I'm going to take a vacation from presidential politics this week. It's a done deal. Trump in a landslide. Why? Because Al Sharpton has promised to leave the country if Trump is elected. Heck, that almost made me want to vote for him.
Instead, this week I want to focus on something a little closer to home, and almost as important: our outdated State Constitution. We've all pretty much agreed since the 1960's that it needed to be replaced, we just can't agree on how to do it. Instead, we offer at least three new amendments to it in every election.
Some of the things in it that made good sense when it was written in 1876 are just downright silly today. For instance, every time the Governor leaves the state, his power shifts to the Lt. Governor or a legislative leader. Once, in the 1980's while Bill Clinton was out of the state, Sen. Nick Wilson took over and fired his chief of staff. Clinton of course re-hired her, went on to become President, and Wilson ended up in prison for other crimes. If the President of the United States retains his power from anywhere in the world, shouldn't the Governor of Arkansas retain his when he goes to an out of state football game?
In fact, the entire executive branch needs to be overhauled. Some of the positions we now elect people to--like Secretary of State, Land Commissioner, Auditor, and Treasurer--could be appointed by the Governor or hired independently from him. Some of those offices might not even be needed. For instance, why do we need a State Treasurer when we also have the Department of Finance and Administration?
I'd also like to see elections taken out of the Secretary of State's office and County Clerk's offices in the counties. They should be replaced by an Election Commission of state employees whose jobs don't depend on the results of the election. It makes absolutely no sense to allow someone who is on the ballot to oversee the election. Another option would be to make Secretary of State a state job instead of an elective office, then let it continue to run elections.
Another quirk in our state government that should be changed is the retirement system for state employees. We have six statewide employment systems now, each with its own executive director and staff, all basically doing the same jobs. Those six systems should be merged into a single Public Employee Retirement System with one director and one staff. That would cut the cost and size of government without cutting benefits to retirees.
Recent events have shown us problems in our judicial and legislative branches that need to be dealt with. All of the dark out-of-state money that flooded into the state during the recent election for Supreme Court Chief Justice convinced most people that judges at the appeal level should not be elected. While I didn't vote for the woman who lost that election, some of the attacks on her paid for with outside money were uncalled for.
As for the legislature, well that's a problem because, as Ron White says, "You can't fix stupid." It's been a common practice to elect the mentally incompetent to the State Legislature if there was no room for them in a mental institution. The latest proof of that joke was when ten state senators threatened to shut down state government because they opposed The Arkansas Works Program. A new Constitution calling for a simple majority vote on spending bills would prevent that type of idiocy.
It's also time to make the job of state legislator a full-time job. So far this year, these "part-time" employees have attended one fiscal session and three special sessions in less than six months. They also have to attend committee meetings throughout the year. There's no way a person can hold down a full-time job and serve in the Legislature unless his boss is using that person as his own private lobbyist. Besides, now that we pay them $39,000 a year, we should get a full year's work out of them--as long as they are properly supervised and medicated.
These are just a few of the changes I'd like to see from a new constitution. Other people could probably come up with more. For those of you who would argue that we don't need a new constitution because the national one has worked fine since 1789, let me leave you with this. The U.S. Constitution was written by men named Hamilton, Monroe, and Madison. Parts of the Arkansas Constitution read like they were written by Moe, Larry, and Curly.