Former Governor Warren Hearnes has died at his home in Charleston. He was 86, the first person to serve two consecutive four-year terms as Governor. Only one Missourian who served as Governor lived longer than Hearnes–Forrest Donnell, who was 95 when he died in 1980.
Hearnes was in office from 1965 into 19-73 and is remembered for progressive programs in education, social services, and mental health. He also took pride int he state’s economic development during his term. He said his greatest disappoiantment was his inability to get a toll road law approved.
Hearnes said his life in public service began when he was 17, driving people to the polls to vote for his father, a Mississippi County official. The story is often told that his mother bought a potato chip-making machine and made potato chips to help the family get through the Depression.,
Hearnes was a West Point graduate whose military career was cut short when an ankle broken during a foftball game did not heal properly. It did not keep him from being an avid golfer, however.
He married Betty Sue Cooper in 1948, entered law school at the University of Msisouri, and was slected as the youngest-ever State Representative from Mississippi County in 1950.After two stints as Majority Floor Leader, Hearnes ran for Secretary of State, defeating James C. Kirkpatrick for the job. Kirkpatrick won the position four years later when Hearnes moved up.
In 1964, Hearnes ran against the Democratic Part "establishment," won the primary against Lt. Gov. Hillary Bush, and became Governor in January, 1965.
During his first term he got most of his proposed legislation passed. Although he had a lower success rate in his second term, Hearnes rejected the idea that his second term was less successful than his first, noting state funding for programs was not available in his second four years as in his first.
He was proud of advances in education, social sservices, mental health, and economic development. He felt his biggest disappointment was his inability to get a toll road law approved.
Hearnes took up the private practice of law in Charleston after his term His hopes for continued service in political office were hampered by an ongoing federal investigation of his activities in office, which he called a politically-motivated "witch-hunt." He eventually did agree to pay $3,800 in income taxes.
He ran for the U.S. Senate seat given up by Stuart Symington in 1976 as a substitute for Jerry Litton, who was killed in a plane crash on election night but he lost to John Danforth. He lost a bid for state auditor in 1978. Governor Teasdale ap;p;ointed him to a circuit judgeship but he failed to win election to a full term.
For more than sixteen years, 1981-1997, he headed a legal services agency in southeast Missouri that provided lawyers for low-income people
Missouri is left with six former Governors–Bond, Teasdale, Ashcroft, Wilson, Holden, and Blunt
We’ll have an audio tribute to former Governor Hearnes on this website later this morning.