Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Halter doesnít need a staff

A meanly conceived idea is not necessarily a bad one. Take state Rep. Keith Ingramís idea of eliminating three of the five jobs in the office of the lieutenant governor, which would leave the alternate governor with a single assistant. (The legislatureís Joint Budget Committee didnít take it.)

Had he searched, Ingram could have found more needless jobs in the government than the lieutenant governorís scheduler, liaison and communications director. And he could have found agencies that needed those three jobs and more to get the job done. Child welfare services comes to mind.

Ingram was not concerned with waste but with embarrassing Bill Halter, the lieutenant governor, who is supposed to be contemplating a race against U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary. Ingram, who supports Lincoln, tried to amend Halterís appropriation to give him a single employee, which had the salutary effect of getting some attention in the media and planting the idea that Halter is a spendthrift. Government waste is the catchphrase of the season.

We think Halter might make a pretty good senator in spite of his paternity of the state lottery, which may be the worst idea of this generation. But that would be immaterial at any other time. As spiteful and petty as Ingramís little artifice was, he was right. The lieutenant governor doesnít need a staff at all. He has two functions under the Constitution, and one of them is so archaic that one day we will be rid of it.

The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate for some 45 days a year if he wants to ó the Senate does not miss him in his absence ó and gets to be governor when the real governor steps over the border. The latter duty is a relic of horse-and-buggy days when there was no one to call out the militia in an emergency if the governor had vanished to the far reaches.

The president of the United States is still the president if he is in Malaysia, but if the governor of Arkansas dines in Memphis, the lieutenant governor is invested with his powers for a few hours. When that happens, the governorís staff and all the forces of government are his.

Mike Huckabee began to build the office staff when he was lieutenant governor, and Win Paul Rockefeller inflated it further.

The lieutenant governor needed to feel important. We remember when Lt. Gov. Joe Purcell had a part-time secretary and she twiddled her thumbs.

Once the election season has passed and perhaps a new lieutenant governor is to be sworn in, Ingram or someone should renew the idea. Then it could rest on its merits.