Legislation would let Tennesseans elect lieutenant governor

Hank Hayes • Apr 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

A Tennessee House subcommittee on Wednesday advanced an amended resolution that would allow voters to elect the state’s lieutenant governor but not the secretary of state.

House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol presented the resolution to the House State Government Subcommittee providing for the popular election of both positions, but state Rep. Ulysses Jones Jr. amended it to only include the lieutenant governor’s election.

“I think we need to crawl before we walk,” said Jones, D-Memphis, who chairs the House State and Local Government Committee.

After a tabling motion failed, Jones’ amendment passed on a roll call vote, and the resolution now moves on to be considered by the committee he chairs.

Last month, the Senate approved the resolution as a constitutional amendment that would have to be passed in this and the next legislative session.

The earliest a constitutional change could go before voters is in 2010, while the first slate of lieutenant governor and secretary of state candidates would be on the 2014 ballot.

The candidate for lieutenant governor would be part of the gubernatorial ticket, Mumpower explained.

While attempting to sell the resolution to the subcommittee during his PowerPoint presentation, Mumpower noted Tennessee is one of three states that do not elect the lieutenant governor, while 34 states elect a secretary of state.

The resolution emerged after Ron Ramsey of Blountville was elected by the state Senate in 2007 as the first GOP lieutenant governor and speaker of the Senate since Reconstruction, and after Gov. Phil Bredesen experienced a temporary tick-bite illness that resulted in a study on succession in the governor’s office.

Mumpower noted the system for the governor’s succession has been in place since 1870. Under the Tennessee Constitution, the lieutenant governor stands in immediate succession to the governor if necessary.

“The current system as written in this constitution in 1870 robs women in particular, minorities and people who are not millionaires and able to self-finance their campaign of the opportunity to be lieutenant governor and secretary of state,” Mumpower told the subcommittee.

Mumpower also pointed out an attorney general’s opinion ruled that if the lieutenant governor temporarily stepped in to take the reins of the governor’s office, he or she would have to resign their seat in the state Senate.

“Should the person that could become our governor be able to be elected by the legislature ... and the people of Tennessee not have a voice in that selection?” he asked. “If we are talking about a line of succession, the people of Tennessee need to have a voice in selecting their governor.”

The Tennessee Constitution says the secretary of state will be elected by the General Assembly, in joint session, for a four-year term.

By law, the secretary of state serves on a number of state boards and agencies. Former state Sen. Riley Darnell has been secretary of state since 1993.

For more information go to www.legislature.state.tn.us and click on “Legislation.” The resolution’s number is SJR 0687.

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