Opposition noted to effort to abolish Arkansas Lt. Governor’s office

by The City Wire staff (info@thecitywire.com) 4 views 

A majority of legislators from Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith who responded The City Wire’s question about the future of the Lt. Governor’s office oppose an existing proposal to do away with the Constitutional office.

The proposal by Sens. Jimmy Hickey, Jr., R-Texarkana, and Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, to abolish the lieutenant governor's office and move succession to the attorney general is generating discussion among the inner circles of Arkansas government about whether it is the right move and whether it should be an attorney general as the next in line.

There are two running to fill the office, Democrat John Burkhalter and Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin.

In a statement on Aug. 14, Burkhalter hit back against the proposal to do away with the lieutenant governor's office.

"The question is not whether we need a lieutenant governor, it’s what kind of lieutenant governor do we need. The office is no place for on the job training, I will get to work fulltime on day one," the former highway commissioner said. "Our lieutenant governor should be a vital advocate for job creators in our state. I will bring real-world experience creating jobs, building and growing small businesses and recruiting companies of all sizes to Arkansas.”

When the idea became a theme during the Republican primary — Rep. Andy Mayberry said he was running to become the state's last lieutenant governor — Griffin came out against the proposal.

"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," Griffin 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 (Darr) 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."

Other states across the nation function without a lieutenant governor and have seen transitions of power due to resignation. Among the states without a lieutenant governor to experience a resignation was Arizona in 2009, when then-Gov. Janet Napolitano resigned to become President Barack Obama's secretary of homeland security.

According to Arizona law, the next in line following a vacating of the governor's office through death, resignation or removal from office is the secretary of state, who at the time was Jan Brewer. She was elected to a full term in the governor's mansion on Nov. 2, 2010, though she has declined to seek a third full term.

In other states, including Maine and New Hampshire, the president of the state senate assumes the position of either governor or acting governor.

New Jersey had a similar structure, with the senate president becoming acting governor until a governor was elected. But following the resignations of Govs. Christine Todd Whitman in 2001 to become President George W. Bush's Environmental Protection Agency director and Jim McGreevey in 2004 following a sex scandal, the state moved to a create a lieutenant governor's position. Kim Guadagno, who was Gov. Chris Christie's running mate, is the state's first lieutenant governor since the colonial era.

Of states that have lieutenant governors, Arkansas and Massachusetts are the only two with vacant positions. In Arkansas, Lt. Gov. Mark Darr resigned earlier this year due to a scandal over misspending of office and campaign funds while in Massachusetts, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray quit to become the head of a local chamber of commerce following a scandal involving an accident that showed him traveling at more than 100 miles per hour but initially resulted in no charges by police.

As in Arkansas, there is talk of abolishing the lieutenant governor's office. The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby has advocated for it, and noted an effort is also underway in Illinois where the state's house of representatives has voted to abolish the office. The state senate has made no such movement.

A key objection to Arkansas possibly getting rid of the lieutenant governor's office entirely is Hickey and Ingram's proposal to have the attorney general next in line. Arkansas would be the first state in the nation to have such a succession plan.

The City Wire reached out to local legislators to ask their thoughts on the issue. Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, noted in an e-mail, "(It) seems odd that if something happened to the Governor that only an Attorney could hold that office."

Following are other responses in the order received from legislators who are either up for re-election to return to the General Assembly, are return unopposed for another term or senators who are not yet up for re-election. Each was asked whether they supported Hickey and Ingram's proposal, and whether they agreed with the decision to pass power to the attorney general:

• Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark: "As it is written I wouldn't support it. As has been pointed out by others, this would mean only an attorney could accede to the governor's office if he/she vacated the post. I can see and appreciate the cost benefits of abolishing the office, but  we need to move cautiously as we consider any change to our constitutionally offices. I look forward to hearing from my constituents on this matter."

• Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma: "I am opposed to the abolishment of the LG office. I am in favor of reforming the duties and expectations."

• Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale: "I support the measure. I'd like to see the senate protem instead of AG to receive the passage of power. Legislative experience in that position is important."

• Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville: "I am always hesitant about changing the Constitution. There must be a compelling reason for doing so, and I don't yet see a compelling reason to abolish the LG Office.

"Plus, with only six Constitutional Offices, how would you determine majority party for control of local election commissions if the split was 3 from each party?  

"If the vote were today, I would vote no."

• Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren: "I am not in favor of abolishing the office of Lt. Gov. There are probably ways to make the office more efficient and effective, but I believe it should be maintained. I oppose having the AG next in line for the governor's office. The role of the AG and governor are quite different."