Friday, February 16, 2007

Lesson learned Avoid repeat of comptroller fallout by changing way state vacancies are filled.

Star-Gazette.Com Editorial

No matter how you feel about the Hevesi replacement process......I think everybody would agree there should be a better way to deal with this kind of vacancy.....no matter which solution is put into place..there are going to be drawbacks...potential conflicts of interests.....incumbency issues etc...but the selection should be in the "voters" hands........plain and simple........andy

There's a slogan the New York Legislature could use these days as it considers badly needed legislation introduced this week that would change the way vacancies are filled for statewide offices.The proposal, in the form of a constitutional amendment, comes in the wake of a political feud between Gov. Eliot Spitzer and lawmakers over how the vacant comptroller's post was filled last week. Instead of leaving the job to the Legislature, voters would make the choice in a statewide special election, according to at least two proposals. The plans, one offered in the Senate and another in the Assembly, would avoid the political jockeying that followed Alan Hevesi's resignation when the second-term controller pleaded guilty to assigning state workers to act as personal aides.Spitzer wanted legislators to choose a replacement from among three people recommended by a panel of three former government comptrollers. The Legislature rejected that recommendation and instead voted in Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli from Long Island. He will serve the remainder of Hevesi's term, which expires Dec. 31, 2010.

The two proposals would fill midterm statewide vacancies with a special election. One version in the Senate and backed by Sen. George H. Winner Jr., R-Elmira, would call for a special election within 45 to 60 days after a vacancy. Another in the Assembly would allow the governor to appoint an interim candidate to fill the position until the next general election.Either version would require a change to the state constitution, a process that requires bills to pass in two different terms of the Legislature -- the 2007-08 and 2008-09 terms for instance -- and then be voted on in a statewide referendum. That would mean the law would take effect no sooner than 2010.Vacancies through resignations or deaths are rare, but when they happen, political warfare can break out, as was the case in Albany after Hevesi's resignation.Either bill would avoid such battles and would let voters, rather than the Legislature, choose a permanent replacement to serve out what would be left in the term. The immediate special-election option precludes the need for an interim appointment. However, the problem there is the expense of staging a statewide vote for just one race and possibly not drawing as much of the electorate as a general election would.Politics could muddy the second option where the governor appoints an interim official until the next election and potentially gives the temporary replacement the advantage of a brief incumbency. If that law had been in play this year, Spitzer could have appointed a replacement through December, candidates could have sought their parties' nomination and had plenty of time to tour the state and campaign for the November election.The second option is the most cost-effective and would ensure the widest voter participation, but whichever version the Legislature chooses, it would be far more preferable to the political maneuvering that resulted in DiNapoli's appointment.

Never again.

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