In today’s business world, one of the first things a business consultant asks the CEO or owner of a company is, “Do you have a succession plan?”
In Arizona’s case, today’s answer would be, “Yes, my plan calls for my competitor’s top executive to take over my business, terminate my upper management, disregard my established policies and run the company their way.”
Does that make good business sense?
With all the excitement and attention surrounding the vice presidential selections of Sarah Palin and Joseph Biden, you can be forgiven if you (erroneously) believe that the state of Arizona has a similarly reasonable and straight-forward succession plan.
Unlike in most other states and the national government, the decision we voters make for governor doesn’t necessarily stand for four years. Instead, our state constitution requires that the secretary of state fill the vacancy in the governorship, regardless of the political party to which that person belongs.
Because of this peculiarity, twice in the past 20 years, our state has filled a gubernatorial vacancy with an individual of the opposite party. And it could very well happen again before this year is out if the speculation is correct that a victorious Barack Obama would offer our current governor a top job in his new administration.
If this occurs, it will become abundantly clear that we Arizonans have short-changed ourselves by not having a lieutenant governor to provide for political continuity in the executive.
When a secretary of state of the opposite party becomes the governor in the middle of a term, they have the every right to remove executive personnel, such as agency heads and political appointees, who do not share their policy priorities.
After all, it’s the new governor’s responsibility to lead. The new governor is accountable to the people. And the new governor deserves the freedom of action that all governors have to recruit, hire and build an effective staff to govern effectively.
However, the immediate, wholesale changeover in department heads and key staff could very well make it harder — if not impossible — for the new governor to succeed for the good of the entire state.
Regardless if it’s a Republican taking over from a Democrat or a Democrat taking over from a Republican, both major political parties should agree that the resulting chaos from such a change in governor should be avoided and its possibility removed from our constitution.
Our current broken succession plan is a very different situation than when we elect a new governor from a party different than the incumbent’s. When that happens, there is a formal transition period lasting months where the voter-mandated change in political direction is accomplished without wrenching disruption.
How many times have we heard someone say that government should operate as a business? Can you think of any business even half the size of Arizona’s government that doesn’t have a succession plan to ensure a smooth transition with minimum interruption to its operations?
We need to seriously rethink this issue of gubernatorial succession and take action to correct this oversight by creating the office of lieutenant governor of Arizona. With the lieutenant governor elected on a ticket with the governor, Arizona would have a successful and familiar succession plan that would facilitate continuity and avoid needless and arbitrary political disruption.
Equally important to creating a smooth transition when a vacancy occurs is the political and policy role the lieutenant governor might assume. As in other states, our lieutenant governor could be the state’s champion of commerce and economic development, answering directly to the elected governor and promoting the positive attributes of Arizona to national and international corporations.
The lieutenant governor, under this mandate, would work with local chambers of commerce and industry trade organizations to promote economic development throughout the state. Our lieutenant governor would be the executive’s point-person responsible for supporting the development of strong employment and tax bases.
In today’s globally competitive environment, the people of Arizona would benefit immeasurably from the person one heartbeat away from the governorship having his or her primary focus be on the state’s economic health.
No matter what the lieutenant governor’s portfolio is, Arizonans should be given the assurance that when they vote for the governor of one party that they aren’t going to get one from another if there is a tragedy or some other reason for a gubernatorial vacancy.
Let’s have this discussion now and a constitutional amendment sent to the people in 2010 that fixes Arizona’s inadequate and potentially destructive executive succession plan.
David Jones is president and CEO of the Arizona Contractors Association.