Vacancies in statewide offices would be filled through special elections rather than by appointment by the governor under a bill moving forward in the House.

The House has given tentative approval, on an 88-to-59 vote, HCS HB 1497. Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Salem, sponsors the bill. He tells colleagues during House floor debate that he was surprised to learn that current law authorizes the governor to fill vacancies in the offices of US Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Auditor and State Treasurer. His bill would require special elections to fill such vacancies.

Democrat Jeff Roorda of Barnhart questions whether Smith is pushing the measure, because the governor is a Democrat. Roorda notes that in the case of a vacancy in the office of Attorney General, State Auditor or US Senator, the governor will appoint someone in an acting capacity until a special election is held.

“We trust the governor’s judgment to fill these vacancies temporarily, but not permanently, is that what you’re saying?” Roorda asks Smith.

“To act temporarily,” responds Smith. “The whole point of this bill is to let the people completely, to always, have the opportunity first and last of who represents them. And that’s what the bill’s all about.”

“I know that is the talking point on it,” Roorda says.

“That’s the reason why I filed the bill and I’m the one presenting the bill, so it’s not a talking point, gentleman,” Smith counters.

Smith brushes aside another Democrat’s concern about how much his bill might cost.

“It will cost the voters if they don’t have the right to choose who governs over them,” Smith says. “It will cost their freedom. It will cost their rights. I think that’s a lot of cost.”

Smith pushed the concept last year. Another favorable vote sends the bill to the Senate.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:15]