OKLAHOMA CITY — Pleas to give the state’s top executive more power are a familiar refrain in the state Capitol halls.
With calls becoming commonplace, there is little surprise that Republican Gov. Mary Fallin is now asking legislators to expand the office’s future authority.
Fallin, who is serving her final term as governor, wants lawmakers to put a measure before voters allowing her successors to appoint agency directors. Fallin said recently that she believes such legislation would make state government more effective and responsive.
“It’s an ongoing debate about the benefits or detriment of maintaining some sort of consistency in (current) programs versus moving in a way consistent with the new governor,” said state Senate Minority Leader John Sparks, D-Norman.
“This isn’t a black-and-white issue of whether it’s good and bad,” Sparks said. “I understand a new governor’s frustration when they get elected, but it’ll take a few years before their appointees are able to exert influence on boards. To that extent, I understand why a governor would want to have a more direct and immediate influence.”
Fallin said the state Constitution “ties” her hands when she needs to make changes.
“A governor ought to be able to hire a director, and have the authority to fire that director,” she said.
In addition, Fallin said reform efforts are hampered by hundreds of advisory boards, commissions and agencies, which make it difficult to make timely fixes. The identities of those serving on governing boards and commissions are also often shrouded in mystery, she added.
“As a result, we’re left for the most part with an inefficient, slow-responding form of government,” she said.
The governor already has the authority to appoint some agency chiefs — like the head of the state’s military and the Department of Public Safety director. Boards and commissions are tasked with appointing other agency leaders. The governors and Legislature, meanwhile, typically choose who serves on boards and commissions.
Giving a new governor greater power over appointments could allow for faster fixes to ineffective policies, Sparks said.
“On the other hand, if you had a governor who is taking care of business, and you got somebody in who was maybe not as knowledgeable in some areas, (the current law) would stop that person from engaging in disruptive politics,” Sparks said.
When people vote for governor, they assume the head of the state’s executive branch can go in, clean things up and make government more efficient, said state Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, who supports calls to expand the governor’s authority.
Murphey said that’s not always true.
“There have been a number of us in the Legislature that feel that when the governor is weak, then so are the voters,” he said. “The governor in Oklahoma is one of the weakest governors when compared to peers in other states. That weakness tends to result in a powerful, unelected bureaucracy making the calls.”
Over the years, lawmakers have slowly started to expand gubernatorial powers, Murphey said.
More recently, lawmakers created the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which consolidated several state agencies under Fallin’s purview in an effort to provide better oversight, he said.
“In a hypothetical situation, if the governor is someone who is responsible and takes their job seriously and does their job well, then a strong governor model works well,” he said. “The most important factor is the governor and their willingness to hold that agency to the account (that) they’re able to by law.”
But the idea of expanding gubernatorial authority is also controversial.
State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, said Fallin already seems to have enough power and already has the ability to appoint some agency directors.
“I would not be in favor of giving [Fallin[ any more power after what I’ve seen in this Capitol the last few months,” he said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.