Secretary of State Mark Martin was included on a recent U.S. Agriculture Department trade missions to Ghana, a country Martin had visited previously, along with other state officials including head of the state Agriculture Department.
Several asked about Martin’s role as an international representative for the state. I also I received word that Martin had an idea to make his office a center for foreign policy for the state of Arkansas. I inquired and Martin’s spokesman Chris Powell responded in a way that indicates Martin does have an expansive idea about the office.
Most states have secretaries of state. Though the title sounds like the U.S. secretary of state, who does engage in foreign relations, they are primarily ministerial offices. By Constitution and statute, the Arkansas secretary of state oversees election laws, including candidate filings and ballot initiatives; registers businesses, and keeps the Capitol grounds.
The Constitution, the foundational document from which all of the office’s powers are derived, says:
Duties of Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State shall keep a full and accurate record of all the official acts and proceedings of the Governor; and, when required, lay the same with all papers, minutes and vouchers relating thereto, before either branch of the General Assembly. He shall also discharge the duties of Superintendent of Public Instruction, until otherwise provided by law.
Not a word about foreign affairs. But here’s Martin’s view of things today, as relayed by Chris Powell. First on his trip to Ghana;
As he has been there before and has established relationships there, the Secretary was invited to go on the trade mission to Ghana by the Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture. Our office also has a relationship with Sister Cities International and the Arkansas World Trade Center, who have participated in missions to Ghana as well, including this one. Our office paid for airfare and lodging and the USDA covered other in-country expenses.
The Secretary, as any state elected official, is an ambassador for the State of Arkansas. Our office does have a role in international relations and in economic development. We receive many foreign and diplomatic delegations at the Capitol. Just recently, our office helped coordinate a visit from the Consul General of Korea, at his request, and facilitated numerous meetings with Arkansas business leaders. International companies doing business in Arkansas are customers of our Business & Commercial Services Division as are U.S. based companies. We are currently working with AEDC to streamline our processes to better facilitate foreign direct investment in Arkansas.
But is there a statutory basis for an international role?
There are a few facets to our role in international relations. Receiving foreign dignitaries is just part of doing business in state government at the Capitol. Often, foreign delegations view the Secretary of State in a diplomatic light on the state level similar to the U.S. Secretary of State. The Capitol is also an international tourist destination and we have many visitors every year. Any foreign company wanting to come do business in Arkansas has to come through our office. We are also responsible for authenticating international documents under the Hague Convention. As such, the Secretary of State is the only official in Arkansas that may issue apostilles or certifications on public documents to be used abroad. This process can involve things like birth certificates, adoptions, student transcripts, court proceedings, international business deals, etc. International Student Exchange Placement Organizations and Athlete Agents must register with us as well. These sorts of issues are common to Secretaries of State across the country and in fact, Secretary Martin is a member of the International Relations Committee of the National Association of Secretaries of State.
I commented that the duties cited were largely ministerial and that it appeared Martin was expanding the scope of his office beyond what had traditionally been pursued (though many state officials have taken the opportunity for foreign travel when offered):
There are ministerial duties involved in being Secretary of State, but I think the scope of our office is often underestimated. The work of our Business and Commercial Services Division is essential to the business community of the state.
I’d note that Martin is also co-hosting a ceremony this week for the latest addition to the North Little Rock naval fleet, the World War II-era tug Hoga.
There is a long tradition of state officials trying to enhance their importance. Lieutenant governors are particularly notorious about this. Treasurer Dennis MIlligan’s recent big expenditure on a superfluous education project not part of his statutory duties is another.
PS — A participant in the Sister Cities program that encourages exchanges between paired cities to foster goodwill notes that Secretary of State Sharon Priest also participated in that voluntary program.