Secretary with the big "S"
July 22, 2010 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Calling all state government nerds.

I understand the literal duties and responsibilities of US state Secretaries of State. (i.e. Secretary of State of Ohio, Connecticut, etc.) But I'm trying to figure out what de facto/less obvious powers and influence they might have beyond (or as part of) their typical role as chief elections officer, documenting and granting authority for business, and public records holder.

When powerful people or groups endorse/donate to a Secretary of State candidate, what's in it for them? What does a powerful Secretary of State look like, and what sort of areas can s/he affect at the state government level? Who needs him/her as an ally? I know the Secretary of State can write/propose electoral laws and code, but is there any other area of activism or influence, beyond the, well, secretarial portion of the job?

(Anonymous because it's job related, and I should know better.)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total)
Well for starters, about a third of US state secretaries of state aren't elected at all, and three states don't have the office, period.

And don't underestimate the "secretarial" portion of the job. Supervising elections is kind of a big deal, and the Secretary can refuse to certify an election until he's satisfied that everything is legit. Florida's Secretary of State made national news during the 2000 presidential election, and Minnesota's attracted some attention during the 2008 US Senate race. Deciding whether or not to register a trademark is kind of a big deal, and that's something which permits a certain amount of discretion. Some secretaries actually regulate the operations of corporations within their states, which is also a big deal. The records repository part is largely functionary, but anything which involves deciding whether or not to approve something is significant.

But even the functionary parts are important. Think about business executives. If you want to do business with them and are smart, you'll establish a great relationship with their personal secretary, i.e. the person who runs their calendar, acts as a public gatekeeper, and prioritizes mail. Granted, secretaries of state don't have quite that degree of discretion, but they're still important people you want to have on your good side.
posted by valkyryn at 8:23 AM on July 22, 2010

We just had the primaries here in GA and that prompted me to go look at the websites the candidates. Interesting to see what people running for SoS want to focus on and what endorsements they are are getting. Sure, some of it may be irrelevant or political grandstanding (I mean, being pro-choice or pro-life may not be very relevant to SoS for example) but maybe if there are elections in your jurisdiction the campaign sites might have some useful info?
posted by pointystick at 8:47 AM on July 22, 2010

I got ridiculously excited when I saw "calling all state government nerds." Bravo!

Secretaries of state frequently have higher aspirations. It's a statewide job but it's less visible than say, governor or attorney general. These people frequently run for governor or senator and are also in the line of succession for the governor. For example, no one knew who Jan Brewer was before she became Arizona's governor. Several of this year's secretaries of state ran or are running for senate. It's definitely a gateway to higher office and a good lens of how state government works.

The secretary of state can't always propose laws but they are almost always responsible for interpreting laws. I can offer specifics if you Memail me.
posted by kat518 at 9:04 AM on July 22, 2010

The Secretary of State in Illinois is responsible for all kinds of things, from registering corporations to taking care of the State Archives to drivers licenses and license plates. And not certifying a certain indicted governor's senate appointment.
posted by gjc at 4:38 PM on July 22, 2010

Texas' is appointed by the governor. I'm not aware that they solicit or receive donations. They travel a lot to visit businesses and foster business growth in the state, and don't seem as involved in the day-to-day functions of the office as the deputies and other staff do. The current SOS is a business leader, and had served some other appointed state roles, I believe, but was/is not really a politician. I don't think there's much political power in the job or at least the current one doesn't seem to try to exercise any. Seems like in the past a lot of them have gone on to have more political roles, though, such as elected office.
posted by elpea at 5:11 PM on July 22, 2010

And while the current Texas SOS was appointed by the conservative governor, politicians from both sides seemed to approve of the choice.
posted by elpea at 5:12 PM on July 22, 2010

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