It won’t last long, but Tom Torlakson‘s brief term as Acting Governor next week will be one for the record books.
As mentioned in a previous article, in the late 1950s, the State Assembly’s Subcommittee on Impact of Enemy Attack extended the Governor’s line of succession from just the Lieutenant Governor and Senate President Pro Tempore to include all of the partisan constitutional offices that then existed.
In 2007, Senate Fellow Chris Nguyen (assigned to the office of Senator George Runner) had an idea for a bill. The idea was to add the three constitutional offices to the Governor’s line of succession that were not already on the list. He quickly recruited the help of two other Senate Fellows (Greg Sperla and I) to the effort.
Chris met with Legislative Counsel and had the bill drafted (the order was set as Superintendent of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner and Chair of the Board of Equalization based on the order each office was created). It was time to find an author.
Chris met with his Chief of Staff and asked if Senator Runner would author the bill. Runner declined. I met with Senator Bob Dutton and tried my best to convince him. He declined as well.
Finally, Greg met with his boss, Senator Dennis Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth was definitely not convinced on the merits of the bill, but agreed to introduce the bill as slightly-larger-than-usual spot bill (which could be amended to contain “real bill language” at some point in the future).
Two months after introduction, the bill was presented for the first and last time in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee. Hollingsworth presented the bill, which passed on a 10-0 vote and was sent to the Senate Floor. Shortly after passing Senate G.O., an short article in Capitol Weekly referred to the legislation as an “alien abduction bill,” noting that (short of an abduction of the state’s leaders by extraterrestrials) it was unlikely that a line of succession longer than seven members would ever be necessary. Hollingsworth, who had agreed to introduce the bill as a learning experience for a junior staffer, decided to let the bill die.
However, since the bill had passed the Governmental Organization Committee without a no vote, it was placed on the Consent Calendar and passed the Senate without opposition a week later. In the Assembly, it was referred to Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, whose consultants (noting that it had received no opposition in the Senate) placed the bill on consent there. It passed out of committee without discussion in late June, and the Assembly Floor (also without debate or discussion) on July 3rd. A week later, it was sent to Governor Schwarzenegger, who signed it into law on July 22nd.
The line of succession gets flexed occasionally, with power most frequently devolving to the Lieutenant Governor, occasionally to the President Pro Tem, and occasionally even lower than that. In July 2016, it was announced that Governor Brown would be attending the DNC with the next eight constitutional officers in the line. For the first time in state history, the line of succession will go into SB 1530 territory.
At some point late on July 24th, an airplane carrying the higher constitutional officers will leave California airspace, and the reign of Acting Governor (and Superintendent of Public Instruction) Tom Torlakson will begin. Will he sign legislation? Appoint judges? Issue a proclamation declaring July 19th (his birthday) as “Tom Torlakson Day in California” from now on? Probably not, but it will be an interesting moment in California history.
Finally, for the record, in case Governor Tom leaves the state between July 25th-28th, the state will pass into the hands of Acting Governors Kevin Mullin or Diane Harkey (with Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones expected to attend the DNC and Equalization Chair Fiona Ma definitely going to serve as Vice Chair of the DNC Credentials Committee).
Footnote: California has never had a Governor Tom before. Somehow, although we’ve had four named John and four named George (and even had a Goodwin, Culbert, Romualdo and a Hiram) we’ve never had a Tom before.