One key responsibility of being Missouri governor is getting to fill vacancies in state and local governments — including times when there’s an opening at a coveted statewide office.
So after appointing a lieutenant governor and attorney general, Gov. Mike Parson will get yet another chance to fill a statewide vacancy. That’s because he picked state Treasurer Eric Schmitt to replace soon-to-be former Attorney General Josh Hawley.
Parson may be under pressure to appoint a woman to the post, especially since his last two statewide picks were white men. Here are some of the possible contenders for the job:
State Rep. Holly Rehder
After getting elected to the House in 2012, Rehder became the go-to legislator for a host of high-profile issues. She sponsored right-to-work legislation that ultimately passed (before being repealed by the voters), as well as a prescription monitoring program.
The Sikeston Republican also has a compelling backstory: Rehder grew up in poverty, and has been open about her family depending on welfare. She’s often pointed to her family struggles with drug addiction. Ultimately, she started a company with her husband that installs telecommunications services.
Rehder was supportive of a move to freeze low-income housing tax credits last year, which Parson opposed while serving as lieutenant governor. The treasurer serves on the commission that issues those incentives, so Parson may be looking for someone who back tax credits — although the governor has stressed he wants that program changed before it’s restarted.
State Rep. Jean Evans
The Manchester Republican is a relative newcomer to legislative politics. But in her short time in the House, she’s been able to move a number of high-profile bills — including legislation that increased the marriage age throughout the state. The real estate agent and investor also handled the legislation that ultimately became Proposition D, an unsuccessful ballot measure to raise the state’s gas tax.
Evans represents a part of the St. Louis County suburbs, a place where Republicans lost a little bit of ground this election cycle. With Schmitt also hailing from St. Louis County, having two GOP officials from that part of the state could help solidify Missouri Republicans’ already strong statewide infrastructure.
Evans and Rehder aren’t the only female House members that Parson could select. Others include state Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, and soon-to-be former state Reps. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis County and Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles. All three of these lawmakers have experience serving on the House Budget Committee.
State Rep. Shamed Dogan
While it’s become a fun pastime to mock Illinois for its corruption and incarcerated governors, the Land of Lincoln has achieved something Missouri hasn’t done: Electing a person of color to office.
In fact, Missouri hasn’t even come close — as two African-American statewide candidates since 1994 were trounced in a general election. By comparison, five of Illinois’ statewide officials will either be black, Latino or Asian by the beginning of 2019.
Parson could end that drought by appointing Dogan — who is the only black Republican serving in the Missouri General Assembly. He’s gained notoriety in the House for handling ethics-related legislation, as well as a bill to reduce the regulatory burden for hair braiders.
Like Rehder, Dogan has been critical of incentives such as the low-income housing tax credit. He also doesn’t have any experience in banking or finance, although Schmitt didn’t have extensive expertise in those areas before he was elected treasurer in 2016. Whether those factors are liabilities or assets in Parson’s decision making process remain to be seen.
State Sen. Sandy Crawford
One of the key roles of the state treasurer’s office is investing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of state assets. And who better to lead such a task than someone with banking experience?
That could be why Parson may select Crawford, who succeeded the governor in the Senate after he was elected lieutenant governor in 2016. Before starting her legislative career, the Dallas County native spent nearly three decades working in the banking industry.
While Crawford has extensive experience in the Missouri House, she was just elected this month to her first full term as a senator. Still, there’s relatively little risk in picking Crawford — because her 28th District is heavily Republican and will likely select another GOP candidate to succeed her.
Clay County Public Administrator Sarah Mills
In the last few decades, state treasurers have either had prior tenure in state or federal government. But Parson may look to some Republican county officials to succeed Schmitt — similar to how Gov. Jay Nixon tapped then-Boone County Treasurer Nicole Galloway to fill an auditor vacancy.
One possibility is Mills, who unsuccessfully sought a state House seat in the Kansas City area. Even though she lost, many Republican leaders, such as House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, raved about her candidacy. And if chosen, the former CIA analyst would be the first Hispanic woman to hold statewide office in Missouri.
While Mills ran in a fairly Democratic district, Parson may be hesitant to appoint someone who has only won a single election in 2016. That may prompt Parson to look for other local officials who have longer track records.
Former Sen. David Pearce
In many respects, Pearce checks many of the boxes for a potential treasurer. Like Crawford, the former state House and Senate member spent many years in the banking industry. He also currently works in the treasurer’s office as Schmitt’s senior policy coordinator.
Pearce was widely seen as a possible candidate for treasurer before 2012, when he depleted a lot of his campaign war chest in a GOP primary against then-state Rep. Mike McGhee. So it’s safe to say that he would ready to defend the treasurer’s office against a Democratic challenger in 2020.
One benefit for Parson is that Pearce isn’t currently in elected office, so his selection wouldn’t set off a political chain reaction to replace him. But if Parson is facing internal pressure not to choose a white male former Senate colleague, then Pearce may be off the list.
Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick
If Parson is seeking to plan for the future, he may look to Fitzpatrick. The 31-year-old from Shell Knob has established himself as one of the legislature’s most powerful members as the leader of the House Budget Committee. And despite his age, Fitzpatrick has extensive experience as a businessperson in running a dock repair company.
There are a couple of reasons why Parson may hesitate to pick Fitzpatrick. He engineered a freeze of the low-income housing tax credit in the Budget Committee, which, as noted before, may not jibe well with Parson. Fitzpatrick also clashed with Parson over some budgetary moves early in his gubernatorial tenure.
The other hitch? Parson may try to pick someone who may not be interested in succeeding him, since Schmitt and Kehoe are clearly potential gubernatorial candidates after 2024. Picking Fitzpatrick would not accomplish that goal, since he would be 37 once Parson is barred from running again.
It’s not out of the question that Parson won’t choose a current or former state lawmaker to replace Schmitt. He may look to someone without elected experience, such as Show-Me Institute CEO Brenda Talent.
Talent, the wife of former Sen. Jim Talent, has a sterling professional resume as a tax attorney. She also possesses deep knowledge about Missouri’s pension system, a policy area where the state treasurer plays a major role.
There’s just one problem: A spokesman for the Show-Me Institute told St. Louis Public Radio that Talent doesn’t want to be state treasurer and hasn’t been approached about the job. That’s not surprising, as Talent’s husband embarked on three grueling statewide campaigns between 2000 and 2006. Another one in 2020 is likely not an appealing prospect.
On the Trail, an occasional column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum