Last year, lawmakers rejected a bill to amend the Constitution to tie the election of the lieutenant governor to that of the governor. This year, identical bills HB 42 by Democrat state Rep. Kyle Green and HB 50 by Republican state Rep. Mark Wright seek to do the same.
It’s still a bad idea, at two levels. It obscures accountability for both offices, especially in a blanket primary system that already devalues the important policy stand-in cue of party identification, by promoting personalistic and geographic characteristics for both candidates.
Wright defended the idea by saying it would allow removal of culture, recreation, and tourism duties as defined in law from the office in exchange for more substantial responsibilities. A lieutenant governor may appoint a separate secretary to head those efforts, but recent officeholders have assumed these as a cost-saving move. He reasonably suggested collapsing such duties into the Governor’s Office.
But why have a $115,000 annual salaried employee as a minister without portfolio roaming freely the Capitol? If without the current job description the guy has nothing to do (except wait on vacancy of the governorship or deal with the archaic law dealing with a governor’s physical absence in the state), just get rid of the office and save taxpayers the money. That’s the other bad aspect of these bills: they prolong the life of an elective office that deserves termination.
Green, however, compounds the error with his HB 41 that amends the Constitution to change up gubernatorial succession. It would elevate the current fifth and sixth options, respectively the speaker of the House and president of the Senate, to second and third after the lieutenant governor, bumping down in order the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the treasurer.
Like HB 42 and HB 50, this emulates the practice in a plurality of states as well as the federal government. However, strength in numbers doesn’t make something wise. While technically the speaker and president positions are considered full time and paid accordingly, legislators take these jobs knowing they will spend a considerable amount of time away from the capital, if not continue to have careers outside of it. This contrasts with the statewide elective officers defined in the Constitution, who know they must treat their jobs as full time and work in the capital when they run for their respective offices. It’s better to have those kinds of officials assume the top job if it comes to that than individuals elected to a part-time job.
In fact, the story is the same with this bill as the others: don’t mend, but end. With three constitutional officers behind the lieutenant governor, plenty of fallback exists for a gubernatorial vacancy without introducing legislative leaders. Legislators would do the state a service by sending to the people amendments to eliminate the lieutenant governor and to make the governor’s successors, in order, the secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer.