State Sen. Rosalind Kurita (D-Clarksville) has the right idea. In a Tennessean op-ed
this morning she pushes a constitutional amendment
that would lead to statewide popular election of five officials: lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, comptroller of the treasury, and state treasurer.
Noting that Tennessee is one of just four states that elects none of these officials, Kurita makes a democracy argument for the amendment. Creating a separate elected office of lieutenant governor, she says, "would ensure the public has input into who would become governor if something were to happen to the governor." She contends that the way we choose our attorney general ֠appointment by the Tennessee Supreme Court ֠leaves us with an AG who cannot prosecute public corruption.
But there is another reason she doesn't mention ֠a political one ֠for doing this. Simply put, we need more elected statewide officers because we need more statewide elections. We can quarrel about whether we need all five in this bill, but it is a basic flaw in Tennessee politics that there is no opportunity to run statewide and develop a statewide political presence short of seeking the office of governor or U.S. Senate. It is also unfortunate that gubernatorial incapacitation (a la recent doings in New Jersey) puts the state's executive branch in the hands of someone elected by voters in a small state senate district.
As a proposed amendment to the state constitution, Kurita's bill requires majority approval in each house of the legislature, then two-thirds approval in each house in a subsequent General Assembly, and then majority approval by the state's voters in a gubernatorial election year (2010 is the next opportunity). The measure creates four-year terms for the offices of lieutenant governor and attorney general elected in the same year as governor (starting in 2014), and four-year terms for the other three offices elected in off-years (starting in 2012). Let's do this.