Nominee process is OK, says AG recommendations on board appointments

NASHVILLE -- State Attorney General Bob Cooper has put his legal blessing on the Tennessee Legislature's occasional practice of requiring governors to fill appointments for regulatory boards and commissions from lists of nominees submitted by private groups.

Citing previous state attorney general legal opinions and court rulings, Mr. Cooper wrote that "requiring the governor to make appointments to a state board or agency from a list of names submitted by a private entity does not violate the doctrine of separation of powers or otherwise violate the Tennessee Constitution."

The opinion was requested by Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Bo Watson, R-Hixson. He is pushing legislation that strips out language requiring some appointments to regulatory boards to come from nominee lists provided by the Tennessee Medical Association, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Tennessee Municipal League.

Three members of the state's Air Pollution Control Board, for example, come from names submitted by the Chamber.

Sen. Watson and Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, argue that it is wrong to allow special interests to control such appointments and have been changing the mandates for affected agencies coming up for renewal. Instead of saying the governor "shall" appoint members from nominees submitted by the groups, the language has been changed to "may" and includes requirements for the names of knowledgeable people to be submitted.

Defenders of the current system contend removing the "shall" provisions would allow governors to appoint whomever they wish, including campaign contributors and "cronies."

The Air Pollution Board appointments have business and other interests so alarmed that 11 including the Tennessee Chamber, the Tennessee Farm Bureau, Tennessee Municipal League, the Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association and Tennessee Wildlife Federation have banded together to oppose it.

In a letter passed around to lawmakers Tuesday, the group says that the General Assembly approved the process decades ago because lawmakers "knew, as do those entrusted with making nominations, that it is in the vested interest of each party to identify the best qualified applicants with technical knowledge to represent their stakeholder position on the board."