by Sharon Eubanks and Julie Pelegrin
Every year, the Senate spends significant time confirming the Governor’s appointments to boards, commissions, and executive branch offices – a task that doesn’t clutter the calendar for the House of Representatives. This week, Governor Hickenlooper appointed Donna Lynne to fill the vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor that will arise when Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia’s resignation takes effect later this month. Confirmation of this appointment doesn’t follow the ordinary course of business. By operation of the state constitution, Ms. Lynne must be confirmed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Power to Appoint Balanced by Power to Confirm
Section 6 (1) of article IV of the Colorado constitution authorizes the Governor to nominate and “by and with the consent of the Senate” appoint all officers whose offices are established by the constitution or created by law and whose appointment or election is not provided for in another constitutional provision or statute. The Senate’s responsibility to review the Governor’s appointments is an excellent example of the separation of powers within the constitution. The Governor appoints the executive branch officers to administer the operations of state government, but those persons cannot officially take office until the legislative branch approves the appointments, although, if they are appointed during the interim, they can serve until confirmed – or not – during the legislative session. The legislative power to confirm checks the executive power to nominate and appoint.
Appointment of State Officers and Vacancies in Certain Constitutional Offices
The phrase used in section 6 (1) of article IV, “all officers whose offices are established by this constitution, or which may be created by law,” is interpreted as the power to appoint officers other than the elected statewide officials listed in section 1 of article IV. Using this power, the Governor regularly appoints individuals to hundreds of state offices, including heads of departments, other departmental officers, and members of the myriad boards and commissions in the executive branch – all of whom must be confirmed by the Senate.
Section 6 (2) of article IV specifically authorizes the Governor to fill any vacancy that may occur in the office of state treasurer, secretary of state, or attorney general. The Governor has exercised this power only on rare occasions. Since 1974, a Governor’s appointment to one of these constitutionally created state offices is also “by and with the consent of the Senate.”
To illustrate the number of gubernatorial appointments that the Senate must consider during a typical legislative session, according to records kept by the Secretary of the Senate, the Governor submitted 221 appointments during the 2013 session; 177 appointments during the 2014 session; 179 appointments during the 2015 session; and 205 appointments so far this session.
Senate Rules for Confirmations.
Senate Rule 36 sets forth the process the Senate uses for considering governor appointments. First, the Senate receives the appointment from the Governor and it is read in open session. At that point, the Senate President refers the appointment to at least one committee of reference. The committee schedules its consideration of the confirmation on the Senate calendar to allow the public to comment and submit information to the committee concerning the appointment. The committee then considers the appointment in an open meeting on the calendared date, but it doesn’t conduct a public hearing on the appointment unless a majority of the committee members present vote to do so.
The question often arises whether a committee of reference can “kill” or “postpone indefinitely” a governor’s appointment. Based on legislative custom and practice, a committee cannot “kill” a governor’s appointment. A committee can only recommend to the Senate that it should or should not confirm a governor’s appointment. Only the Senate as a body can, by vote, confirm or not confirm a Governor’s appointment.
In its report to the Senate, a committee of reference may recommend the Senate conduct an executive or “closed” session to consider a governor’s appointment. But the Senate will consider the appointment in open session unless a majority of the Senators vote to consider the appointment in executive session. And even if they discuss the appointment in an executive session, section 6 (3) of article IV of the state constitution requires the Senate to act on the appointment in open session and by a recorded roll call vote.
A committee may also recommend in its report that the appointment be placed on the consent calendar, subject to the decision of the Senate Majority Leader that the appointment is noncontroversial. Once the Senate receives a committee’s report, the appointment is placed on the regular or consent calendar for the 2nd day of actual session following receipt.
Vacancy Appointments for the Office of Lt. Governor
But it may be that none of this will apply to the appointment of the lieutenant governor. When a vacancy occurs in the office of the lieutenant governor, the constitution requires a confirmation process that includes the House. In 1974, the voters amended section 13 of article IV of the state constitution to say that, when there is a vacancy in the office of the lieutenant governor, the Governor will nominate a person who will take office “upon confirmation by a majority vote of both houses of the general assembly.” Since 1974, this confirmation process has been followed only once. Lieutenant Governor Mike Callihan resigned on May 10, 1994, the second-to-last day of the 1994 legislative session. The resignation took effect at noon that day. Shortly after the resignation took effect, to avoid having to call a special legislative session, Governor Roy Romer notified both the Senate and the House of Representatives that he had nominated Senator Sam Cassidy to fill the vacancy in the office of the lieutenant governor. The General Assembly then adopted a joint resolution that set out the procedures the Senate and the House would follow in considering the confirmation of that nomination. With this resolution, the House and the Senate agreed to the process routinely used by the Senate to confirm the Governor’s appointments. The resolution also provided that the House would consider the appointment first, and the Senate’s consideration would follow if the House confirmed the appointment. On May 11, 1994, a majority of the members of both the House and the Senate confirmed Senator Cassidy’s appointment as lieutenant governor.
Since the Governor’s appointment of Ms. Lynne just occurred earlier this week, the General Assembly has not yet taken any actions to establish the process by which it will consider this appointment.