Historically, the Secretary of State in Florida was elected by the public, but that changed in 1998, when constitutional changes removed that position from the elected Cabinet of the executive branch.
Now, 19 years later, Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean wants to bring that position back into the Cabinet.
At the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections meeting on Tuesday, Bean told his colleagues that the main motivation for his joint resolution (SB 882) is to add another member to the Cabinet, which currently consists of four members – the governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.
“I always felt that it’s been odd,” Bean said. “We have some strange rules when it comes to voting with our cabinet,” referring specifically on the state rule that in two-two ties on Cabinet votes, the governor has to be on the prevailing side.
Bean said that fifth cabinet member needs to be “an independent Secretary of State who is accountable directly to the people.”
Concurring with Bean at the hearing was Sandra Mortham, who was Florida Secretary of State from 1995 to 1998, where she lost a bid for re-election in a GOP primary to Katherine Harris.
“In my view, this is an office that should be accountable to the public,” Mortham said. “Over the last 15 years, there have been multiple incidents that I’ve watched, where it’s been difficult… for the Secretary of State at the time to make decisions because they are not accountable directly to the publc, but rather they’re accountable to the person who has appointed them.”
Insisting that she wasn’t “casting aspersions” on the governors who have had the ability to handpick their own Secretary of State nominees over the years, she said it makes it “very, very difficult” sometimes for them on important issues, referring to those officers.
Mortham also said it would be better for local supervisors of elections to be dealing with a state leader who has been popularly elected and not appointed by the governor.
The measure passed easily in the committee. To make it to Governor Scott’s desk, it would have to earn at least 60 percent support in the House and Senate (the House bill is being sponsored by Martin County Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell). Then it would go on the ballot in 2018. If Floridians voted to support it, the first election for Secretary of State would take place during the 2022 election cycle.