Two state senators are leading an effort to eventually abolish the office of Lieutenant Governor. Democratic Senator Keith Ingram of West Memphis and Republican Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana say the plan would save Arkansas taxpayers about 450,000 dollars a year.
The senators are proposing a constitutional amendment that would require the Attorney General to step into the role of Governor if the state’s chief executive is forced out of office. Senator Hickey says putting the Attorney General next in line makes sense because that officeholder will likely be ready to assume the responsibilities of Governor.
“If this was to pass, this could be something that could be in place for the next 100 years or more,” he says. “We just thought from looking at the current situation and everything and with the legal expertise that the Attorney General could bring to that position in the event that something was to happen, we thought that was the best fit to put in the constitution.”
Ingram also cites the broad scope of duties the Attorney General must carry out, which differs from other state-wide constitutional offices like Land Commissioner or Secretary of State. He also notes that traditionally, the Attorney General’s role has been a stepping stone to Governor, citing the examples of Bill Clinton and Mike Beebe, who were both Attorneys General before becoming Governor.
The Lieutenant Governor's office has been vacant since June, after 4 staff members followed former Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr in resigning. Darr resigned in January over ethics violations.
Ingram says the budget allotted to the office could be better spent elsewhere in state government.
“I just believe that you need efficiency in government and there’s no better example.... I can’t see any government service that’s been denied anybody because the Lieutenant Governor’s office is not operating at this point,” he says.
He notes that even though the position is considered a part-time job, the office’s budget had mad a sizable increase over the years, nearly doubling over the last 10 years.
“I’ve been around the legislature for a while and I’m old enough to remember a time when the Lieutenant Governor used to go home with the Legislature, when the Lieutenant Governor did not have a staff of four people,” Ingram says.
If the resolution is passed by the Legislature next year, a constitutional amendment would go before Arkansas voters in the 2016 general election. Under the proposed amendment, the Lieutenant Governor candidate who wins this year’s election would be allowed to serve out his term through 2018, before the office is eliminated. The office would no longer exist as of January 1, 2019.