Georgia Governor Backs Appointed, Not Elected, Insurance Chief

By | February 8, 2010

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposal to appoint — rather than elect — four statewide constitutional officers has run headlong into opposition.

Critics from both parties said the plan was unlikely to win the needed two-thirds vote in the Legislature and would consolidate too much power with the state’s chief executive.

“I have serious reservations about taking power away from the people like this,” state Sen. Tim Golden, a Valdosta Democrat, said.

Perdue’s plan would hand the governor the power to appoint the state schools superintendent, labor commissioner, agriculture commissioner and insurance commissioner. Those posts are currently elected. The change would take place in 2014, after Perdue leaves office.

It would require a constitutional amendment, which means that should it receive the needed supermajority in the state Legislature, it would then need to be approved by voters. The plan must also pass muster with the U.S. Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act, according to the state Attorney General Thurbert Baker’s office.

A spokesman for Baker said Perdue did not seek their counsel on the proposal.

Georgia’s longtime state Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin said that the proposal was a “terrible idea.”

“You would not have an independent agriculture commissioner, as I’ve been,” said the Democrat, who was first elected in 1969.

“Let the people vote.”

State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said the plan would “lessen the voice that parents and educators have.”

“I am not convinced that less democracy is better,” she said.

Cox is one of several Republicans who were skeptical.

House Majority Whip Ed Lindsey called it “very doubtful” that voters would give up their right to have a say.

“Traditionally the voters, once they have been given the right to vote on something, they are reluctant to take that right back from themselves,” the Atlanta Republican said.

State Rep. Jill Chambers, an Atlanta Republican, called the chances of the Legislature giving more power to the governor “slim.”

House Minority Leader DuBose Porter questioned Perdue’s timing, saying lawmakers are already more than on-fourth of the way through their legislative session and Perdue has less than one year left in his final term.

“Why now?” asked Porter. “Possibly this is something that should be looked at but there are so many other things — jobs, transportation — that reorganizing state government in this way is not a high priority.”

Still, the plan has supporters.

“It’s like the president picking his cabinet. The governor should have the same privilege,” state Sen. Jeff Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican said. “It might help (the governor) to control the budget better.”

Several legislators noted that with schools such a high priority it made sense to have the schools superintendent and the governor reading off the same playbook.

Research from Perdue’s office found that Georgia is one of only five states that elect a labor commissioner and one of only nine states in which voters select an agriculture commissioner. Twelve other states elect an insurance commissioner. Fourteen vote for state school superintendent.

Associated Press Writer Errin Haines contributed to this report.

Topics Agribusiness Georgia

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