Former Missouri Gov. Warren Hearnes is seriously ill

JEFFERSON CITY | Former Missouri Gov. Warren Hearnes is gravely ill at his home in Charleston.

Family spokesman Rob Crouse, who wrote a biography about Hearnes, said Thursday that Hearnes' wife and three daughters have gathered by the side of the 86-year-old former governor. Crouse said Hearnes is weak and fading from natural causes related to his age.

Hearnes, a Democrat, became Missouri's 46th governor in January 1965, and later that year helped to pass a constitutional amendment allowing governors to serve successive terms. He became the first governor to be re-elected in 1968.

As governor, Hearnes focused on mental health care and education. He pushed through a significant tax increase during his second term to pay for expanding programs. He also became a national leader in the Democratic Party.

Hearnes secured funding for a new multipurpose building at the University of Missouri-Columbia after seeing a similar facility at the University of Illinois. The university's men's basketball team played at the Hearnes Center from 1972 through 2004.

During his political career, Hearnes served in all three branches of state government. He spent 10 years in the state House, was secretary of state and governor and briefly served as a circuit judge in southeastern Missouri.

In 1976, Hearnes was the stand-in candidate for the U.S. Senate after Congressman Jerry Litton died in a plane crash the night he won the Democratic Party. Hearnes was defeated in the general election by Republican John Danforth. Hearnes also ran unsuccessfully for state auditor in 1978.

Hearnes' attempts to return to politics were hampered by a lengthy federal investigation of his income taxes and potential corruption in state government during his term in office. Hearnes called the queries a "witch hunt" engineered by Republicans but eventually agreed in an out-of-court settlement to pay $3,800 in income taxes.