Newsom May be on to Something – if not Something New

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Last week, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom argued at a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting that the position of Lt. Governor should either be dissolved or reformed. The major reform he suggested was to have the Lt. Gov run on a ticket with the governor saying that would empower the position and make it more effective.

Newsom is not the first to call for either combining the governor with the lieutenant governor on the ticket, nor is he the first to call for closing down the LG’s office altogether.

However, his comments brought back memories of an effort to not only link the Lt. Governor to the Governor but also to stop electing a number of statewide officials.

The California Constitutional Revision Commission of 1996 proposed the same thing as Newsom. In fact, the report’s recommendation number one was to have the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket and work as a team. The governor should appoint the lieutenant governor to executive branch responsibilities, said the commission.

The commission noted that, “Forty-three states have a lieutenant governor. Only nineteen states elect governors and lieutenant governors separately. The current trend is to elect the two officers on the same ticket. Since the 1950s when only New York elected the governor and lieutenant governor jointly, the number of states with joint elections has increased to 24.”

But, the commission went further. The commission argued that, “Executive branch officials should be elected if they have either clearly independent responsibilities which should be separate from the general executive functions of the governor or if they perform independent oversight, providing a check and balance function to limit the excessive use of power.”

The commission decided that the positions of superintendent of public instruction, state treasurer, and insurance commissioner were administrative and policymaking positions that should be under the governor. The commission also suggested the four members of the Board of Equalization no longer be elected, suggesting that both the Franchise Tax Board and Board of Equalization become one office, the Department of Revenue.

The commission wanted to reduce the state’s 12 statewide elected positions down to five.

Could Newsom’s comments start the hearts of reformers beating strong again?

You can bet just about every member of the legislature would oppose this idea. Fewer seats to run for. You think maybe that’s why the proposals went nowhere in the first place? Hmm…

I should add one addendum to this piece. For three or four months toward the end of the commission’s run, I was a member. I filed an opposing viewpoint on some of the proposals made by the majority of commissioners.

In the matter of reducing the number of elected officers, while I agreed with the proposal to create one revenue agency, I opposed the idea of prohibiting the election of the state treasurer and members of the revenue board.

I wrote, “The people want direct control over officials who manage their tax dollars. By keeping these positions elective, these officers will be more responsive to the people, rather than to the person who appoints them.”

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