Washington State is proud of its populist tradition, with one of its features being the relatively large number of directly elected statewide office holders. Every four years voters are asked to elect candidates to the following executive branch offices (in the order they appear on the ballot):
- Lieutenant Governor
- Secretary of State
- State Auditor
- Attorney General
- Superintendent of Public Instruction (non-partisan)
- Commissioner of Public Lands
- Insurance Commissioner
The Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier recently asked a rather important question concerning the nine separately elected executive positions: “Does direct election of so many statewide executive branch offices actually increase or hamper accountability?”
Mercier argues that the Secretary of State, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Commissioner of Public Lands and Insurance Commissioner are “essentially policy offices, much like those currently in the Governor’s appointed cabinet.” By directly electing candidates to these positions, our state all too often creates “policy confusion for voters with different positions being expressed by the executive branch” rather than “greater public accountability.”
On the other hand, the Treasurer, Auditor and Attorney General work “primarily in an accountability capacity.” Thus, their responsibility of ensuring accountability — especially in state government — makes independent election of these offices important. Mercier goes on:
“As for Lt. Governor, to ensure the successful transition of power in the event the Governor is unable to fulfill his or her duties, it makes sense to have an elected Lieutenant Governor ready to step into the top office. That does not mean, however, that the Lieutenant Governor needs to be elected independently of the Governor.
“Instead, Washington should model the office of Lieutenant Governor after that of the Vice President of the United States. This would mean that candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor would run on the same ticket. Maryland structures its election of Governor and Lieutenant Governor this way.”
Following his line of reasoning, Mercier concludes by proposing a new system for statewide elections in which voters would choose the five highest state officials in four elections.
- Governor and Lieutenant Governor (joint ticket)
- Attorney General
- State Treasurer
- State Auditor
According to Mercier, reducing the number of statewide elected offices would “focus public accountability in a way that people can understand and remember. This would increase accountability both during a Governor’s term and in election years when voters are assessing candidates for the state’s top offices.”
So, do you agree with Mercier’s argument? Let us know my leaving a comment below!
Lou Caldwell says
and let some numb-nuts governor appoint a bunch of political hacks to run a large part of the state government? Just the incompetency of Idiot Insley would tell you not no, but HELL NO
Chan Bailey says
I agree with Mercer’s suggestion. His reasoning is sound and would help voters decide the direction they want the state to take. For example – replacing Inslee with Bryant would create a domino effect that improves the state government by more than just one position – and makes the governor accountable for all of it.
Republicans have tired of hearing they hold just one statewide elected office out of nine, eh? Would one in four sound better?
Interestingly, one of the four remaining positions — Attorney General — was a spectacle of waste under a previous occupant, Rob McKenna, who needlessly picked and lost a fight with Commissioner Peter Goldmark over policy for Public Lands. Voters imposed accountability when we subsequently fired McKenna and kept Goldmark, showing nicely how we can resolve policy confusion. So no, we have no need to reduce our number of elected positions. We just need to keep fools and wastrels like McKenna out of office with our votes.