When the Florida Legislature returns to the Statehouse on March 5, a proposal to return the secretary of state to an elected position has emerged for a fourth time in the Senate.
Florida’s sec. of state had been elected until 2003, when a constitutional amendment shrank the Cabinet from six members to three. It’s now a position appointed by the governor.
The bill is being sponsored – again – by Jacksonville Republican Aaron Bean, who argues it would avoid “awkward” situations and conflicts of interest in election disputes.
“Now more than ever, it is topical to have an independent person, who is directly responsible to and accountable to the voters for our election system,” said Bean. “That person should be an independently elected secretary of state.”
Bean’s measure would once again make the secretary of state an elected Cabinet position, rejoining the attorney general, agriculture commissioner and chief financial officer. It cleared the Senate in 2017 on a 33-2 vote, but has drawn little support from the House.
“Going through this last election cycle we saw some things that were disturbing and a lot of accusations,” said State Sen. Doug Broxson, a Republican from Gulf Breeze. “I have confidence in Sen. Bean, he’s a good friend of mind; frankly through, I’d have to hear the debate and see where the problem is.”
Broxson says the senate should be reluctant to make changes, unless there’s what he calls an “overwhelming need.”
“We’ll have testimony; and there will be people pro and con and we’ll see what they say,” Broxson said. “If it’s good public policy, then I certainly would like to be in a position to support Sen. Bean. But I really want to hear the debate because this is not just a one-cycle issue. This will last for a long time, so we need to get it right.”
Since Aaron Bean is a Republican in a GOP-controlled Senate, Broxson was asked if that could work to the measure’s advantage this time around.
“I think it probably will help,” said Broxson, laughing. “Anytime a majority member has something they feel strongly about, they can go to the president of the Senate. [Bean] may have already discussed this with the president of the Senate, and got a go-ahead that it’s something he would be willing to move forward and eventually move to the [Senate] floor.”
Since the method of choosing a secretary of state was changed through a constitutional amendment, one will also be needed to change it back. If it passes the Legislature, the voters will make the final call. But Broxson says getting it through the Statehouse likely will be the major challenge – for the fourth time.
“In the Senate when we pass a bill, it has to go through several committees; it has to go through the House for them to vet it,” Broxson said. “Then it goes to the governor’s office for him to veto or let it pass. So there will be a good discussion, and like I say if it’s good public policy I think you’ll see the Senate move forward. If not, then I don’t believe we will make it go forward.”
Meanwhile, Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis is naming a county elections supervisor to be the next secretary of state. Seminole County elections supervisor Michael Ertel succeeds Ken Detzner, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2012.