Hearings began Wednesday on three articles of impeachment against Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
All three resolutions are sponsored by Republican House members. First, House Resolution 380 accuses the Democratic governor of violating the state's ban on same-sex marriage when he ordered the Department of Revenue to accept joint income tax filings from gay couples living in Missouri but married in other states. State Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, sponsored the resolution.
"It's clear — Missouri's constitution says we shall not recognize marriage between other than a man and a woman, and the governor has done the exact opposite," Marshall told the House Judiciary Committee. "My argument is that this is such a serious blatant violation of Missouri's constitution and Missouri's law that the governor must be removed from office."
Article 7, Section 1 of the Missouri Constitution lays out the conditions for impeachment:
"All elective executive officials of the state, and judges of the supreme court, courts of appeals and circuit courts shall be liable to impeachment for crimes, misconduct, habitual drunkenness, willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude or oppression in office."
Fellow Republican Stanley Cox of Sedalia, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, says he agrees that the governor's legal analysis was "absolutely and blatantly wrong," but he also questioned whether the governor's executive order meets the constitutional definition of impeachment. Marshall contends that it qualifies as both "misconduct" and "willful neglect of duty."
Cox also asked whether there were other options aside from impeachment that could be pursued, such as a censure. Committee members from both political parties questioned whether it would be more appropriate to let the courts handle the dispute over the governor's executive order. A lawsuit was filed earlier this year in Cole County challenging the order.
"You're talking about overreaching of other branches of the government," said State Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa. "In the event that the courts would side with the governor's position, we would then have a situation where we've got two branches versus our opinion if we impeach him."
Elmer then asked, "Are you saying that we're neglectful in our duties as legislators if we don't proceed with this right now?"
"Yes," Marshall answered. "(The court has) not moved on the case, (and) they are not going to move on this case and issue a final ruling as long as we have pending impeachment resolutions…a court will not insert itself into a political decision — they hate that."
State Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, told Marshall that differing opinions on legal analysis should not lead to the filing of impeachment articles.
"If we move forward with this and we actually do impeach the governor, we're almost saying to folks that if we have a real disagreement as to legal analysis … that all of a sudden reaches the level of impeachable misconduct or willful neglect of duty," Colona said. "I'm not willing to go there."
Time ran out on Wednesday's hearing before witnesses could testify, although State Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, the sponsor of the next article of impeachment was allowed to introduce his resolution. House Resolution 476 accuses Gov. Nixon of taking too long to set special election dates for vacant legislative seats.
The third article of impeachment, HR 923, faults Nixon for not firing Dept. of Revenue officials who were involved in releasing the state's conceal-carry list. It’s sponsored by State Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville.
The hearings are scheduled to resume next Wednesday, April 30th.
The filing of the impeachment articles comes in the wake of deteriorating relations between the Democratic governor and the Republican-led General Assembly. While the Nixon administration and GOP leaders have never had what could be described as a warm or close working relationship, it became downright hostile after the governor began his second term in office. Nixon called for expanding Medicaid during 2013, and Republicans in both chambers fought him hard on it.
Then controversy erupted over the Dept. of Revenue's scanning of documents for driver's license and conceal-carry applicants, and the discovery that the agency had approved the release of a list containing every conceal-carry endorsement holder in Missouri to a federal investigator. It was those two events that first sparked talk among some Republicans in Jefferson City about the possibility of of impeaching the governor. But Cox denies that the hearings are an orchestrated political attack against Gov. Nixon.
"These are serious allegations worthy of consideration," Cox said after Wednesday's recess. "After we conclude it and all the testimony (has been heard), the committee will make a decision."
If they vote "yes," the approved impeachment articles would have to be passed by the full House, and the Senate would then appoint a 7-judge panel, which would have the authority to remove the governor from office.
When asked by reporters Tuesday, Gov. Nixon said that his executive order was based on Missouri statutes that say the state should follow federal rules and regulations. Nixon was referring to a recent ruling by the U.S. Treasury Department to recognize all same-sex marriages, including legally-married gay couples that live in states that don't recognize gay marriage.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport