LITTLE ROCK — Two state senators, one a Republican and one a Democrat, say they will file legislation during next year’s session to allow Arkansans to vote on whether to abolish the office of lieutenant governor.
Sens. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, and Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis, said Thursday they will propose referring to the ballot a measure that would amend the state constitution to do away with the office on Jan. 1, 2019, at the end of the next lieutenant governor’s four-year term.
The office has been vacant since Republican Mark Darr resigned Feb. 1 after being fined $11,000 by the state Ethics Commission for misuse of campaign funds and public money. By the end of June, all four members of Darr’s staff had stepped down and the office was closed.
Ingram filed unsuccessful proposals to abolish the office in the 2009 and 2011 sessions. He said Thursday he believes support will be greater this time around.
“You’ve got a great illustration now of why the office isn’t necessary,” he said. “I certainly can’t find any instance of where our citizens have not been served by this office being closed since the end of June.”
Hickey and Ingram said abolishing the office would save the state about $450,000 a year.
The duties of the lieutenant governor are to preside over the Senate, serve as acting governor when the governor is out of state or incapacitated and step in as governor if the governor is unable to complete a term.
Some lieutenant governors have used the office to promote policy issues. Darr championed creation of the state’s website that tracks government spending, Transparency.Arkansas.gov, and his predecessor, Democrat Bill Halter, pushed for creation of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery.
Under the proposal by Hickey and Ingram, the governor could — but would not be required to — designate the attorney general to serve as acting governor when the governor is out of the state. The attorney general also would become governor if the governor is unable to complete a term.
As for presiding over the Senate, Hickey said Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, did “a spectacular job” in that role after Darr resigned and that “people within the Senate will be more than happy to step up and do that” in the future.
The state now has seven constitutional offices; the party that controls a majority of the offices is considered to be the majority party of the state for purposes of determining the makeup of county election commissions.
Reducing the number of constitutional offices to six would create the possibility of a tie. Hickey said he and Ingram plan to file a separate bill under which, if a tie occurred, the majority party would be determined according to the total number of votes that each party’s constitutional officers received.
The 2015 session is five months away, but Hickey and Ingram said they wanted to announce their plans before the Nov. 4 election to make it clear that the proposal is not about which party controls the office.
“We’re trying to look at this on a business basis,” Ingram said.
One former candidate for lieutenant governor, state Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, and one current candidate, Libertarian Party nominee Christopher Olson, have both advocated abolishing the office. Democratic candidate John Burkhalter and Republican candidate Tim Griffin have said they want to use the office to promote job creation.