Build­ing A Bet­ter Gov­ern­ment Harder Task Than It Sounds

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - OPINION - May­lon Rice MAY­LON RICE IS A FOR­MER JOUR­NAL­IST WHO WORKED FOR SEV­ERAL NORTH­WEST ARKANSAS PUB­LI­CA­TIONS. HE CAN BE REACHED VIA EMAIL AT MAYLONTRICE@YA­HOO.COM. THE OPIN­IONS EX­PRESSED ARE THOSE OF THE AU­THOR.

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.

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