NASHVILLE -- The state Senate voted 23-9 today to begin the lengthy process of giving Tennessee voters the say on whether the state attorney general should be popularly elected in 2020.
The resolution now goes to the House. If it receives a majority vote there, it would then go on to be considered by the 110th General Assembly that will assumes office in 2017. There it will need a two thirds vote in each chamber before it can go on the ballot.
Senate Joint Resolution 17 sponsor Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said Tennessee's current system is unique in that the state's chief lawyer is appointed by the state Supreme Court. And, she said, that "appears to be unfair."
A popularly elected attorney general, she said, is more important than ever since voters last year approved a constitutional amendment allowing Supreme Court justices to be appointed by the governor, then run later on yes/no retention ballots in which they face no opponent.
Beavers, who has carried the attorney general resolution unsuccessfully in the past, said she doesn't intend to "disparage" current state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's former legal counsel.
But Beavers' effort is likely to face problems in the House. A similar measure, House Joint Resolution 72, sponsored by Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, failed last month in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.
Slatery was appointed as the state's first Republican attorney general last year.
But, Beavers said, "let's not fool ourselves. Our AG was chosen by some judges that he himself interviewed and helped put on the bench. So don't tell me there's no politics in the current system."