Friday, May 14, 2010

EDITORIAL >>O’Brien for state secretary

We should not be electing the secretary of state and commissioner of state lands, who are hired to maintain some of the voluminous records of state government and very little else. There are at least a thousand government jobs more crucial to the lives and fortunes of Arkansas people, but 135 years ago, the framers of the Constitution deemed these jobs important enough to require popular election, so let us take our obligation seriously.

As it happens, three excellent candidates are running for secretary of state, who must maintain the state Capitol, its grounds and many government records. The secretary of state also supervises and monitors elections, which has raised the profile of the office and gives the secretary the little discretionary authority that he or she has.

Two county and circuit clerks, Pat O’Brien of Pulaski and Doris Tate of Sebastian, and the current commissioner of state lands, Mark Wilcox, are the Democratic candidates. A county and circuit clerk performs almost precisely the same duties as the secretary of state, but at the county level, so it is the perfect training for the state office. O’Brien has been the clerk in Pulaski County, the state’s largest, for six years and Tate the clerk in Sebastian, the fourth most populous, for 20 years. Tate is widely respected for running an efficient office and nearly error-free elections. Wilcox has made some innovations in the land commissioner’s office, which disposes of land that has been forfeited for failure to pay property taxes.

We endorse Pat O’Brien, although we candidly confess that proximity is a factor. He lives in Jacksonville and we know his work in a number of roles. But the remarkable job he did in rescuing the clerk’s office and the county from the mess left by his predecessor deserves a promotion. Who can forget the chaos of elections in 2002 and 2004 in Pulaski County and the rage of judges and prosecutors over the condition of judicial records? Pat O’Brien, thank goodness, has made all that at least a distant memory.