Temporary transfer recommendations presented to Bredesen by committee
By ERIK SCHELZIG
Associated Press Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — The popular election of a lieutenant governor appears to be gathering support despite not being part of the formal recommendations made by a special committee on the temporary transfer of executive powers.
The recommendations presented to Gov. Phil Bredesen on Monday would establish a system for incapacitated governors to cede power while they recuperate. The state constitution currently provides no provision for a temporary handoff.
Attorney General Bob Cooper said the committee did not take a position about electing a lieutenant governor because members were asked not to stray too far from current rules for succession when a governor dies or leaves office.
But one problem with a temporary handoff is that the next in line — the speakers of the Senate and the House — would have to give up their legislative power for what could be a relatively short stint as governor. The panel’s recommendations would allow the speakers to decline that temporary assignment.
But next officials in line — the secretary of state and the comptroller — would not be given the option of refusing the job.
An elected lieutenant governor could eliminate some confusion and constitutional conflicts because the job would be part of the executive branch, Cooper said.
“An elected lieutenant governor probably is a companion piece to any sensible line of succession in the event of incapacity,” he said.
Currently the speaker of the Senate is also given the title of lieutenant governor, a position that holds no specific responsibilities other than taking over for a dead or departed governor. The current position of deputy governor is appointed by the governor and is not in the line of succession.
Tennessee’s problematic succession process was highlighted in 2006 when Bredesen was hospitalized for several days with an illness that may have been caused by a tick bite.
“I wonder if that family of ticks in my yard knows that they’re going to change the Tennessee state constitution as a result of their actions,” Bredesen joked after the meeting.
Any proposal to change the state constitution would have to first pass the Legislature this year and then by a two-thirds majority in both chambers during the next two-year General Assembly in order to go before voters in 2010.
Sen. Rosalind Kurita, D-Clarksville, said she is sponsoring a constitutional change to elect both the lieutenant governor and the secretary of state.
Kurita said the secretary of state, who is currently appointed by a joint session of the General Assembly, should be elected by the people if the position is in line to take over for the governor.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he’d only support the direct election of a lieutenant governor if the secretary of state was elected, too.
Bredesen said he hasn’t thought through the details of what responsibilities would be given to a popularly elected lieutenant governor, but added that position should run on the same ticket as the governor.
Published in The Messenger 1.15.08