacks.

Hearnes' second term was embroiled in controversy and various investigations, some extending to the Legislature, although he was never charged with any misdeeds.

The notoriety did contribute, however, to Hearnes' loss in a three-way primary in 1976 for the U.S. Senate. But when the victor, then-U.S. Rep. Jerry Litton, died in a plane crash the night of the primary election, the Democrats turned to Hearnes to be his replacement. Hearnes lost that November to Republican John C. Danforth.

In 1978, Hearnes made an unsuccessful run for state auditer, losing to Republican Jim Antonio. But in 1980, Hearnes became a circuit judge, in the process becoming Missouri's only governor to also serve in the executive and judicial branches.

In 1988, Hearnes' wife, Betty -- who earlier had won election to the state House -- was the Democratic nominee for governor. She lost to Republican incumbent John Ashcroft.

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.