Three people are running for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor and one of them wants to be the last person to hold the office. But the man leading the polls said he thinks that would be a mistake.
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, said Rep. Andy Mayberry's proposal to eliminate the office neglects what Griffin said is an historic role for the office.
"If you look at the role that lieutenant governors have played historically, they have played an important role twice in the last 22 years as the lieutenant governor has had to permanently take over as governor," he said, referring to when then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton resigned after winning the 1992 presidential election and again in 1996 when Clinton's successor, Jim Guy Tucker, resigned in the wake of his conviction as part of the Whitewater scandal.
"I think when people pull the lever for lieutenant governor, they need to ask themselves, 'Is this someone I can see serving as governor?'"
Reached for comment, Mayberry agreed that the voters need to think seriously about their votes for a successor to the governor, but made the point that his proposal is not about taking away the people's right to choose a successor.
"He talks about that we've had twice in the past 20 some-odd years had the lieutenant governor ascend to the governor's role. I firmly believe we need a person (in line) because they are a heartbeat away (from becoming governor), but that could be another constitutional officer elected from the people. Five other states don't have a lieutenant governor. In many cases, the secretary of state ascends to the governor's office. Congressman Griffin knows this, but he twists this to make it look like it's not a popularly elected person."
According to Griffin, who in a recent Talk Business-Hendrix College poll garnered 53.5% support to Mayberry's 14.5%, the role of the state's number two is much more important than just taking over for the governor in the wake of resignation or death or running the state while the governor is out of town.
"I would point you, as I have others, to look at the last two lieutenant governors. Both of them ran for office talking about policy," he said, highlighting the positions of Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr and Democratic Lt. Gov. Bill Halter before him.
"The Democratic one (Halter) talked a lot about the lottery. Now I'm not a fan of the lottery, but last time I checked, because of his efforts, it became law. The last lieutenant governor focused on the online checkbook and it's now the law. The takeaway here is lieutenant governor's historically have run with policy ideas in mind and when elected, have pursued policy ideas. The last two were successful in getting those policy ideas enacted. When you are the lieutenant governor, you can advocate for policies to help the state."
Defending the continuation of the office of lieutenant governor, Griffin took the opportunity to jab Mayberry, a Republican state representative from Hensley, by pointing to Mayberry's voting record with regard to the office.
"I'd also point out that my opponent, who wants to get rid of this office, voted to fund this office two months ago and voted to increase the budget a year ago. It's a little puzzling."
Mayberry said Griffin was misrepresenting his voting record and pointed out that funding levels for the office have dropped following the resignation of Darr earlier this year and would drop further following the resignation of his staff of four effective June 30. He also said any increases were approved in appropriations bills, which are different than money flowing into the office.
"Not a single representative or senator in either chamber voted against the appropriations in either side. It's just sort of an, 'OK. Here's the funding level.' However, we knew that was not what it was going to be for this year. That money flow is not there and again, I think Congressman Griffin knowns that and understands that but is trying to make it sound different to the public."
Both men also discussed the recent ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza that said the 2004 Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. Should either win the November general election, they could potentially oversee an impeachment trial of Piazza as president of the State Senate, should the Arkansas House bring articles of impeachment against the judge as has been proposed by a group of Republican state legislators.
Mayberry said impeachment was not to be taken lightly, but stopped short of either endorsing or decrying the proposal.
"I'm very much in disagreement with the ruling, highly in disagreement with the ruling. But I'm not going to say with regards to impeachment. I think that's a very…I wouldn't say that's completely outside the realm of possibility, but that's a careful path to follow to make sure whatever we do is within the confines of Constitutional authority."
He said whatever happens, the General Assembly would need to "carefully avoid setting a precedent of anytime we disagree with a ruling," impeachment proceedings could follow.
Griffin was not shy in his disagreement with the ruling and talks of impeachment, instead agreeing with Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe and House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, who have said the appeals process is the proper way to deal with a ruling that he did not agree with, either.
"I've been very clear that I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and the people of Arkansas have been very clear on this issue. But impeachment is not a process for addressing judicial opinions that you disagree with. That's what appeals are for, so I really don't think that's the appropriate (way to express disagreement with the ruling)."
Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers is also vying for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. She polled at 6% in the Talk Business-Hendrix College poll.