Memo to Legislators: Name Your Successor

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Secretary of State Chris Benge

CAPITOL WATCH State Capitol Photo 1

M. Scott Carter

M. Scott Carter

M. Scott Carter reports on politics, legislation and other issues from the State Capitol.

An email, sent by Secretary of State Chris Benge to every member of the Oklahoma Legislature, had lawmakers and attorneys scurrying to find an Oklahoma Constitution expert Monday morning.

Benge’s email, sent on Friday, April 10, asked each of the state’s 149 lawmakers to designate up to seven successors in case of an emergency. Benge cited a particular, and virtually unknown, state statute as the reason for the email.

“Each legislator shall designate not fewer than three nor more than seven emergency interim successors to his powers and duties and specify their order of succession,” the email said. “Section 686.7 of the same statute requires this information be filed with the Secretary of State.”

The problem is, designating a successor probably won’t pass constitutional muster, at least not in Oklahoma, according to some experts.

On Monday, Matt Duehning, a member of the Oklahoma Senate’s committee staff, derailed the name-your-successor plan. Duehning sent a memo to the Senate’s chief legal counsel, Jonathan Nichols, saying that “making such a successor list and allowing the execution of legislative powers would be in direct contradiction” of the state constitution.

Nichols forwarded the email to Senate pro tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. Bingman’s office sent Duehning’s message to all 48 members of the Senate.

Under the Oklahoma Constitution, when a legislative vacancy occurs, a special election is called. Legislators are not appointed to fill a vacancy.

Some experts have speculated that the law Benge cited was the product of the Cold War in the late 1960s.