Would you vote for a candidate who wants to abolish the office he’s seeking? That’s what Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-East End, is asking voters to do.
Mayberry’s platform includes the usual planks – education, economic development, etc. He also wants to present ideas for streamlining government after talking to frontline state agency employees to learn areas of waste and duplication.
On the campaign trail, Mayberry has been asked if the lieutenant governor itself is part of that waste and duplication. The office’s only constitutional responsibilities are to preside over the Senate (a mostly ceremonial duty), to ascend to the governor’s office if the elected governor dies or is incapacitated, (which another officeholder does in some states) and to serve as governor when the governor leaves the state (which is unnecessary with modern communication technology).
The issue gained relevance in recent months when former Lt. Gov. Mark Darr was forced to resign over financial improprieties. The Legislature recently voted not to spend millions of dollars for a special election to replace him, which means Arkansas won’t have a lieutenant governor from Feb. 1 until Darr’s successor takes office next January.
That begs the question: If Arkansas taxpayers can go 11 months without a lieutenant governor, why should they pay $400,000 every year to support one and his or her staff afterwards?
When asked such by voters, Mayberry told me, “It’s very difficult, with a straight face, to give them an honest defense of why, yes, it’s absolutely necessary. We need an office that’s going to sit vacant for a year.”
For such an unnecessary position, the lieutenant governor’s race has drawn its share of candidates. Also campaigning are two other Republicans: U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin and state Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers; a Democrat, John Burkhalter; and a Libertarian, Christopher Olson.
The office’s attraction is understandable. With few duties, it is whatever the officeholder makes it. Former Lt. Governor Bill Halter used its visibility to push the lottery through the Legislature, while Darr’s pet project was an online checkbook to give Arkansans a clearer view of the state’s finances. The officeholder has an impressive title and remains in the public eye at taxpayer expense. In recent years, two lieutenant governors, Jim Guy Tucker and Mike Huckabee, became governor.
Mayberry’s plan if elected is to spend two years looking for government waste and then present his findings at the 2017 legislative session. He believes he would have more success cutting state government if he also worked to cut his own job. At that 2017 session, he’ll try to push through a constitutional amendment that, if approved by the voters, would abolish the office at the end of his first and only term and make the secretary of state next in line to be governor. Mayberry’s wife, Julie, who is running unopposed for his legislative seat, could introduce the bill, he said.
In the meantime, he promises a smaller staff. Four employees worked there under Darr. The lowest paid employee earned more than $50,000 a year plus the state’s generous benefits package. When I worked in the office from 2003-06, there were three employees, plus usually an intern, and we were bloated back then. In fact, as “communications director,” I was definitely part of the bloat. The office could get by with one person to answer the phone and schedule appearances.
I say either make the office relevant or get it rid of it completely. Mayberry hopes to do both – first make it relevant, and then get rid of it.