Measure Supporting Popular Election of Lt. Governor Advances

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE (AP) - A resolution that would change the state constitution to allow voters to elect both the lieutenant governor and the secretary of state narrowly passed a key Senate committee.

The measure sponsored by Sen. Rosalind Kurita passed the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee 5-4 on Tuesday.

The Clarksville Democrat said the resolution is necessary because people in Tennessee should have the opportunity to have input into who runs their government - including lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

"I'm not trying to do something that mandates we do it a new way," Kurita said. "It will go on the ballot and people will vote 'yes' we want to do it this way, or 'no' we don't."

However, those who voted against the resolution said it's unnecessary and vague about the responsibilities that would be given those elected.

"To create a position with no clear need or defined responsibility to me is imprudent," said Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson.

Kurita disagreed, saying her resolution is specific, especially in the case of who would succeed the governor in cases of emergency.

Tennessee's problematic succession process was highlighted in 2006 when Gov. Phil Bredesen was hospitalized for several days with an illness that may have been caused by a tick bite.

Currently, the next in line for a temporary handoff - the speakers of the Senate and the House - would have to give up their legislative power for what could be a relatively short stint as governor.

Attorney General Bob Cooper has opined that an elected lieutenant governor could eliminate some confusion and constitutional conflicts because the job would be part of the executive branch.

Kurita said her resolution supports that opinion.

"People would vote on the lieutenant governor statewide, and if the governor becomes ill, a statewide elected lieutenant governor would take their place," she said.

If the resolution were to eventually pass both chambers this session and gain two-thirds approval by lawmakers during the next two-year General Assembly, the proposed change would go before voters in the 2010 election.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told The Associated Press last month that he'd only support the direct election of a lieutenant governor if the secretary of state was elected too.

Bredesen told the AP he hasn't thought through the details of what responsibilities would be given to a popularly elected lieutenant governor, but added that position should run on the same ticket as the governor.

Read the full text of SJR0687 on the General Assembly's Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us

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