SHELLA: Stars might align for old deals to happen

January 18, 2014

Shella
Dwayne Sawyer just set a new world record for quickest rise and fall of an Indiana statewide elected official. His tenure as auditor fell just short of four months.

He may yet leave a legacy, nevertheless.

Certainly the Pence administration will now do a better job of vetting key personnel. (Sawyer was appointed by the governor to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of State Auditor Tim Berry.)

Even though there is still no public confirmation of the exact reason for Sawyer’s departure other than the governor’s explanation that his reasons were personal, you can bet Mike Pence’s red pickup truck that tougher questions are now being asked in job interviews at the Statehouse. The computerized background searches might be more precise, too. It might even be why the State Police purchased that new cell-phone-intercepting device. (Just kidding, I think.)

When Pence named Suzanne Crouch, a state representative from Evansville, to replace Sawyer, he admitted the process has changed.

Then there is the conventional wisdom that says the rapid departure of an African-American appointee (Sawyer was a legitimate GOP pioneer) will hurt the Republican Party efforts to diversify. Maybe. But tough to measure.

And then, what about changes in the law? Will the Sawyer episode prompt state lawmakers to take action?

The last time a Dwayne was forced from statewide office, the office soon disappeared from the ballot.

The late Dwayne Brown, a Democrat, was clerk of the State Supreme Court in the early 1990s before being chased from elective politics in a scandal that involved ghost employment and a foot fetish. (Yes, I had to mention that.) Leaders in both parties decided future Supreme Court clerks should be chosen by the chief justice, not the voters.

The new arrangement is working well.

So, do we need an elected state auditor? If not, will current events provide the spark to do away with it?

Or maybe this is the right question: Do we really need both an elected auditor and an elected treasurer? It’s not a new topic in the General Assembly, where there has been talk for years about possibly combining the offices. Call it state controller as California does, or state comptroller as Texas does, or maybe even chief cashier, if you like that better.

The work will still get done.

Over the years, we’ve witnessed at least one effort to eliminate the Secretary of State’s Office from the ballot. That was the campaign theme of Democrat Tim Jeffers when he sought to become the state’s chief election officer in 1994.

“Elect me,” he said, “and I’ll close the office.” He lost that argument when he lost the election.

We also saw an attempt to remove the superintendent of public instruction from the ballot after a scandal that forced Republican Harold Negley from office in the 1980s (ghost employment again). Key Republicans in the state Senate pushed that idea but failed to get a bill passed.

A few years ago, leaders in both parties had an agreement to take superintendent off the ballot before lawmakers scuttled the idea. It’s something that didn’t get reported at the time.

Now, with the ongoing battle between Democrat Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Republicans in the Pence administration, there is again talk about making that position appointed rather than elected.

Think about this: Republicans would like to take superintendent off the ballot and Democrats would like to take auditor off the ballot (because they haven’t won that race since 1982.)

Sound like the makings of a deal?

That would be a legacy.•

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Shella is WISH-TV Channel 8’s political reporter as well as host and producer of the Emmy-nominated “Indiana Week in Review.” Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


 

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