|Seven current governors once lieutenant governors
The dramatic downfall of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) that catapulted David Paterson to the governor's mansion shined a spotlight on the succession of the state's second-in-command-the lieutenant governor -a position that eight states don't even have.
This year's statewide elections provide a snapshot of the quirky arrangements that determine who is next in line after the governor.
Eleven states elect governors this year, but only nine also select the No. 2 position. West Virginia and New Hampshire are the only two states this election cycle to have governors, but not lieutenant governors, on their ballots, because the position doesn't exist in those states.
Experts say it's too early to tell whether voters will pay more attention to lieutenant governors following the drama in New York that saw Spitzer resign in disgrace after a sex scandal, and replaced by fellow Democrat Paterson, who has shocked Albany with his disclosures of marital infidelity and illegal drug use in college.
"I think people will think twice who they are voting for," said David Winder, political science professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia, although he said the impact will be felt more acutely in states close to New York. He also predicted "some pressure" in those states without the position to look into creating it.
That couldn't come soon enough for the Republican Party chairman of West Virginia, one of the eight states that rely either on their secretary of state or the Senate president to also wear the lieutenant governors' hat. (The others are Arizona , Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee and Wyoming, although New Jersey voters will elect their first one in 2009.)
"I'm probably the only guy in the state concerned about it," said Dr. Doug McKinney, a physician in Clarksburg, W.Va., and GOP party chairman. The president of the 34-member West Virginia Senate serves as lieutenant governor and is selected by a majority, plus one. "That means 18 people elect the lieutenant governor, the guy who is a heartbeat away from being the governor," McKinney said. "That's really frightening."
While McKinney would like to see voters elect the lieutenant governor, he says there are no efforts in the state to change it.
In states that have a No. 2 official, the duties vary widely. For example, Indiana's lieutenant governor has 42 responsibilities listed in statute, according to Julia Hurst, executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association
But every lieutenant governor shares one duty in common: to be first in line of gubernatorial succession and prepared to lead the state on a moment's notice. In recent years, governors have given their lieutenant governors pet projects or important tasks, which put them more in the spotlight. Governors in Indiana, Nebraska and Pennsylvania, for example, have made their lieutenant governors the head of homeland security or emergency response.
In states that have a No. 2 official, experts say some voters view the lieutenant governor as the governor's partner and teammate - but that's reallytrue only in 24 states.
Voters this November in Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina, Vermont and Washington will get to decidewho will wait on deck since these states are among 18 in which the governors and lieutenant governors run separately, not as a team.
This arrangement sets up the possibility that voters select a governor and lieutenant governors of different parties. That's already the case in five states now, and the situation can present interesting conflicts. In Virginia, for example, Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling cast the tie-breaking vote on a measure to eliminate all state funding for Planned Parenthood - a move that was later reversed. On the other hand, Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, cut funding to abstinence-only education in November, a change Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia had lobbied for.
In the 2006 elections, five sitting lieutenant governors ran for the top state executive office, with three trying to oust their bosses who belonged to the opposite party. All five lost and are out of office.
In 2008, there aren't any lieutenant governors running against their own governors, but the lieutenant governor races in Delaware and North Carolina are wide open, because the current No.2s there - Delaware Lt. Gov. John Carney, and North Carolina Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, both Democrats - are running to replace their Democratic bosses. Those governors, Ruth Ann Minner and Mike Easley, are both barred by term limits from running again.
In Delaware, candidates for lieutenant governor include Democrats Ted Blunt, president of the Wilmington City Council and former social worker; and Matt Denn, the state insurance commissioner whose pug dog Lenny is a constant companion on the campaign trail. A Republican has yet to formally jump in the race.
The North Carolina lieutenant governor slate is full, with voters having to decide between four Democratic and four Republican candidates. Insiders say that on the Republican side, the edge may go to Robert Pittenger, a state senator who has made illegal immigration and medical malpractice big issues while in the Senate. Others for the GOPare Greg Dority, a security consultant, Jim Snyder, an attorney, and Timothy Cook, a biologist.
The race among Democrats is tight among Dan Besse, an environmental activist, Hampton Dellinger, an attorney, Pat Smathers, mayor of Canton, and Walter H. Dalton, a state senator.
Democrats are hopeful that they can defeat the incumbent Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican who is elected outright but is closely aligned with controversial policies of outgoing Gov. Matt Blunt (R), including cutting Medicaid rolls and making Missouri the first state to auction off a sizable part of its student loan portfolio.
|2008 FILING AND PRIMARY DATES
|Source: State election offices
"We think we have a great shot of knocking him off," Jack Cardetti, Missouri Democratic Party spokesman, said. Blunt stunned the state with his announcement in January that he would not seek a second term. If Kinder does win re-election against his biggest Democratic rivals, attorney Mike Carter and state Rep. Sam Page, a physician, it would present the unusual situation of a new governor teamed with an incumbent lieutenant governor.
Still waiting for opponents are the incumbent lieutenant governors in Vermont and Washington-state. Vermont Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, a Republican, and former commander in the Vermont Air Guard and fighter pilot, was first elected in 2003. In 2006, he was deployed to the Middle East as part of his Air Force Reserve duties.
Washington Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat, first elected in 1996, was bestowed in March a Spanish knighthood for his work with the Spanish government, including securing the high-speed Spanish train system for the state.
Of the four states that elect their governor and lieutenant governors on the same ticket this year - Indiana, Montana, North Dakota and Utah - Montana's stands out as the most unusual. Montana is once again the only state with a Democrat and Republican voluntarily on the same ticket.
Democrat Brian Schweitzer picked Republican John Bohlinger as his running mate in 2004, and the team is up for re-election this year. Bohlinger, a former Marine and small businessman, had served in the Montana Senate before becoming lieutenant governor. Schweitzer and Bohlinger will face a primary challenge from Helena teachers and progressive political bloggers, Don Pogreba and Jason Neiffer.
The other three incumbent governors who run with lieutenant governors as a team and are up for re-election this November are likewise keeping their current No. 2s. All are Republicans. They are Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Lt. Gov. Becky Stillman; North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven and Lt. Gov Jack Dalrymple and Utah Gov. Huntsman and Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert. Voters will select teams of Democratic challengers during state primaries, starting first May 6 in Indiana, followed by June 10 in North Dakota and June 24 in Utah.
Joseph Zimmerman, political science professor at the University of Albany, said that despite the drama that played out in his backyard, lieutenant governors are largely overshadowed "unless that person is another Arnold Schwarzenegger or someone who has done something he shouldn't have."
Zimmerman thinks more states should abolish the office and save the states millions of dollars. "It's not essential to have the office," he said.