Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 6, 2014


Treasurer is just one state office that should be abolished

The Independent

ASHLAND — A little more than a week after the Republicans leadership in the Kentucky Senate delayed a vote on a constitutional amendment  to abolish the office of state treasurer because it lacked the votes to send the bill to the House of Representatives, the Senate has approved the bill by a vote of 23-15 with one Republican and all Democrats opposing it.

Expect the measure to die in the House of Representatives without a vote. There is no way Democrats in the House are going to support a measure that none of their colleagues in the Senate supported — and senators who support the measure know that,

We are not disappointed by the likely demise of this proposed constitutional amendment, but it is not because we think state treasurer should be elected. Just as a strong case can be made for eliminating state treasurer as a elected office can be made for abolishing the state constitutional offices of lieutenant governor and agriculture commissioner. Why stop at treasurer?

Over the years, voters have supported amendments to eliminate some constitutional offices. We used to elect  the commissioner of education, three members of the state railroad commission, and the clerk of the court of appeals, the statewide office that was the first step Martha Layne Collins took in her march to the governor’s office.  

No one is arguing for the elimination of the elected offices of attorney general, secretary of state and auditor. Like governor, those are important offices that should be chosen by the people. Not so for the other state constitutional offices.

For many years, the lieutenant governor was elected separate from the governor. That changed when voters approved an amendment that required the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a team. The same amendment allowed the governor and other state constitutional offices to serve consecutive terms.

Steve Henry was the first lieutenant governor to be elected under the new system, and during his eight years as lieutenant governor under Gov. Paul Patton, Henry had so little do to that he continued to practice medicine.

Steve Pence was elected lieutenant governor as part of a slate with Ernie Fletcher in 2003. However, Pence broke with Fletcher midway through his term and spent the last months of his four-year term doing as close to nothing as possible — all while being paid a hefty salary by taxpayers.

Ironically, Gov. Steve Beshear also had a disagreement with former State Sen. Dan Mongiardo, his first lieutenant governor, who like Pence also had little to do during his final months of being just a heartbeat away from being governor. Former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson was picked by Beshear to serve as lieutenant governor during his second term. He is a skilled politician who has a vast knowledge of urban affairs. But he has no official duties. The lieutenant governor used to serve as leader of the state Senate with the power to break a tie vote. He also served as acting governor whenever the governor was out of state. Those powers have been eliminated, further diminishing the importance of the office.

A number of states do not have a lieutenant governor, including neighboring Tennessee and West Virginia. We like Abramson, just as we liked Mongiardo and Pence, but all three have served in the most useless office in Frankfort since the last railroad commissioner left town.

James Comer, the current commissioner of agriculture, is doing an excellent job in this little known office, promoting agriculture products like industrial hemp and assisting Edelen in the investigation of former commisioner Richie Farmer, who is proof of just how unnecessary this office is. Farmer was not elected to two terms because of his vast knowledge of agriculture. He was elected because he is a former University of Kentucky basketball star. Most people had no idea what he did as ag commissioner, nor did they care. That is until he was pleaded guilty to crimes committed while in office.

Democrat Todd Hollenbach currently is in his second and final term as state treasurer. He has avoided controversy and done a competent job of handling the mostly administrative duties of the office. But we agree with senators who say the job in not necessary. But then neither are other offices that we continue to elect. Why not eliminate thm all?

Will that ever happen? Don’t hold your breath.