Mel Carnahan

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Mel Carnahan
51st Governor of Missouri
In office
January 11, 1993 – October 16, 2000
Lieutenant Roger B. Wilson
Preceded by John Ashcroft
Succeeded by Roger B. Wilson
43rd Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
In office
January 9, 1989 – January 11, 1993
Governor John Ashcroft
Preceded by Harriett Woods
Succeeded by Roger B. Wilson
40th State Treasurer of Missouri
In office
January 12, 1981 – January 14, 1985
Governor Kit Bond
Preceded by Jim Spainhower
Succeeded by Wendell Bailey
Member of the Missouri House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born Melvin Eugene Carnahan
(1934-02-11)February 11, 1934
Birch Tree, Missouri, USA
Died October 16, 2000(2000-10-16) (aged 66)
Jefferson County, Missouri, USA
Resting place Carson Hills Cemetery Ellsinore, Missouri
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Jean Carnahan
(1954–2000, his death)
Children 4 (1 deceased)
Alma mater George Washington University (B.A.)
University of Missouri (J.D.)
Profession lawyer
Religion Baptist
Military service
Service/branch  United States Air Force
Rank US-O2 insignia.svg First Lieutenant
Unit Air Force Office of Special Investigations

Melvin Eugene "Mel" Carnahan (February 11, 1934 – October 16, 2000) was an American politician. A Democrat, he served as the 51st Governor of Missouri (1993–2000) and was elected posthumously to the U.S. Senate.

Family life and education

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 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 from the University of Missouri School of Law in Columbia, Missouri, in 1959.

Political career

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 Saint Louis Mayor 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 Margaret Kelly.

Personal life

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 — 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

In 2000, Carnahan ran for US Senator against incumbent Republican John Ashcroft. 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 onboard 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 succeeded Carnahan as Missouri's Governor, serving until the end of his gubernatorial term in January 2001. Because the state's election law would not allow Carnahan's name to be removed from the November 7, 2000 ballot, the campaign appointed 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 narrowly defeated in a special election by James Talent (R).[3]

Carnahan was not the only candidate to have died during a US Senate race. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota was killed in a plane crash in 2002, 11 days before a Senate election. Representative Jerry Litton, also from Missouri, died in one in 1976 the day that he was nominated by his party. Richard "Dick" Obenshain of Virginia was killed in a plane crash in 1978 just shortly after receiving the Republican nomination. In 2010, Jenny Oropeza died of an illness just a month before voters (posthumously) re-elected her in the Long Beach district during the California State Senate race.[4]


  1. Elsinore Remembers its Fallen Son p. 17.
  2. Missouri State Treasurer-Past Treasurer's Biography
  3. "Mel Carnahan". Find A Grave. Retrieved October 30, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Dead state senator reelected in Long Beach". Los Angeles Times. November 3, 2010. Retrieved November 3, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

{{succession box before=John Ashcroft|title=Governor of Missouri|years=January 11, 1993 – October 16, 2000|after=Roger B. Wilson}}

Political offices
Preceded by
Jim Spainhower
State Treasurer of Missouri
January 12, 1981 – January 14, 1985
Succeeded by
Wendell Bailey
Preceded by
Harriett Woods
Lieutenant Governor of Missouri
January 9, 1989 – January 11, 1993
Succeeded by
Roger B. Wilson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Betty Cooper Hearnes
Democratic Party nominee for Governor of Missouri
1992, 1996
Succeeded by
Bob Holden
Preceded by
Alan Wheat
Democratic Party nominee for United States Senator from Missouri (Class 1)
Succeeded by
Jean Carnahan