Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Missouri Carnahans

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

There is a young woman running for the United States Senate in Missouri, and although I have never met her or even been to one of her political events, I know that Robin Carnahan is a good person, a quality individual from solid Missouri citizen stock.  Her brother, Russ, is a Congressman from central Missouri, and her mother, Jean, is an attorney who was appointed to serve out a two-year vacancy in the U.S. Senate.    I don't know Russ or Jean either.

But I knew Robin's father, Mel Carnahan, and considered him to be a friend.

It was in the mid-1980's and I was serving a term as the Democratic County Chairman of McDonald County, Missouri.  Our county always held a big political event just prior to the November elections - usually a huge dinner at the high school with a prominent speaker - and I had everything nailed down except the speaker.  As the election drew near, all of the big names had filled their calendars with events in the more populous counties and communities.  Somebody suggested that I give Mel Carnahan a call and ask if he would consider coming to McDonald County.  Mel was our state treasurer at the time, and he still had two years to serve in his term - which meant that he wasn't necessarily out hunting for votes.

I can't remember why, perhaps it was due to my work schedule, but I wound up calling his office in Jefferson City one evening around 6:30 p.m. when the chances of finding anyone in were practically  nil.  But luck was with me that night because not only was the phone answered, it was answered by the treasurer himself.  I stated my problem, proffered the invitation, and listened in amazement at Mel chuckled, checked his appointment book, and said, "Sure, Rocky, I'll be there."  My bacon was saved, and Mel Carnahan had a guaranteed vote for every subsequent office that he sought.  He came  to our event, gave a great speech, and convinced the room full of good Democrats that they were the most important voters in the state.

Mel Carnahan went on to serve two terms as Lieutenant Governor under the moralistic and obnoxious Governor John Ashcroft, and then followed Ashcroft into the governor's office where he spent two full terms cleaning up after the sanctimonious son of a preacher man.  In 2000 John Ashcroft was completing his first (and only) term as a U.S. Senator from Missouri.  Mel decided that Missouri could do better, so he launched an aggressive campaign to unseat the incumbent Ashcroft.  Unfortunately for Missouri and the nation, Mel, his youngest son, Randy, and his campaign manager were all killed in an airplane crash just two weeks before the election.

But even death couldn't stop a Carnahan!

At the time of the crash it was too late to remove Mel Carnahan's name from the ballot.   While the rest of the nation assumed that the senate seat would be a freebie for the Republican incumbent, the Carnahan family and the rest of Missouri didn't see it that way.  Mel's name stayed on the ballot and he became the only dead person in history to defeat a sitting United States Senator.  Interim Governor Roger Wilson demonstrated the state's respect for the Carnahan family by appointing Mel's widow, Jean, to fill the seat until a special election could be held two years later.

That was the last time that I voted for Mel Carnahan, and it was the proudest vote that I have ever cast.   A few weeks ago I voted absentee for Robin.  It was my civic duty and my privilege.

Robin Carnahan will make a great United States Senator.  I wish her the very best.

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