State Senate Republicans advanced their resolution Tuesday to amend the state constitution to require the popular election of the Tennessee attorney general.
The measure cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 5-4 vote, with Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville the only Republican joining Democrats in opposition. If it passes by majority votes in this General Assembly and by two-thirds majority in the next, it would go on the ballot for voter approval in the 2014 elections.
The resolution is brought by conservatives, who say Attorney General Bob Cooper is out of touch with the public. They cite his refusal to join the states’ lawsuit challenging the national health care overhaul. They want to place the job on the ballot every four years for voters to decide. The state Supreme Court now appoints the attorney general.
“I think there needs to be more accountability there,” Senate Judiciary Committee chair Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said. “He practices in front of the very court that appoints him. I just think the nature of that relationship gives a negative public perception about the validity of those proceedings.”
The resolution’s opponents said electing the attorney general could lead to public corruption.
“It would be very difficult for someone who was campaigning statewide and raising a lot of money not to be somehow influenced by that,” Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, said. “We have less corruption than so many other states that have popularly elected attorney generals.”
Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Clarksville, predicted it would cost $5 million to run for attorney general. “The kind of people who contribute to those campaigns are exactly the kind of people, corporations, who are going to be investigated potentially by the attorney general,” he said.