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OPINION: Shouldn’t the buck stop in one place, not five?
Buck stops here
The sign that stood on Harry S Truman's desk in the White House. (Special Photo | Harry S Truman Library & Museum)

A famous sign on President Harry S Truman’s desk stated “The Buck Stops Here” — meaning ultimate responsibility should be with someone to fix a problem that only government can fix.

Now that we’ll again be voting to decide a large group of statewide offices, shouldn’t we be asking why we vote on these offices in the first place when they should be appointed positions?

It sure seems confusing to have five people answering separately to the voters when it could just be one — the governor.

Maybe it’s my political upbringing in Tennessee where they vote on exactly four statewide offices: governor and three Public Service Commission seats.

When you elect a governor in Tennessee you get commissioners of insurance, agriculture, education and labor as part of the deal — supposedly all rowing in the same direction as the governor.

No confusion about their philosophy toward their jobs. If they go against the person who appointed them they are removed.  

So if, for instance, the governor felt the labor commissioner was not doing a good job of administering unemployment benefits during a pandemic, the governor could immediately replace that person with someone who may be able to do a better job. 

The same goes for the insurance and agriculture commissioners. The people would know the buck stops with the governor.

Of course, Tennessee certainly doesn’t do everything right. 

The state legislature appoints the Secretary of State and a special session must be called if the secretary does something heinous — which some feel the current holder of the office has done in Georgia.

The Tennessee Supreme Court appoints the attorney general. Do you challenge the state’s top judges?

On the other hand, in Georgia we elect the commissioners of education, insurance, agriculture and labor.

That means we’ve got different people running their own areas of the state government — including areas which could have long-lasting effects on our daily lives.

All are allowed to have their own agendas and speak with separate voices. Though a political party’s general philosophy may keep them going in the same general direction, they are free to wander from the path and differ from the governor anytime they feel they can do so politically.

We also have to endure months of hearing the governor or state legislators complain about elections not being run efficiently, or farmers not being treated fairly by the state agriculture department.

For those unfamiliar with state government, confusion sets in. People ask the governor, what will be done about issues under the purview of the insurance or labor commissioner? 

The system is so decentralized that it can be difficult to find who’s in charge. If the governor doesn’t like an action by the state schools superintendent, the governor can do little about it. 

Yes, you can vote out each commissioner based on single issues. 

The labor commissioner, Mark Butler, likely was going to face a stiff challenge to his reelection because of his actions to guard against a pandemic in which there was no playbook while trying to deal with a huge surge of unemployed people.

The Secretary of State sent out absentee ballot applications in an effort to guard against a virus we knew little about. He’s facing a stiff challenge from someone endorsed by the former president.

Any changes to the current structure would require a constitutional convention — which are always problematic because it opens the entire state constitution to the whims of special interest groups.

But doesn’t it make sense to allow the governor to select the best people available to focus on the state’s insurance or labor issues rather than the best politician who may or may not be the best qualified?

And, shouldn’t the buck stop in one office, not five?

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at