The possibility of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder resigning from office so soon after being re-elected to a third term has Missouri House Republicans fast-tracking a bill laying out how to pick his successor.
Kinder is among a handful of Republicans seeking the nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who is resigning from Congress. If he were to win the southeastern Missouri seat, he would be forced to vacate the lieutenant governor's office.
And just how he would be replaced has become a contentious issue.
Gov. Jay Nixon has said he has the authority to appoint a replacement, opening the door for a Democrat to hold the statewide office. He points to two precedents -- in 1969 and 2000 -- where a governor appointed someone to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office.
Republican legislative leaders, however, believe that the law calls for a vacancy to be filled through an election or that the law is murky and needs to be clarified.
A bill stating that the governor fills vacancies to statewide offices temporarily until the next general election was approved by the House Elections Committee on Tuesday. The bill also says that whoever is appointed as the acting officeholder would be ineligible to run immediately for the position.
House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican, said the legislation will be the first to clear his chamber and be sent to the Senate this year, with the hope of getting it on the governor's desk quickly.
The Missouri Constitution says the governor has the authority to "fill all vacancies in public office unless otherwise provided by law." A state law excludes the lieutenant governor's office from that authority, but it doesn't spell out how a vacancy would be filled, leading Democrats to believe the governor would in fact appoint a successor.
"My legislation will make it crystal clear that the voice of the people will be heard when filling a vacancy for this office and other statewide offices," said Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, a Salem Republican who is sponsoring the bill.
Smith is also a candidate to replace Emerson in Congress.
While Nixon points to 1969 and 2000 as precedents, in both instances the lieutenant governor vacancies were filled by people who already had been elected to the office but whose terms had yet to begin.
By contrast, Kinder still has nearly all four years left in his term. He was re-elected in November.
In 1855, a sitting lieutenant governor died during his term and the office remained open until after the 1856 election. In 1903, the Senate president pro tem assumed the office when the sitting lieutenant governor resigned.
The main role of the office is to preside over the Missouri Senate, break any tie votes in that chamber, and serve on several state boards and commissions. They also become governor if a vacancy in the office occurred.