Mel Carnahan

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Mel Carnahan
51st Governor of Missouri
In office
January 11, 1993 – October 16, 2000
LieutenantRoger B. Wilson
Preceded byJohn Ashcroft
Succeeded byRoger B. Wilson
43rd Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
In office
January 9, 1989 – January 11, 1993
GovernorJohn Ashcroft
Preceded byHarriett Woods
Succeeded byRoger B. Wilson
40th Treasurer of Missouri
In office
January 12, 1981 – January 14, 1985
GovernorKit Bond
Preceded byJim Spainhower
Succeeded byWendell Bailey
Personal details
Melvin Eugene Carnahan

(1934-02-11)February 11, 1934
Birch Tree, Missouri, U.S.
DiedOctober 16, 2000(2000-10-16) (aged 66)
near Hillsboro, Missouri, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Jean Carpenter
(m. 1954; his death 2000)
RelationsCarnahan family
Children4, including Russ, Robin, and Tom
FatherA. S. J. Carnahan
EducationGeorge Washington University (BA)
University of Missouri (JD)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Air Force
RankUS-O2 insignia.svg First Lieutenant
UnitAir Force Office of Special Investigations

Melvin Eugene Carnahan (February 11, 1934 – October 16, 2000) was an American lawyer and politician who served as the 51st Governor of Missouri from 1993 until his death in a plane crash in 2000. A Democrat, he was elected posthumously to the U.S. Senate; his widow held his seat for two years.

Family life and education[edit]

Carnahan was born in Birch Tree, Missouri, and grew up on a small farm near Ellsinore, Missouri, with his only sibling, Robert "Bob" Carnahan.[1] He was the son of Kathel (Schupp) and A. S. J. Carnahan, the superintendent of Ellsinore schools who, in 1944, was elected to the United States House of Representatives.

Carnahan moved with his family to Washington, D.C., where he graduated high school and earned a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Business Administration from George Washington University. He entered the United States Air Force, rising to First Lieutenant, and served as a special agent for the Office of Special Investigation. He received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Missouri School of Law in Columbia, Missouri, in 1959.

Political career[edit]

Carnahan as state treasurer in 1981

Carnahan's political career started as a member of the Missouri House of Representatives representing the Rolla area. In 1980, Carnahan was elected Missouri State Treasurer. He served in that post from 1981 to 1985. In 1984 he was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Missouri, losing the Democratic primary election to then-Lieutenant Governor Kenneth Rothman, who lost the general election that year to state Attorney General John Ashcroft.[2]

In 1988 he was elected Lieutenant Governor of Missouri. In 1992, he faced Mayor of St. Louis Vincent C. Schoemehl in the Democratic primary for governor. He won the Democratic nomination by a wide margin and went on to easily defeat Republican state Attorney General William L. Webster in the general election. He was elected Governor of Missouri on November 3, 1992, and reelected for a second term on November 5, 1996, defeating Republican State Auditor of Missouri Margaret Kelly.

Personal life[edit]

Carnahan and his family were active members of the First Baptist Church of Rolla, where he served as an ordained deacon and member of the building committee. In 1984, he risked his political career by taking a public stand against Missouri ballot issues, Amendments 5 and 7, which would legalize parimutuel betting and create a state lottery. He was one of only a handful of state elected officials to take such a position; however, both amendments passed.

Carnahan married Jean Carpenter in Washington, D.C. on June 12, 1954. They had four children, all lawyers. Russ Carnahan, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Missouri's 3rd District (2005–2013); Tom Carnahan, founder of Wind Capital Group, which builds wind farms; Robin Carnahan, former Missouri Secretary of State (2005–2013); and Roger "Randy" Carnahan, who piloted the plane and perished in the same crash that killed his father.

2000 Senate election and death[edit]

In 2000, Carnahan ran in the election against incumbent Republican John Ashcroft to become a United States Senator. It was a heated and intense campaign, in which Carnahan traveled all over Missouri to garner support in what was a very close race. However, early in the evening of October 16, the night before a presidential debate held at Washington University in St. Louis just three weeks before the election, the twin-engine Cessna airplane he was flying on, which was piloted by his son Randy, lost control in rainy and foggy conditions and crashed on a forested hillside near Goldman, Missouri, only about 35 miles (56 km) south of St. Louis. All three on board the plane (Mel and Randy Carnahan and Chris Sifford, the governor's campaign advisor and former chief of staff) were killed in the crash.

Lieutenant Governor Roger B. Wilson ascended to the governorship and served out the balance of Carnahan's term, which ended in January 2001. Because Missouri election law would not allow Carnahan's name to be removed from the November 7, 2000, ballot, the campaign chose Carnahan's widow, Jean Carnahan, to unofficially become the new Democratic candidate. Wilson promised to appoint her to the seat, if it became vacant as a result of Mel Carnahan's win in the election. Carnahan's campaign continued using the slogan "I'm Still with Mel." A Senate first, Carnahan posthumously won, by a 2% margin. Jean Carnahan was then appointed to the Senate and served until November 2002, when she was defeated by a 1% margin in a special election by Republican James Talent.

Carnahan is not the only candidate to have died during a U.S. Senate race. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota was killed in a plane crash in 2002, eleven days before his Senate election; Wellstone's party, the DFL, chose former Vice President Walter Mondale to replace Wellstone on the ballot, but Mondale lost narrowly to Republican Norm Coleman. Representative Jerry Litton, also from Missouri, died in one in 1976 the day that he won the Democratic primary and was to be nominated by party officials; on his death, the party ran a second primary, and former Governor Warren E. Hearnes, the runner-up in the first primary, won but was subsequently defeated by Republican John Danforth. Richard "Dick" Obenshain of Virginia was killed in a plane crash in 1978 shortly after receiving the Republican nomination; he was replaced by the far less conservative state convention runner-up, former United States Secretary of the Navy John Warner, who proceeded to narrowly defeat (by less than half of a percentage point) former Attorney General of Virginia Andrew P. Miller.

A high school, Carnahan High School of the Future, was named after him in 2003.


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Jim Spainhower
Treasurer of Missouri
Succeeded by
Wendell Bailey
Preceded by
Harriett Woods
Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
Succeeded by
Roger B. Wilson
Preceded by
John Ashcroft
Governor of Missouri
Party political offices
Preceded by
Betty Cooper Hearnes
Democratic nominee for Governor of Missouri
1992, 1996
Succeeded by
Bob Holden
Preceded by
Alan Wheat
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Missouri
(Class 1)

Succeeded by
Jean Carnahan
Preceded by
Evan Bayh
Chair of the Democratic Governors Association
Succeeded by
Gaston Caperton