Commission Considers Amendment to Clarify Governor's Succession

Commission Considers Amendment to Clarify Governor's Succession

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state Constitutional Revision Commission is considering an amendment to clarify the line of succession if a governor leaves office before completing his or her term.

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff in August issued an opinion that Lt. Gov. Olene Walker will become governor -- not just acting governor -- if Gov. Mike Leavitt wins confirmation as Environmental Protection Agency chief.

Shurtleff also said Walker as governor could appoint someone to replace her as lieutenant governor -- a political plus if the appointee has gubernatorial aspirations.

Commission member Jon Memmott said Friday he believes Shurtleff's opinion correctly reflects history and intent.

But commission member Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said that a plain reading of the constitution says the lieutenant governor becomes only a temporary, or acting, governor.

The commission, made up of elected officials, lawyers and others interested in the constitution, met Friday to talk about the problem. Commission members haven't made any recommendations yet, but they assigned their attorney to suggest ways to clarify the section. The commission meets monthly.

If the members agree on changes, they will recommend them to the state Legislature. Two-thirds of the House and Senate would need to approve it, because it would be a constitutional amendment. Then the issue would go to voters for approval. If the Legislature approved a change during its next session, the issue could be on the 2004 ballot. If not, it couldn't be on the ballot until 2006.

Voters approved a change to that part of the state's constitution in 1981. That amendment changed the governor's acting replacement from the secretary of state to the lieutenant governor.

Rep. Scott Daniels, D-Salt Lake City, said the state needs to make the constitution's wording agree with legislators' intent.

"On its face, it seems to say that the lieutenant governor only assumes the duties of the governor, but then in the opinion of the attorney general it doesn't mean that," he said. "I think if we think about policy and determine the lieutenant governor should become governor, we need to make the constitution say that, because it doesn't say that now."

In August, Shurtleff said the only difference between governor and acting governor is a governor can appoint a lieutenant governor. An acting governor cannot do that, but still would have all the other powers of the governor's office.

Shurtleff said he offered to clarify the line of succession after Utah legislators asked him about it. Never before in Utah history has a lieutenant governor taken over as governor, he said.

The Republican Walker has not said whether she would seek her party's nomination in 2004.

Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said Friday she still intends to block Leavitt's nomination to head EPA due to new details of how the White House and EPA fought over air pollution from the World Trade Center rubble after Sept. 11.

An August EPA inspector general's report found the agency was pressured by White House officials to prematurely assure New Yorkers the air pollution posed no health threat.

Clinton is one of several Democratic senators who have said they will use a parliamentary device known as a hold to prevent a full Senate vote on Bush's nomination of Leavitt.

A committee vote is scheduled Wednesday on Leavitt's nomination.

An earlier planned vote had to be canceled when Democrats on the panel boycotted the meeting. In an attempt to force the Democrats' hand, Republicans have scheduled the vote for three consecutive days next week.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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