Commentary: Be thankful we don’t have Idaho’s governance model

One of the reasons Utah state government functions reasonably well is because in past decades wise state legislators and other key Utah leaders streamlined and modernized our state constitution.

I was reminded of that fact by the recent story out of Idaho about Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin playing silly games and undermining Gov. Brad Little at every opportunity, even though both are Republicans.

Utah’s constitution, like a lot of other states, was drafted and adopted at a time when there was a lot of distrust of government. Many state constitutions divvied up power among a lot of statewide elected officials and constrained officials in many other ways.

These state constitutions, unlike our federal constitution, were lengthy and highly prescriptive. Some even set salaries for elected officials.

But the Utah Legislature was smart to establish a Constitutional Revision Commission to recommend improvements to Utah’s constitution. I covered numerous meetings of the commission when I was a Deseret News reporter many years ago. Over a number of years, the Revision Commission recommended several important constitutional changes, which were adopted by the Legislature and by voters.

So, for example, today Utah’s governor and lieutenant governor run in tandem. That provides clarity that one person is in charge of the state. We know where the buck stops and who is responsible. Unlike in Idaho, there is no fighting between the governor and LG.

I recall when Utah’s governor (Scott Matheson) and lieutenant governor (David Monson) were of different parties. That caused all sorts of problems. Idaho still elects governors and lieutenant governors separately. That allows an ambitious lieutenant governor who wants to run for governor incentive to create mischief.

Recently, while Otter was out of the state, McGeachin issued an executive order banning mask mandates (even though Otter had never mandated mask-wearing). Upon his return, Otter promptly rescinded the executive order. McGeachin has announced she’s running for governor, probably against Otter. It makes no sense for a governor and lieutenant governor to be at odds.

It’s even worse in a lot of other states. In Texas, for example, there are 27 statewide elected officials, each claiming to have a mandate and the support of voters. That makes state government terribly inefficient.

Utah has only four separately-elected statewide officials in the executive branch: Governor/LG, attorney general, state treasurer and state auditor. I could argue that AG, treasurer and auditor ought to be appointed by the governor to create a unified team running the state.

That’s how things are done at the federal level, where we elect a president and the president appoints his or her executive team. We’d have better governance if that was done at the state level.

Some might argue that having separately-elected officials is necessary to prevent the governor from having too much power. But there are sufficient checks and balances with separate legislative and judicial branches that can constrain the executive branch, and each other. 

Utah’s current system works pretty well, thanks to constitutional reforms made many years ago.