Washington needs a more powerful governor

Too many statewide elected representatives mean less accountability to Washington voters on education and other local issues. Why the governor should be holding the reins.
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Washington state ballot (2010).

Too many statewide elected representatives mean less accountability to Washington voters on education and other local issues. Why the governor should be holding the reins.

If you're one of those who likes to wait till the last possible moment to place your ballot in the mail, your time is running out. Ballots need to be postmarked by 8 p.m. tonight. Once the "polls" close, we can begin the long wait for results to trickle in over the coming weeks.

According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, however, the vast majority of states require mail-in ballots to actually be received by Election Day. NASS reports:

  • In three states, absentee ballots must be returned prior to Election Day.
  • In 36 states, absentee ballots must be returned by Election Day.
  • In 11 states and the District of Columbia, additional time for the arrival of absentee ballots is provided after Election Day, as long as the absentee ballot is postmarked by Election Day.

Here is a summary of when mail-in ballots are due in each state.

This is why retiring Secretary of State Sam Reed supports requiring mail-in ballots to be turned in by Election Day.

As for the number of statewide races on the ballot, Richard S. Davis, president of the Washington Research Council, writes today:

“Distrust of a powerful executive is central to the American identity. It’s particularly pronounced here. Only a handful of states elect nine or more executives.

Diluting executive authority, however, frustrates accountability. Moreover, it allows special interests an inordinate influence on offices that matter mightily to them, but receive comparatively little media attention or public scrutiny. Gubernatorial candidates feel compelled to offer an 'education plan,' but the elected superintendent of public instruction, who runs the state education bureaucracy, has no obligation to support the governor’s plan.

Similarly, with health care and environmental regulation critical to most Washingtonians, independently elected insurance and lands commissioners diminish the governor’s control. As voters consistently hold the governor responsible for performance in those areas, eliminating these three elected positions would improve accountability, consistency and efficiency.”

I agree.

As the Washington Policy Center recommended in 2008, statewide elected offices (excluding the Supreme Court) should be limited to:

   1. Governor and Lieutenant Governor (joint ticket)
   2. Attorney General
   3. State Treasurer
   4. State Auditor

The other offices should become part of the Governor's cabinet and be appointed, perhaps subject to Senate confirmation.

If problems arise with public education, insurance regulation, or management of public lands, voters would know that the solution lies with the Governor, who could change the top managers of these policy areas at any time. If the Governor fails to use his or her appointment powers to improve the management of these departments, voters could take that failure into account at election time.

This story originally appeared on the Washington Policy Center's Washington Policy Blog and is reprinted with permission.


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