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Former Missouri Governor Remembered As Man of Integrity
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Governor Warren Hearnes campaigning for a second term in 1968. Missouri State Archives, Commerce and Industrial Development Collection

Those who served alongside Warren Hearnes, who died Sunday, could only conjure fond memories of the former Missouri Governor's reign at the statehouse and his lengthy political career.

The former statesman, who died of natural causes at age 86, is remembered as a man of great character who put his strong convictions into action. Hearnes, who served as governor from 1965 to 1973, had a 30-year political career in which to act on his strong beliefs.

Hearnes' career began when he was elected to the Missouri House at age 27, and ended in a failed run for a judgeship. Earlier that same year, 1980, he was appointed to fill a circuit court vacancy in southeast Missouri. Following that final defeat for public office, Hearnes announced that he was finished running for public office, but "would never be through with politics."

His career was not, however, immune from controversy. He was ensnared in a grand jury investigation into Democrat campaign donations, including the dealings of Hearnes' associates and his own personal finances. Throughout the ordeal, he maintained his innocence, claiming the charges stemmed from political maneuvering by rival Republicans.

The Republican U.S. Attorney in Kansas City who investigated Hearnes so relentlessly, Burt Hurn, finally gave up without ever filing any charges.

His funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 21, at the First Baptist Church in Charleston, Mo. The small, southeast Missouri town is Hearnes' hometown.

Former Kansas City Mayor Charles Wheeler said he will miss Hearnes and considers him and his wife, Betty, close friends, even visiting the couple last summer during Wheeler's bid for state treasurer. Asked what he most admired about Hearnes, Wheeler said, "he was feisty and I like feisty politicians. He was a small man like I am and takes guff from no one."

Wheeler said he will always consider Hearnes a huge supporter of higher education, especially the University of Missouri. "We made a lot of progress during the Hearnes administration,” he said of the former governor's unprecedented two consecutive terms as the head of state, following abolition of a one-term limit. That long tenure served to propel Hearnes into a position of power as the unofficial, yet powerful, head of the state's Democratic party.

Wheeler reflected on Hearnes' years of power as a leader of the Democratic party. "He took on the big guys and he beat the establishment," he said. "He shaped the Democratic party in his own image."

James B. Nutter, Sr., owner of a Kansas City-based mortgage business who is recognized as a political kingmaker, said he'll always remember Hearnes as a champion for mental health issues.

"Governor Hearnes' contributions to mental health in Missouri was one of the greatest achievements of any administration in my lifetime," said Nutter, who, in his 80's, has witnessed numerous office holders.

Nutter said that under Hearnes' leadership, Missouri's statuswas propelled from one of the states with the worst mental health programs to "one of the best in the nation." Nutter said he was so impressed by the then-governor's giving nature and concern for his fellow man that "I was one of the few people in Jackson County who was for him in the first primary. I've always admired him," he added.

Bill Baker, a longtime political force in Eastern Jackson County, said Hearnes was a man of such great integrity that "I can't even think of anything bad he really did--and to be a governor of our state, that's pretty darned good. He was a very warm and personable fellow and I think he represented the state of Missouri very well," Baker said.

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Added: August 22, 2009. 05:36 PM CDT
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