In a Democratic administration, sole Republican Peter Kinder has one foot in the GOP-controlled Legislature
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In a Democratic administration, sole Republican Peter Kinder has one foot in the GOP-controlled Legislature

Date: December 19, 2008
By: Joel Walsh
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - When Jay Nixon, a Democrat, officially assumes the Missouri governorship Jan. 12, only one Republican elected to statewide office will remain, making Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, in effect, the titular head of the party in Jefferson City.

As the lone Republican in Missouri's executive branch and as president of the Missouri Senate, Kinder has offered to play a role in bridging the gap between a Democratically-controlled administration and a Republican-controlled legislature.

It is yet to be seen exactly what role Kinder will play, though.

The lieutenant governor-elect said following his Nov. 4 electoral victory, "I am offering Jay Nixon my assistance in the new administration."

On election night, Kinder was more direct about his idea. "He [Nixon] will need help governing this state with a majority of the other party controlling both the House and Senate," Kinder said. "I will work with him if he is willing to work with me."

Since then, however, Kinder has declined comment on whatever role he might play between the two separate branches of government.

The lieutenant governor's director of communications, Gary McElyea, described Kinder as a "liaison" between the state's executive and legislative branches.

"He's the only statewide official that is actively involved in both branches (of state government)," McElyea said.

Outgoing Senate pro tem, Mike Gibbons, summarized the lieutenant governor's power in the Senate as twofold.

Kinder has the ultimate right to preside over Missouri's upper chamber, Gibbons said, and, in the case of a split vote, he would cast the tie-breaking vote.

But, according to him, the lieutenant governor's legislative duties are often little more than acting as a "glorified traffic cop.

"We're content to let him be lieutenant governor, and he's content to let the Missouri Senate take care of its challenges," Gibbons said. " ... Peter's very respectful of the Senate's prerogative to run itself."

Indeed, Senate rules strip the lieutenant governor of any real powers than one normally would associate with a "presiding officer."

Gibbons said the real issue "isn't so much as a bridge between the Senate and the executive. The real issue that we've seen in Missouri is, 'What's the relationship going to be between the lieutenant governor and the governor.'"

He noted that, with Kinder serving as second-in-command for the past four years, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt was comfortable in leaving the state and "passing the baton" so to speak to the lieutenant governor, whereas that relationship has not always been so amicable.

"That's going to be the interesting relationship to see how it plays out, and I don't really know how that's going to be. That's something that Peter and Jay Nixon are going to have to answer," Gibbons said.

Along with the statutory duty to fill in as the state's chief executive upon the death, conviction, impeachment, resignation, absence from the state or disability of the governor, the lieutenant governor is also the official advocate for the elderly in the state and sits on various boards and commissions, including the Missouri Development Finance Board, the Missouri Rural Economic Development Council and the state Tourism Commission.

Regarding those roles, Gibbons said, "He's going to be very successful and be a very strong advocate for Republican principles."

McElyea also commented, "Although his powers are fairly limited in the legislative branch, he's given an expanded role in the executive branch behind the scenes in pushing forward legislation."

In the Senate, Republicans will enjoy a commanding majority with 23 seats to eleven.  That's enough to override any veto by the governor, although in the House Republicans lack a large enough majority to override a veto.

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Victor Callahan said the role of all elected officials -- not just Peter Kinder -- is "to find real solutions" to certain problems in the state.

"Given the seriousness of the economic environment, I don't think the voters are going to have a lot of patience for partisan tag," said the Independence Democrat. "I think it's natural to have legitimate, genuine differences ... but at the end of the day, I think Missourians want real solutions."

"Peter has a tremendous skill set, and he'll be a tremendous part of that process," Callahan added. "He will be influential in coming up with common sense answers for how we solve the problems we face."

A state senator under Kinder's tenure as Senate president pro tem and as lieutenant governor, Callahan said, "If it's a Democratic idea and it works, we need to do it; if it's a Republican idea and it works, we need to do it."

With regard to a slumping statewide and national economy, Gibbons echoed, "I'm anticipating it being a higher level of cooperation than what typically might exist in this situation."

"To the extent that (governor-elect Jay Nixon) is interested in growth and job creation to help pull us out of this challenging time, he's going to find a lot of friends on the Republican side of the Legislature, and I think that Lt. Gov. Kinder very well may have some involvement with that."