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Throw Off This Throwback

A constitutional amendment would get the governor off the stagecoach and into the 21st century.

May 08, 2003

Every time the governor's stagecoach or iron horse leaves California, he loses all gubernatorial powers. Those powers automatically flow to the lieutenant governor, who becomes the acting chief executive, with authority to sign bills into law, pardon convicts or even call the Legislature into session.

This anachronism dates from the Constitution of 1879, when communications were somewhat crankier than now. Then, it was not unreasonable that there be an acting governor on the scene of some emergency with the right to take action.

That's silly in the age of e-mail, faxes and cell phones. This deadwood should be removed from the state's bulky Constitution, and Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) is sponsoring Senate Constitutional Amendment 4 to do just that.

Brulte's measure won unanimous approval in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee on Tuesday and now goes to the full Senate. The Legislature should speed this measure to the 2004 election ballot.

Past attempts to do this have inexplicably failed. SCA 4 provides that the lieutenant governor, who is elected independently from the chief executive, would become acting governor only in case of impeachment or temporary disability of the governor or the failure of the governor-elect to take office.

Although the state's No. 2 official is the titular president of the Senate and serves on a variety of boards and commissions, the main function of the office is to provide a successor for "when a vacancy occurs in the office of governor."

The out-of-state provision has provided the opportunity for occasional mischief, most notably when Republican Mike Curb was the lieutenant governor under Democrat Jerry Brown. Curb once appointed an appeals court justice while Brown was out of the state, but Brown later undid the action.

Still, whenever Gov. Gray Davis leaves California, a formal letter must be prepared for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, detailing Davis' travel plans and how he can be contacted. That's an unnecessary nuisance. It's time to get the governor off the stagecoach.

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