Joe Kernan is acting governor
As soon as Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon went into emergency surgery Monday morning in Chicago to repair damage from a cerebral hemorrhage, state government leaders started reluctantly researching succession procedures.
Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan, an O’Bannon ally and close friend, was in no hurry to start an official transfer of power process. He and his staff were waiting for results of the three-hour surgery and legal research.
Kernan said Monday afternoon that he was treating the situation the same as he would when the governor is out of the state or country. Ironically, Kernan, who shocked everyone by announcing in December that he would not run for governor next year as widely expected, is now acting governor of Indiana.
The state constitution, originally drafted in Corydon in 1816, allows for a transfer of power from governor to lieutenant governor if the governor is incapacitated. However, that requires a written petition to be filed by the president pro tempore of the State Senate, now Republican Robert Garton of Columbus, and the speaker of the House, Democrat Patrick Bauer of South Bend, which is then ruled upon by the Indiana Supreme Court.
All five Supreme Court justices were contacted Monday and were reportedly ready to act if necessary.
Bauer said, ‘It’s serious, very serious. We’re hoping and we’re praying he can finish out his term. I ask everyone to pray for him.’
Garton, a long-time friend and sometime rival of O’Bannon’s in the state Senate, said, ‘This is just awful. I don’t think this has happened in the history of the state.’
Actually, it has. The Indianapolis Star says that in 1865, Gov. Oliver P. Morton suffered a paralytic stroke. He turned his duties over to Lt. Gov. Conrad Baker while he recuperated. Morton regained his health and resumed his duties and governed until 1867.
Three Indiana governors have died in office: Ashbel P. Willard, in 1860; James D. Williams, in 1880, and Gov. Alvin P. Hovey, in 1891.