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To Tallahassee and Back: Answering Questions about the Florida Cabinet

This week's post looks at reader comments and questions about the downsizing of Florida's cabinet and whether or not the insurance commissioner should be elected.

My last two posts brought inquiries about the decision voters made to downsize the.

Reader Shawn Foster stated:  It would be interesting to discuss the pros and cons of the cabinet size going from 7 to its current 4.  Another reader, Paul Handerhan, asked: Could Florida benefit from an elected insurance commissioner? 

First of all, thank you for the good questions. I appreciate a very thoughtful post by Bryan Farris as well. I encourage continued reader participation and hope that additional questions and/or ideas will be posted. 

With the governor having taken action last week on the final pieces of legislation passed during the 2012 legislative session, it is a good time to explore these reader questions. Since they require an answer of opinion in addition to fact, what I write may not be representative of where my employer or anyone else in the Florida Senate may stand.

As I wrote last week, in 1998 the voters approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution which reduced the Florida Cabinet from seven members to its current make-up of four. By the time the changes were fully implemented, the secretary of state, the insurance commissioner and the education commissioner were removed from the cabinet and made appointed positions. The position formerly known as the controller became the chief financial officer (CFO). Some of the duties under the former insurance commissioner were moved under the CFO’s purview.

Last week I also wrote that under the current cabinet make-up, the governor must be on the prevailing side of any tie vote. This makes the governor an extremely powerful individual. The only way the governor could lose a vote is if the other three members vote against him. Under the old cabinet structure, each member had one vote and the only way to pass an issue was a 4-3 vote or any other non-tie combination.  The governor appoints the secretary of state. The State Board of Education (whose membership is appointed by the governor) appoints the education commissioner, and the insurance commissioner is appointed by the Florida Cabinet sitting as the Financial Services Commission.

To answer Mr. Handerhan’s question, under the former cabinet set-up, the insurance commissioner was elected statewide. Whether one is running for a seat on the local school board or a statewide office, the only way to get elected is to run a campaign. Most campaigns involve expending dollars that must be raised.  One could argue that those campaign dollars may influence a less-than-reputable individual’s decisions while in office.

I may be idealistic but I believe that an elected officer should not be swayed by whomever donates to his/her campaign.  Additionally, elected officers are held accountable by their constituency, while appointed officials are held accountable primarily by those who appoint them.  As an aside, in Florida most high-level appointments must be confirmed by the Florida Senate.

The downsizing of the Florida Cabinet came about as an expression of the majority of those who went to the polls to vote on the proposed constitutional amendment   I personally saw nothing wrong with the seven member cabinet structure. It took more people to pass or defeat a measure. An issue’s fate can now be decided by two votes, whereas it previously would usually take four. It is my thought that more voices are always better, especially regarding major policy issues.  Additionally, the secretary of state, the education commissioner and the insurance commissioner all have responsibilities over very important (and expensive) parts of our state government. 

On the flipside, have any of the officials appointed to these positions since the change was implemented done anything wrong? I believe that most people would say they have done very well. Without any compelling argument illustrating that appointed officials are not competent in their work then why is there a need for a larger cabinet?

In the end, the discussion is academic. Floridians have spoken on this issue.  Unless the Florida Constitution is changed again the Florida Cabinet will continue to operate with 4 members and the insurance commissioner will continue to be an appointed position.  If we trust the governor and the cabinet enough to elect them to office should we not also trust them to make appointments of high ranking officials?  This is definitely a question that sparks arguments on both sides, especially by those who do not support the ones doing the appointing.

Next week we will explore an important policy change that took place this legislative session. I  welcome your questions about the legislative process, state government or any related matters. Please feel free to leave your questions in the comment section and I will answer them in an upcoming post.  If there is a specific topic you would like me to write about please let me know as well.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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