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End California's Split Ticket

Government: The governor and lieutenant governor should be from the same party.

June 14, 1998|BROOKS FIRESTONE | Republican Assemblyman Brooks Firestone represents parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties

"I'd like to introduce President Bill Clinton, and his vice president, Newt Gingrich." Sound odd? The pairing of a president from one party with a vice president from another is not only laughable but actually quite incomprehensible. For obvious reasons, a president from one political party could never work with a vice president from the opposing party, nor should they be expected to.

Since the above scenario seems so impossible, why don't Californians flinch when they hear "Gov. Pete Wilson and Lt. Gov. Gray Davis"? Why do Californians accept as normal for their state government that which would be unacceptable on the national level?

To compound the problems that arise from having separate elections for these two posts, the California Constitution also requires the full power of the governor to be transferred to the lieutenant governor the moment the former steps foot outside the state. California is one of only 11 states where the situation may arise that forces a governor of one political party to turn the reins of power over to a lieutenant governor of another political party in order to leave the state for any amount of time. Since California's economy is very dependent upon trade among its Pacific Rim neighbors, our governor should be able to travel freely outside the state to promote goodwill without worrying that the No. 2 person back home is appointing judges or signing legislation without the administration's consent.

I have introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 31 to change the odd way that California elects its two top offices.

Throughout California's history and every year since 1978, the sitting governor and lieutenant governor have been from different political parties. At times, the governor and lieutenant governor have been publicly at odds with each other. The governor, naturally, is reluctant to delegate powers, assign new responsibilities or promote California's interests outside its borders for fear of turning the reins of power over to a member of the opposition party.

There are those who say that California voters like to split their votes among the parties for the top two jobs to provide checks and balances within the executive branch. The reality is that the current constitutional job description for lieutenant governor does not give the position any power to check or balance any of the governor's actions. This fact leaves the lieutenant governor idle for most of the time while the governor sets the state's course without asking or receiving counsel from the second in command.

As noted in the California Constitution Revision Commission's 1996 report, this dispersion of power creates inflexibility and fragmentation within the executive branch, which potentially reduces the responsiveness and efficiency of the governor's administration. Having a governor and lieutenant governor of the same party would allow them to work as an effective team.

My bill would require that the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket, modeled after how the nation elects its presidents and vice presidents. There would only be a gubernatorial primary; no primary for lieutenant governor. Once the gubernatorial candidates are chosen in the primary, they would pick running mates.

My measure allows the governor to retain executive powers when not in the state. The present transfer of power was useful in the horse and buggy 19th century but due to modern transportation and communications technologies has become anachronistic.

These two simple changes to the state's Constitution would decrease fragmentation at the top of the executive branch and help increase governmental responsiveness, accountability and efficiency.

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