Thursday, January 17, 2008

The constitutional folly

Every few months, it seems there is a "new" movement that comes afoot to give Tennesseans an elected Lieutenant Governor. The Tennessee Republican Party has officially been on the bandwagon for an elected Number Two for some time. The proposition of an elected Lieutenant Governor sounds great in theory, but has anyone who favors the idea really asked whether it is efficient or wise to have yet another State official?

The custom as it has evolved in Tennessee politics is that the presiding officer of the Senate shall be first in line for the Governorship if a sitting Governor should die, resign, or be otherwise unable to perform the duties of his or her office. This is a legitimate line of succession that is based in Tennessee law and constitutional precedent, and that law is partly based on the federal constitutional rule that the Vice President is also to act as President of the Senate. The difference, of course, is that the Vice President only has a serious job if the President gives him one. Our current Lieutenant Governor has a real job in Government as an elected State Senator, with a real constituency and real responsibilities aside from merely being the Governor's spare.

Bill Hobbs, in his official capacity as the Communications Director for the Tennessee Republican Party, said this about Governor Phil Bredesen's suggestion that the Lieutenant Governor be elected:

"The Tennessee Republican party is pleased that Gov. Bredesen is coming around to our point of view on this issue. Republican legislators have long advocated that Tennesseans be allowed to choose the state's constitutional officers, including the Lt. Governor, in the voting booth."

Everyone who reads my work can probably figure out that I think the world of Bill Hobbs and his groundbreaking role in the Tennessee conservative blogosphere. This is a case of raw politics at work, not reasonable political discourse, however. The State GOP's reason for favoring an elected Lieutenant Governor is because they fear that a Democratic majority in the Senate will mean another long-serving Democratic Lieutenant Governor after the fashion of John Wilder. This is a reasonable and justifiable fear, but rather than make significant alterations to the Tennessee Constitution because of the fear of Democrats or of Senators from the Mike Williams School of Politics, the thought of another long Democratic reign in the basement of the War Memorial Building should instead inspire Republicans to do everything in their power to obtain and then keep a working Senate majority.

It makes no sense to add another person to the payroll of the State's elected officials and give him or her all the trappings of office (official car, State security detail, etc.)-which the Speakers of both Houses would certainly keep-just for that person to sit around and wait. It does nothing to contribute to the cause of limited government to increase its size and cost yet more by adding an elected office that is completely unneeded.



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