When Jennifer Carroll resigned as Florida's Lieutenant Governor earlier this month amidst reports that she was linked to legally shady Internet cafes, it became front page news in most of the sunshine state and a significant (if not front page) story everywhere else. Likewise, Republican Virginia Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling has recently made ripples by saying nice things about the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for governor. In both cases, the people involved certainly caused headaches for their own parties' political establishment: Florida Republicans are doing everything they can to make voters forget Carroll exists and Bolling could well face the same treatment from Virginia Republicans. Whatever one thinks of their actions, however, it makes sense to grant the wishes of people who wish Carroll and Boiling would disappear. The office of lieutenant governor should be abolished everywhere that it exists.
It's simple. Salaries, office space, travel budgets and more for lieutenant governors cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and most of these people literally get paid to do nothing except for wait around for the governor to die or resign. (Most are ceremonial "presidents" of state senates with little or no actual legislative power.) Many work on a variety of feel good projects and show up around their states to represent the governor at ribbon cuttings and funerals.
All of this is pointless. Unlike the President of the United States -- who has national security responsibilities that need to be exercised at all times -- state governors' work almost never involves anything that can't wait a few weeks. It would be a simple matter -- and more democratic -- to have legislative leaders or other state-wide elected officials (state treasurers or Secretaries of State) to serve as acting governors during the run up to special elections whenever a governor leaves office unexpectedly. The ceremonial tasks delegated to lieutenant governors could almost always be taken over by other members of governors' staff or the governors' spouse. In fact, five states (Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Wyoming) get along just fine without lieutenant governors right now.
This isn't to say that all (or even most) lieutenant governors are useless as people or washed up politically. In fact, almost none are. More than a handful of lieutenant governors (Rick Perry and Mario Cuomo to name just two) have gone on to become prominent politicians themselves. Even today, a few lieutenant governors -- Texas' most prominently -- do wield very significant political power under their states constitutions. A few others, like Ohio's Mary Taylor (who also runs the state's insurance department) have been appointed to other state jobs with real responsibilities. But these are the exceptions. The office of lieutenant governor is a waste of money and time. In states that put both governor and lieutenant on the same ticket, there are few cases of the lieutenant governor being a big help and many of he or she causing embarrassment to the person on top. If states want to save money in a way that almost everyone can agree on, they should get together and abolish the office of lieutenant governor.