- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Two Arkansas legislators proposed abolishing the lieutenant governor’s office, deriding it Thursday as outdated and unnecessary and saying they’ll push during the next legislative session to have voters decide whether to keep the post.

Less than three months before voters will select a new lieutenant governor, Republican Sen. Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana and Democratic Sen. Keith Ingram of West Memphis announced they’ll ask the Legislature to put on the 2016 ballot a proposal to eliminate the state’s No. 2 office. The position is currently empty after Republican Mark Darr resigned in February over ethics violations.

“With the current office being vacant, we just thought the best time to come out with a bipartisan effort would be before the election,” Hickey said. “We’re going to run this no matter who gets in there.”

The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and casts the rare tie-breaking vote in the 35-member chamber. The duties also include serving as acting governor when the governor is out of state or unable to serve. Two lieutenant governors have been elevated to governor because of resignations over the past 22 years.

The lawmakers’ proposed constitutional amendment would abolish the office as of Jan. 1, 2019, and make the state attorney general next in line to serve as governor. If out of state, the governor could designate the attorney general to act in his absence.

The proposal would allow whoever is elected lieutenant governor in November to serve the remainder of their term. The post would not be on the ballot starting in 2018.

Hickey and Ingram aren’t the first to call for abolishing the office. State Rep. Andy Mayberry ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor earlier this year on a vow to eliminate it. During campaign appearances, Mayberry told voters: “I want to be your next and last lieutenant governor.”

Ingram, who has previously proposed abolishing the office, said Darr’s resignation and the decision to keep the post vacant underscored how unnecessary it is. The staffers in Darr’s office resigned in late June.

“The office has been closed since the end of June and what better demonstration is there for a lack of need for the office?” Ingram said.

U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, the GOP nominee for the lieutenant governor, said Thursday he continues to oppose efforts to abolish the office.

“Arkansans want a lieutenant governor who will advocate for conservative policies in the legislature and be accountable to the whole state,” Griffin said in a statement. “After watching two lieutenant governors have to step in and become governor on short notice, it’s also important to most people I meet that they have a lieutenant governor of their own choosing, for that purpose.”

Democratic nominee John Burkhalter also opposes abolishing the office, saying he wants to use it to be an advocate for job creators.

“The question is not whether we need a lieutenant governor, it is what kind of lieutenant governor do we need,” Burkhalter said in a statement. “The office is no place for on the job training. I will get to work full-time on day one.”

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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