Recently, L.A. Times columnist George Skelton asked the question, “Why have lieutenant governors?” In the piece, the current Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom, defended the position but suggested the Lt. Governor should run on a ticket with the governor thus eliminating the need for a LG election. That reminded me of the recommendations from the 1996 Constitutional Revision Commission on which I served briefly.
The Commission not only recommended creating a governor-lieutenant governor ticket, it also suggested having the elected offices of superintendent of public instruction, insurance commissioner and treasurer appointed by the governor. Further the Commission recommended that the Board of Equalization be abolished (taking with it four more elected positions) and combine the functions of the Board of Equalization with the Franchise Tax Board into a new agency titled Department of Revenue.
I should point out here that I opposed the notion that the treasurer be appointed instead of elected. I also suggested whoever ran the new Department of Revenue should be approved by voters. As I wrote in my dissent to this particular recommendation, “The people want direct control over officials who manage their tax dollars.”
The Commissions recommendations – all of them, not just the proposals to streamline the elected positions – were ignored by the legislature.
Noted political scientist Bruce Cain, then with UC Berkeley, wrote a paper about the Commission’s deliberations and suggested that the political situation at the time the recommendations were made were a roadblock for their implementation.
Cain wrote: “The proposals to have the Lt Governor run on the same ticket as the Governor, or the suggestion that the elected Superintendent of Schools be made an appointed position, clearly would have strengthened the Governor’s hand. At the time it was proposed, it would have also fortified the position of Republicans relative to Democrats since the Governor was a Republican and the Lt Governor and the Superintendent of Schools were Democrats. In effect, the Revision Commission’s proposals distributed power and influence in two dimensions: institutionally (in favor of the executive branch) and by party.”
Cain concluded that, “the winners under the status quo resisted proposals that made them weaker, and vice versa, the losers under the status quo favored proposals that made them stronger.”
But there was something else at work. By eliminating those offices there would be fewer places for elected officials to land. At the time the Commission finished its work term limits were just beginning to send legislators packing.
Moving from one elected office to another is a traditional pastime for elected officials. Check out all the special elections that have occurred this year and you’ll see what I mean. When a politician sees an opportunity to move to a more desirable office, he or she jumps at it.
Following the Commission’s recommendations would have eliminated the opportunity for some politicians to remain in an elected office. Regardless of political stripe, most politicians don’t like that idea.
Don’t expect the legislature to support the idea of eliminating elected offices. If it happens, it will come via an initiative.