- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma lawmakers convened a legislative study Wednesday on expanding the governor’s appointment authority to include the heads of state agencies and commissions, an idea critics said could make state government resemble the federal system and increase the influence of special interests.

The state Senate General Government Committee conducted the hearing requested by Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, who said the idea has been discussed for many years. Supporters have promoted it as a way to cut the size of state government and make it more efficient.

Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin, said Fallin believes the state would benefit from giving any governor more authority to appoint the directors, boards and commissions that control state agencies.

“Voters expect the state’s chief executive to have authority over the policies and procedures of executive branch agencies; but in Oklahoma, that authority often does not exist,” Weintz said. “The result can sometimes be an inability to enact necessary change and confusion about who is ultimately accountable for the actions of state agencies.”

Currently, the heads of some agencies like the attorney general’s, treasurer’s and education superintendent’s offices are elected by voters. The directors of dozens of other agencies are appointed by boards and commissions whose members are named by the governor, often in staggered terms that exceed the term of the governor.

Andrew Spiropoulos, a professor at the Oklahoma City University School of Law, said giving the state’s chief executive more control over the executive branch of government will make government more effective and the governor more accountable to voters.

“She doesn’t have effective control over her own branch of government,” Spiropoulos said. The governor’s limited appointment authority makes it difficult for her to influence policy decisions by agencies within the branch of government she heads.

“That’s bad government,” Spiropoulos said. “This is the key reform that we need to make.”

Spiropoulos cited the state Department of Human Services as an example of the kind of change he said is needed. Once headed by a governor-appointed commission that chose the director, voters approved a constitutional amendment to abolish the commission and give the governor authority to name members of four separate committees as well as the agency’s director.

Jonathan Small of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, said the change came about only because of the tragic deaths of vulnerable children who were in the agency’s care.

But some lawmakers were skeptical. Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, questioned whether the state should eliminate elections for attorney general, treasurer and other important state agency heads similar to how the federal government is organized.

“We live in a democratic society. We have the right to vote,” Thompson said.

David did not indicate if she plans to introduce legislation next year to expand the governor’s appointment authority. Some changes would require voter-approved amendments to the state constitution.

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