Columns » John Brummett

Take this office, please

by and

comment


With all due respect to Win Rockefeller, I revive my contention that the legislature should refer to the voters a constitutional amendment to abolish the office of lieutenant governor.

The amendment also should repeal the absurdly outdated notion in our official state antique — the state Constitution of 1874 — that someone else must become governor whenever the real one crosses the state boundary going the other way.

That means pretty much every day these days.

This amendment also should provide a new line of succession to the governorship in case of gubernatorial death, resignation or removal from office. I’d suggest an adapted parliamentary system in which either the president pro tempore of the state Senate or the speaker of the House would become governor for a restricted period — two or three months, maybe — during which the amendment would require him to call, and the state to conduct, a special election for a new governor.

The circumstances of Win Paul’s yearlong illness and death laid bare the pointlessness of his office. In his eulogy, Mike Huckabee said he couldn’t imagine how Win Paul stayed there for a decade.

Lieutenant governor is an independent position, meaning not filled by a running mate chosen by the governor. It would make more sense structurally and politically if it was part of a ticket.

The occupant supposedly presides over the state Senate. But the Senate only meets a few weeks every two years. Anyway, the senator who gets elected president pro tempore actually runs the place in concert with the chairmen of the Rules and Efficiency committees.

Then the lieutenant governor casts tie-breaking votes in the Senate. Offhand I can recall only one tie in 25 years. As a 35-member body, the Senate would require odd-numbered absences or the cutting of a senator in half to lend itself to frequent dead heats.

There’s that other element of the job: The lieutenant governor becomes the actual governor with all powers thereof whenever the real one goes out of state if only for an hour. But Rockefeller had been out of state for a year himself, getting treatment in Seattle.

It has not affected the functioning of the government.

Whenever Huckabee was gone — meaning most any day — state Sen. Jim Argue, the president pro tempore, was governor. Since Argue, too, is entitled to travel, the next in line, House Speaker Bill Stovall, has been governor from time to time lately as well.

Argue and Stovall are responsible, not interested in perpetrating outrages in the style of the late Jerry Jewell. You will remember that Jewell was the president pro tempore who issued a pardon when Jim Guy Tucker lost all gubernatorial power by going to Washington for Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

It seems the only significant potential effect of this lingering remnant of yesteryear is outrage.

Huckabee hasn’t made any move to call an election to replace Rockefeller. In fact, informed speculation is that he may not take any action until calling a special election to be conducted concurrently with the regular election in November — if at all.

State law says the governor shall call a special election to fill this vacancy. But nothing prescribes any timetable.

Huckabee simply might not get around to it, since we’ll elect a new lieutenant governor in November to take office in January.

No special session is expected between now and then for the lieutenant governor’s superfluous chores of presiding and remote ones of tie-breaking.

Huckabee also points out there’s no urgency about gubernatorial ascendancy in his absence since he trusts Democrats Argue and Stovall not to pull any stunts.

But if one or the other should issue an executive order that the State Police airplane could only be used for in-state law enforcement work ... well, forgive me for suggesting mischief.






Add a comment

Clicky