Amendment puts constitutional officers on ballot

Hank Hayes • May 12, 2007 at 12:48 PM

Besides trying to pass a budget and education funding reform, some political matters are standing between Tennessee lawmakers and the end of this legislative session.

One in particular is a proposed constitutional amendment being advocated by Senate Speaker Pro Tem Rosalind Kurita that would allow voters to elect five of Tennessee's most important offices - lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state and comptroller.

The amendment got its first reading on Thursday and could be voted on by the Senate on Wednesday.

Currently, the lieutenant governor is elected by a majority vote in the Senate. The state's attorney general is selected by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Senate and House lawmakers choose the treasurer, secretary of state and comptroller.

Opening these offices to a popular election, said Kurita, will give a wider range of candidates an opportunity to serve.

"Most Tennesseans have no idea that we are not allowed to vote on these officers," said Kurita, D-Clarksville. "The people should have the opportunity to voice their opinion, as they do in almost every other state."

One goal of the constitutional amendment, she said, is to give the state attorney general prosecutorial powers.

"We had to sit back and wait for the FBI to clean up Tennessee Waltz (the bribery scandal involving some lawmakers in 2005) because our attorney general didn't have the authority to take action. Our attorney general should have the authority to prosecute public corruption."

Earlier this year, Kurita was the lone Senate Democrat to vote for Republican Ron Ramsey of Blountville to be the Senate speaker and lieutenant governor. That vote helped end a three-decades-old reign of former Lt. Gov. John Wilder, D-Mason.

Ramsey has signed on as a co-sponsor of Kurita's constitutional amendment.

Other Senate Democrats, said Ramsey, had been pushing a bill calling only for the popular election of the lieutenant governor.

"I guess that (the Senate electing the lieutenant governor) was good enough for 140 years, but it suddenly wasn't good enough," Ramsey said. "I said ‘If we're going to (popularly) elect the lieutenant governor, we're going to elect all the constitutional officers.'"

If the constitutional amendment is ratified and approved by voters in the 2010 November general election, popular elections would be held for the secretary of state, comptroller and treasurer in 2012, while voters could choose the lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2014.

For more information go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on "Legislation." The constitutional amendment's resolution is SJR 0139.

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