Let governor pick appointees from nominees

Monday, March 24, 2003

It's no secret that seats on the Missouri State Highways and Transportation Commission are among the most plum appointments the governor hands out.

The main reasons these positions are considered to be so important are the political power and prestige that these appointees have. The idea is that membership on such an important commission, one that affects the lives of anyone who takes motorized vehicles on the state's thousands of miles of highways, can mean more money spent where and the way commissioners want.

As it stands, the governor can hand such appointments out more or less the way he pleases. Three of the commissioners have to be Democrats and three have to be Republicans, but only the most politically naive of governors wouldn't lean toward appointing only those who support his administration's aims and objectives. Even the fact that the governor's choices must be approved by the Senate hasn't stopped political patronage, some say.

And that's what irks state Rep. Lanie Black of Charleston, Mo.

He's sponsoring a bill that would cause the commission seats to go to Missourians based on more than their ties to whoever happens to be governor at the time.

Here are the basic elements:

The governor would have to fill a vacancy from a list of three nominees chosen by legislative leaders.

The ranking Democrats in each chamber would provide names for Democratic openings with the Republican leaders doing likewise for their party's seats.

Commissioners' six-year terms would be staggered so that two of them go off the panel every two years. The current irregular turnover meant half the commission was replaced within a few months at the end of 2001, leaving a void in the level of experience.

Missouri's transportation system is deteriorating. The highways commission recently decided to turn its attention to maintenance and use the funding it has toward keeping state roads safe. Badly needed construction work and improvements, including the widening and straightening of deadly Highway 34 through Bollinger and other nearby counties, are just dreams for now.

Having the most qualified Missourians in charge of the state's roads is more vital than ever at this juncture.

Black's idea of requiring all gubernatorial appointments to be chosen from a slate of nominees might be something else to consider. Judicial vacancies are handled this way now. Political patronage is the least useful way to pick the best qualified men and women for important appointive jobs.

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