Thursday, August 14, 2014

Senators announce effort to abolish office of lieutenant governor

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Sens. Keith Ingram of West Memphis, a Democrat, and Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana, a Republican, have announced an effort to abolish the office of lieutenant governor.

In a prepared release today, they said they'd propose a constitutional amendment in the 2015 legislative session for the 2016 election ballot that would end the office Jan. 1, 2019, or the end of the term of whoever is elected this year. (Presuming whoever that is isn't forced from office as Republican Mark Darr was, after discovery of his abuse of campaign and office expense accounts. Notice we've been getting by fine without him this year. PS —  Darr is selling cars nowadays in Springdale, according to his Facebook page

Their proposal would elevate the attorney general to be next in line to be governor in case of absence, then the president of the senate, speaker of the house. The legislative leaders now follow the lieutenant governor.

Sounds worthy of consideration to me. The office is a needless expense of $400,000 or so a year counting staff pay and has next-to-no meaningful duties. But people continue to run for the office. And the major party nominees have shied away from advocacy of its abolition. After all, they must pretend they are important. The best argument for the office is that the person is theoretically elected with the full knowledge of voters that the office is next in line to be governor. Twice in recent decades — Bill Clinton's election as president and then Jim Guy Tucker's resignation as governor — the No. 2 has become No. 1.

Three related thoughts: 1) We have some other statewide offices worthy of abolition; 2) this amendment would be one of three the legislature is allowed to offer, in addition to a pay raise amendment. Any non-controversial amendment replaces something that could do far more damage. 3) It might leave Democrat John Burkhalter or Republican Tim Griffin, major party candidates for the office this year, at loose ends in four years, presuming the winner's party mate was elected governor. Both have eyes on the higher office.

Here's their release from the Senate Information Office:

Senators Keith Ingram of West Memphis and Jimmy Hickey, Jr. of Texarkana will lead a bipartisan effort to abolish the office of lieutenant governor when the legislature convenes in January.

To abolish the lieutenant governor’s office requires voter approval of a constitutional amendment. The legislature may refer up to three proposed amendments during each regular session, and Ingram and Hickey said they intend to do so when the 90th General Assembly convenes in January.

“The office is a vestige of the early 19th century, before telephones were common and before computer technology was ever dreamed of,” Ingram said. “Under the Arkansas constitution the lieutenant governor’s only duty is to preside over the Senate and to serve as acting governor when the governor is out of state or unable to discharge the powers of the office.”

“A conservative estimate is that approval of this amendment would save Arkansas taxpayers about $450,000 a year,” Hickey said.

Senators Ingram and Hickey plan to co-sponsor a Senate Joint Resolution, which if adopted by the legislature would refer to the November, 2016, general election ballot a proposed constitutional amendment abolishing the office of lieutenant governor as of January 1, 2019.

There would be no statewide election for the office in 2018. The winner of this year’s contested election for lieutenant governor still would be able to serve out the full four-year term to which he is elected in November.
Currently, the office is vacant because the previously-elected lieutenant governor resigned in the middle of his term. The lieutenant governor’s four employees all moved to other jobs, and the office in the Capitol is now empty.
Under Ingram’s and Hickey’s proposal if the governor resigned or was unable to fulfill the duties of the office due to ill health or impeachment, the state attorney general would assume the duties of governor and vacate the office of attorney general. There would then be a special election to elect a replacement for the attorney general, although the General Assembly could pass laws foregoing an election if fewer than six months remained before the position was to be filled by election. The Attorney General assuming the office of Governor would appoint a temporary replacement for attorney general who would be ineligible to run for re-election in either a special or general election following his or her appointment.

If the governor left the state, he or she may designate the attorney general to serve as acting governor. If both the governor and attorney general are out of state, the President of the Senate shall be acting governor in their absence. If the Senate President is also out of state, the Speaker of the House would be acting governor. Under Ingram’s and Hickey’s proposal, the line of succession would be similar to what is in the constitution now, except that the attorney general would replace the lieutenant governor.

If the office of attorney general becomes vacant for other reasons, the position shall be filled as provided by law. The governor shall appoint a temporary replacement and the person appointed shall be ineligible to run for the position in the next election.

“There are many pressing needs for the revenue now being spent on the office of lieutenant governor. People want us to streamline government, and this is a great way to do it,” Ingram said.

Hickey said that he and Ingram were announcing their plan well in advance of the legislative session so that there would be sufficient opportunity to answer any questions the people have.

“I’m confident that when voters are informed about the issue they will be willing to abolish the office,” Hickey said. “I’ve gotten a lot of support for this proposal from people in both political parties, so I’m encouraged.”

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