After chaotic midterms, state senator wants Florida’s elections chief elected, not appointed

State Sen. Aaron Bean is proposing a constitutional amendment to make the secretary of state elected, like it used to be 20 years ago.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
Published Dec. 4, 2018

Don't call it election reform.

But one state senator is reviving his idea to make Florida's secretary of state — who is also the state's elections chief — an elected office, rather than a position appointed by the governor.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said the time is right following the chaos of Florida's midterm election, which featured Gov. Rick Scott making unfounded claims of voter fraud in his U.S. Senate race and his secretary of state repeatedly countering that there was no evidence of it.

"I think now's the time more than ever," Bean said. "I think it's just fundamental to have an independent person who's elected in that position."

Bean said he has nothing against the current Secretary of State, Ken Detzner. But he believes an elected position would make the job more accountable to the people.

His bill wouldn't necessarily fix the myriad problems with Florida's election process, some of which were exposed in the midterm election. Bean says he expects other legislation to deal with those problems.

And it faces a steep uphill battle. Although a similar bill he pitched last year passed the Florida Senate, it died in the House. Bean has yet to find a sponsor to pass the bill through the House this session.

What his bill would do is create a constitutional amendment to would roll back part of a voter-approved amendment 20 years ago.

In 1998, the Constitution Revision Commission proposed eliminating several of the elected Cabinet positions, including secretary of state. Back then, there were six, plus the governor.

The effort had bipartisan support, including from then-Republican Comptroller Bob Milligan and then-Democratic Treasurer Bill Nelson. After the amendment passed, their offices were eliminated and combined them to form current Chief Financial Officer position.

The result, which went into effect in 2002, left the Cabinet with just three positions — attorney general, agriculture commissioner and chief financial officer, plus the governor.

And it gave Florida's governor more power, with the ability to appoint the secretary of state. The education commissioner became chosen by the governor-appointed State Board of Education. Both positions were previously elected.

But Bean's bill would not eliminate the appearance of partisanship for the state's elections chief.

The last elected secretary of state, Republican Katherine Harris, was co-chair of George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Florida in 2000, yet she certified the results of that controversial election.

And Georgia's secretary of state was dogged by claims that he used the power of the office to catapult himself into the governor's mansion.