I can’t remember when the office of Secretary of State got so much attention, aside from scandal, that is. On the heels of a debate in the hotly contested Secretary of State race featuring six candidates at the beginning of the week, Assemblyman Jeff Gorell held a press conference yesterday introducing a constitutional amendment to make the Secretary of State a non-partisan office.

A key feature of the proposal is to turn over to the non-partisan Secretary of State the responsibility of writing titles and summaries for statewide ballot measures, a role now assigned to the Attorney General.

The idea of removing the job of writing a ballot initiative title and summary from a partisan elected official is one I long supported. As I recommended at a conference on the initiative process sponsored by the Supreme Court Historical Society and the League of Women Voters, the title and summary should be removed from the office of Attorney General.

While, applauding ACA 12’s acknowledgement that the title and summary must be moved away from a partisan office, this measure doesn’t move it far enough.

Even a non-partisan elected office will draw partisan candidates for the job. Most would probably want to seek other elected offices once they complete their term. How an elected Secretary of State writes a ballot measure synopsis would still matter to fervent partisans.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office or an independent panel should write the title and summary of ballot measures.

Assembly member Gorell was joined at the press conference by former Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, a Republican, and former Assemblyman Fred Keeley, a Democrat. Both endorsed the idea of turning the state’s chief election office non-partisan.

Likewise, two candidates running for that office expressed the same idea. Both Dan Schnur, running as an independent and David Curtis, a Green Party candidate, called for the Secretary of State’s office to be non-partisan.

The tradition of non-partisan office holders runs deep in California. The Berkeley city charter declared offices non-partisan in 1909. The election of judges and school officials was made non-partisan when voters approved a ballot measure in 1911.

However, the fate of Gorell’s proposal, if it makes the ballot, is unclear. Ancient history (in political years) is not on its side. According to the California Senate Office of Research, when Governor Hiram Johnson during the Progressive Era convinced the legislature to pass a bill providing that all constitutional and legislative offices be made non-partisan, a referendum brought the proposal before the voters and they rejected the idea.