GOP has opened process
December 17, 2008
This week, Republicans in the state Legislature struck a blow for greater transparency in government. House and Senate Republicans convened publicly to vet candidates for the state constitutional officers.
The hearing also was streamed live over the Internet so that more Tennesseans would have a chance to see the process in action.
This is not business as usual. Democrats, who controlled the Legislature since the Reconstruction era, always selected their choices for state treasurer, comptroller and secretary of state behind closed doors and then presented the candidates to the Legislature for approval.
Tennesseans should appreciate the greater openness on the part of the Republicans. The people voted for change at the state level, and in this case, they are getting positive change.
On Monday, a panel of Senate Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris questioned 14 applicants — one for comptroller, five for treasurer and eight for secretary of state. This was not a beauty contest. While the questioning was friendly, the inquiries produced answers that rounded out those who wanted the state jobs.
Norris did note that all of the candidates were were male and white. He said he hoped that the open-door process would encourage candidates of diverse backgrounds to apply in the future.
Why should Tennesseans care who gets these positions? The jobs of the three constitutional officers cover a broad spectrum of vital duties. The secretary of state oversees elections and businesses. The comptroller audits both state agencies and county governments. The treasurer supervises the state’s coffers, its investments and its pension funds.
All three also serve on the State Building Commission, the Funding Board and the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.
To be sure, the selection process remains as political in the hands of the Republicans as it did with the Democrats. There were neither Democratic newcomers nor current Democratic incumbents among the applicants interviewed on Monday.
It would take a fundamental change in the state constitution — popular election of the three officers — to alter the basic way they are selected.
What the Republicans did do was unveil the process to the citizens of Tennessee. If the people like the way in which things are done, everything will stay the same. If they think voters should select the officers at the ballot box, as most states do, they should let their representatives know that.
As for the immediate future, we look forward to seeing if the Republicans will present further reform of Capitol Hill’s version of business as usual once the new session begins in January.