After putting the issue on hold earlier this week, Sen. Mae Beavers managed today to convince a slim Senate majority to embrace changing the Tennessee Constitution to give voters the power to determine who should become the state’s chief prosecutor.
But if the narrow margin by which the measure passed today is any indication, the odds appear steep against the state electorate ever even getting a chance to weigh in on the constitutional amendment question itself — let alone ever actually getting to cast ballots for an attorney general.
Nineteen state senators voted for the resolution, 14 against it.
It now must pass the House of Representatives before this session ends. After that, it’ll have to be passed again in both chambers next session — but by two-thirds majorities in both, not just a simple majority.
The measure first came up for a vote on Monday, but faltered after several lawmakers wondered why Beavers, a Mt. Juliet Republican, would want to fix a system they said wasn’t “broken.” They also asked why she was only pushing for attorney general elections, and not voter-selection of other constitutional officers as well.
Said Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, “Perhaps the most important thing that what we can look to is not what has been said but what has not been said. What you have not heard is that for the last 140 years the attorney generals have been too political. What you have not heard is that in the last 140 years the attorney generals have failed to serve this state well.”
Beavers said she actually has supported pushes in the past to elect other constitutional officers. However, she said, the secretary of state, the comptroller of the treasury, and the treasurer are themselves appointed by elected officials. Tennessee Supreme Court justices aren’t elected by the people — making the attorney general, whom they appoint, “twice removed” from any direct democratic accountability, she argued.
Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, will be carrying the bill in the House.