The state Senate heard first reading of a resolution sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, on Wednesday calling for popular election of the state’s attorney general.
The amendment process requires three readings of the proposed changes before the General Assembly can act – meaning it will likely be next week before a vote is taken on the measure.
“Tennessee is the only state in the nation in which the people have neither a direct nor indirect voice in the selection of their attorney general, and we are the only state that gives that power to our Supreme Court,” said Beavers. “The time has come to finally make a change, whether it is by popular election or selection by the people’s representatives. I want to see both options on the table for the next General Assembly, especially in light of the vote that will be taken on the judicial selection process in the next election.”
Tennessee voters will consider a constitutional change on the ballot in November to allow the governor to appoint appellate judges for eight-year terms subject to confirmation by the legislature.
Beavers’ resolution would amend the Tennessee Constitution to allow for popular election of the state attorney general every four years. The General Assembly voted last year to approve a resolution to let the people vote on whether or not the attorney general should be selected in a joint convention of the legislature. Both amendment resolutions require approval by the 108th General Assembly currently in session, and the 109th which will take office in 2015, before going to voters in a statewide referendum in the 2018 general election.
Beavers said when Tennessee’s Constitution was written, calling for nomination by the state’s Supreme Court justices, the court was popularly elected. Forty-three states already select their attorney generals through popular election. In six other states, the popularly elected governor or the popularly elected state legislature appoint the attorney general.
“Along with the overwhelming majority of Tennesseans and 96 percent of the rest of this nation, I feel that the citizens of this state ought to have a ‘say so’ in the highest legal office in Tennessee,” Beavers said.
In Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Wyoming, the governor appoints the attorney general. The mayor makes the appointment in the District of Columbia. In Maine, the legislature elects its attorney general.