Building A Better Government Harder Task Than It Sounds
It is a Herculean task reorganizing state government, but is a task Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he is willing to attempt.
It is more like herding cats.
Or as the late Gov. Frank White once said: “..serving as governor was like being nibbled to death by ducks. Each and every day of your term.”
No sooner had the more recent fiscal session ended and a three-day special session ended, did Gov. Hutchinson show his most recent handiwork project — of reorganizing state government — until after the 2018 elections in May and November.
Asa says he is going to trim the number of agencies reporting to the Governor from 42 (at present) to fewer than 20.
Good luck with that I say, And I repeat the good luck wish and not so much with a tongue-in-cheek this time.
You see, even with any designed plan — be it pie charts, flow charts, organizational charts or simply a herding of all these 42 cats into 20 more defined boxes — there will be some stiff legislative blow-back.
The reasons will be as numerous — if not more numerous — than the number of agencies.
And only one administration — that of the late Gov. Dale Bumpers — that highly successful two-term Governor and four-term United States Senator from Charleston, was this reform-minded Democrat able to reduce the number of state agencies from 60 to 13.
Bumpers, who once defeated Hutchison for the U.S. Senate (1986) early in Hutchinson’s political career, took the realignment of the state government fight to the Arkansas State House and Arkansas State Senate — rather than to the public to make the changes necessary to trim back and realign the state agencies.
Hutchinson in announcing the plan to reduce the number of agencies reporting to the Governor, did acknowledge Bumpers’ success calling it “…a historic transformation of state government.”
In prepping the plan for the public, Hutchinson did allude to former GOP Governor Mike Huckabee’s 2003 effort to reorganize state government. The plan passed the state Senate’s approval, but fell short in the House.
In 2003, Hutchinson failed to point out, Democrats controlled both chambers.
Since 2013, however, the GOP has controlled both the House and the Senate.
But what the Governor did not mention, but he has to know, is that reorganizing state government tends to “water down” the committee control of the agencies.
For example, many of the health-related state agencies, for example, are all funneled through the House and Senate Public Health committees; those dealing with legal issues through the House and Senate Judiciary; and so on. These long-sitting legislators in powerful positions on these committees often set the tone for legislation, funding and activities in those agencies — long before a governor can implement his own plan.
That is the No. 1 reason Gov. Hutchinson wants to realign state government. Realignment gives the person sitting in the Governor’s chair more control.
As an after-thought for the upcoming inter-party GOP contest for the Republican nomination as Governor, Hutchinson’s far-right challenger, Jan Morgan of Hot Springs is an advocate of less, less, less government — no matter what.
Is this a campaign ploy for Hutchinson to curry favor with all the factions of the GOP?
It could be.
But I suspect it is more of a power-grab away from strong state House and state Senate members who control committees, and thusly, these state agencies,. In doing this Hutchison does not enjoy the full power of the Governor’s office over these agencies.
All the politicians will talk about “efficiency” and “less government,” but what it boils down to as a legislator will tell you, is this:
An agency head that gets along with his or her committee chair and the committee members is often bullet proof in the chambers when voting is done.
The governor seldom reaches down to correct committees by their votes or non-votes.
And the governor loses the control of that agency to the committees, something Asa Hutchinson, is apparently tired of doing as he seems primed to enter a second term in office in 2019.