GOP will choose officers openly
By state Sen. Mark Norris • Tennessean.com
December 5, 2008
With the election of four new Republicans in the House of Representatives and three in the Senate, Republicans enjoy an unprecedented majority in the General Assembly. For the first time in 140 years, there is an opportunity to do things differently.
The election of constitutional officers — secretary of state, treasurer and comptroller — is one case in point. These offices are not only an integral part of state government, but they affect the daily lives of many Tennesseans in ways that are little known or understood. One of the reasons for this lack of understanding is the manner in which candidates have been selected under Democratic majorities for many years — in purely partisan proceedings, largely shielded from public view.
The terms for all three offices expire in January, and the state constitution provides the manner in which they be selected for new terms. In most states, these positions are chosen by the voters. In Tennessee, they are elected by a joint convention of the 132 legislators of the General Assembly. In the recent past, some of these jobs were ultimately filled from within by the “second in command,” or from the ranks of former politicians as a sort of consolation prize after losing an election for another office.
Public comment invited
To open the process, the new majority plans to look beyond Legislative Plaza for qualified candidates and to include all citizens along the way. Information regarding the duties of these offices, as well as application forms, are posted on both the Senate and House Republican Caucus Web sites, www.tnsenate.com and www.tnhousegop.org.
Applications are collected and reviewed by an eight-member nominating committee selected from members of each caucus, who will narrow the search to no more than three applicants per position. Candidates will be interviewed in a public meeting that will be video-streamed, and public comment is invited. The nominating committee will make its recommendations to the caucuses in early January. The joint convention, at which nominations will be made and votes cast, will be after the legislature convenes in mid-January.
One journalist asked whether this is designed to take politics out of the process. Not exactly. But it will provide more transparency to what is, by definition, a political process. Another asked more cynically whether it wasn’t “just for show” with the ultimate decision made behind closed doors. It is no more so than the governor’s budget hearings or any other deliberative process leading to a vote cast in the light of day.
What is hoped is that this process will level the playing field and enlighten the public along the way. Perhaps it will broaden everyone’s understanding, as well as the applicant pool. It is a businesslike approach designed to help select candidates most qualified to work with us in moving our state forward.
Whether we end up with a better result remains to be seen, but at least Tennesseans will be able to see it as never before.
Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is majority leader of the state Senate.