INDIANAPOLIS -- The authority for Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan to assume duties as acting governor comes from a 1978 state constitutional amendment spelling out the steps for transfer of power should the governor die or become disabled.
This is the first time that amendment has been used in Indiana since it emerged following a leadership crisis in the White House.
"I think you could characterize it as a reaction to the turmoil created by the Watergate scandal and the subsequent resignation from office by Richard Nixon," said Chuck Coffey of the Indiana Department of Administration.
"It stimulated a feeling at the state level there should be an orderly process spelled out in the Indiana Constitution. So Section 10, as it is presently worded, was proposed as a constitutional amendment."
The Indiana Supreme Court on Wednesday cited the section in giving Kernan power to conduct state business while Gov. Frank O'Bannon recovers from a stroke.
It requires written notice from the Senate president pro tempore and speaker of the House to the court that the governor is unable to discharge the duties of his office. Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton, a Republican, and House Speaker Patrick Bauer, a Democrat, filed the required petition Wednesday.
The provision was modeled after the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, sponsored more than a decade earlier by then-Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind.
"There was no real incident of gubernatorial disability that prompted it," Coffey said. "But the thought was that since Congress provided for an orderly transfer of power at the federal level, there should be a provision at the state level."
It was approved by Indiana voters 700,801 to 143,650 in the 1978 general election.