Attorney general election proposal passes Tennessee Senate

Friday, April 10, 2015, Vol. 39, No. 15

NASHVILLE (AP) - A proposed constitutional amendment calling for the popular election of Tennessee's attorney general overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Tuesday despite arguments that the current system doesn't need to be changed.

The measure, which has failed in previous years, was approved 23-9.

Under the state's constitution, the attorney general is appointed to an eight-year term by the state Supreme Court. The amendment would change the term to six years, with only two consecutive terms.

Sen. Mae Beavers, the legislation's sponsor, said the current process creates a conflict of interest because the attorney general is being "chosen by judges that he himself interviewed and helped put on the bench."

"The attorney general is twice removed from the people," said the Mt. Juliet Republican. "They need somebody that they can directly vote for that answers to the people - not anybody up here, not any judge, not anything else but to the people."

However, Republican Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville opposed the legislation because he believes the current system works fine and has produced a long line of distinguished attorneys general.

"The way the state of Tennessee has selected its attorney general has worked and continues to work," Overbey said. "I would respectfully submit that we should only change what has been in place when it no longer works."

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey voted against the measure, but acknowledged he has issues with the current system. His remedy is to have the Legislature select the attorney general.

"I'm for allowing the General Assembly to appoint our attorney just as we appoint our treasurer, comptroller and secretary of state," said the Blountville Republican.

The measure that passed the Senate Tuesday still has a long road. It must go through the House legislative process next year and pass the next General Assembly with two-thirds votes in the Se nate and House. If that happens, then it would be placed on the ballot in 2018.