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One big choice

04/22/03 12:00AM By John McClaughry
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(Host) Commentator John McClaughry suggests an alternative to the current method of voting for statewide offices.

(McClaughry) Last year the three candidates for governor raised around $2.4 million for their campaigns. The candidates for the five lower statewide offices raised at least $700,000, most of it from Vermont sources. The voters really had little reason to vote for or against any of the candidates for the five lower offices, other than their party affiliation or name recognition. It's time to consider a different model for statewide elections, a model that gives each voter one big and meaningful choice to make about the state's future leadership.

Let the voters cast one vote for candidates for the governor and lieutenant governor running together as a team, like Bush-Cheney or Gore-Lieberman. This is the current practice in 22 states. As in Maine and New Hampshire, the Legislature would elect the secretary of state and treasurer, and as in Massachusetts, the auditor. These officeholders would become nonpartisan civil servants whose terms are reviewable by the Legislature every six years, like judges. Let the governor appoint the attorney general to serve at his pleasure, subject to confirmation by the Senate. This is the practice in New Jersey, Wyoming and Hawaii.

Consider the benefits: The voters would be called on to make just One Big Choice: which team do I want to lead the state for the next two years? The voters would choose among the Democratic or Republican or Progressive or one or more independent candidate teams, and put one X on their ballots.

The lieutenant governor would be the governor's fellow partisan and trusted lieutenant. That would ensure continuity of policies if the governor died or resigned. The attorney general would be accountable to the governor, instead of running his own independent public interest law firm at taxpayers' expense. The other three officers would be out of partisan politics altogether. There would be no more political jockeying by ambitious lower office holders trying to propel themselves into a higher position.

The scramble to raise $700,000 to fund campaigns for the lower offices would end. There would be far less competition for scarce campaign talent, and no bewildering clutter of competing advertisements, mailings, and yard signs from candidates about whom the public has very little knowledge or interest.

Under the One Big Choice plan, voters would concentrate on the character, experience, and platforms of the candidates for governor, just as the voters in 2000 concentrated on Gore-Lieberman vs. Bush-Cheney. The parties would concentrate their campaign efforts, human resources, and fundraising on persuading the voters to make the One Big Choice in their party's favor.

The One Big Choice Plan is simple, understandable, tested, and far more meaningful than today's welter of statewide candidates vying for attention from an electorate that really has little idea of who those candidates are or what those offices do. It will take a constitutional amendment to put One Big Choice into operation. Now would be a very good time to consider it.

This is John McClaughry - thanks for listening.

John McClaughry is president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont policy research and education organization.

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