THE BLOG
06/05/2013 06:49 pm ET | Updated Aug 05, 2013

The Unusual and Peculiar Office of Lieutenant Governor

Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray recently resigned his post to take a job as the President and CEO of the Worcester, Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. Surprisingly, there is no provision in the Massachusetts Constitution for the governor to appoint or nominate a successor to that position, or for the Commonwealth to elect one. Furthermore, there is no serious effort underfoot to change that. It is a peculiar office in that should the occupant resign, die in office, or be driven from office, finding a successor is not exactly at the top of the priority list.

In Massachusetts, the only official role for the lieutenant governor is to act as governor in the governor's absence and to become acting governor should the governor leave office before ending his/her term. In addition, the lieutenant governor is a member of the Governors Council, which votes on judicial nominations. In the absence of a lieutenant governor, the Secretary of the Commonwealth assumes both of these functions.

The governor and lieutenant governor in Massachusetts run for the nomination separately, but are paired up as a ticket for the general election. This can make for an awkward cohabitation. In 1978 Governor Michael Dukakis and Lieutenant Governor Thomas P. O'Neil lll both sought re-election, running as a team. However, Conservative Democrat Ed King upset Dukakis in the Democratic Primary, winning the Democratic Party nomination. Despite Dukakis' defeat, O'Neal garnered the lieutenant governor nomination. Ed King and Thomas P. O'Neal lll shared little in common, and O'Neil briefly challenged King for re-election to the governorship in 1982.

Almost no one aspires to become lieutenant governor, outside of the fact that it is a launching pad to higher office. Future President Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge both got their cards punched as lieutenant governor on their journey to the White House.

Interestingly, in 18 states the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately, which can result in running mates being from different parties. Accordingly, should the governor leave office, someone with a very different ideological agenda can succeed him/her. For example, after being convicted on a count of conspiracy and mail fraud in 1996, Democrat Jim "Guy" Tucker resigned his post as Arkansas governor. Lieutenant Governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, succeeded him, becoming the third-longest-serving Arkansas Governor in history.

The history of the Arkansas lieutenant governor post is quite bizarre. Despite the fact that in Arkansas the position of lieutenant governor was created in 1914, Arkansas had no one serving in that position until 1926. This was the result of an oversight or error on the part of Arkansas state politicians. The measure to add the position of lieutenant governor was voted upon in 1914, and the measure won by just over 300 votes (45,567 to 45,206). However, the Arkansas Speaker of the House, Joe Hardage, declared the measure lost because "he thought" there needed to be a majority of the total vote, rather than a majority of those voting on the specific question. A dozen years later it was discovered that an earlier initiative referred to as the Initiative and Referendum of 1910 had changed the law so that only a majority of those voting on a specific question was enough to pass the measure. So in 1926 the Initiative of 1914 was declared valid and Harvey Parnell was elected Arkansas' first lieutenant governor.

Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi became bitter political adversaries while serving together. Garamendi was highly critical of Schwarzenegger's economic policies. Schwarzenegger, using the line-item veto, cut Garamendi's office budget by 62 percent.

The lieutenant governorship is not merely a sinecure in every state. In Texas, the office of lieutenant governor is quite influential. The Lone Star State lieutenant governor serves as president of the State Senate. The lieutenant governor is also vested with the formidable power to appoint members of the Senate Committees, and sends proposed legislation to the respective committees. In addition, the lieutenant governor casts the tie-breaking vote.

This means that in Texas it is in the interest of the governor to work with the lieutenant governor to get his/her legislative program a fair hearing. Some maintain that the lieutenant governor position is actually more powerful than the Governor. Interestingly, Republican Governor George W. Bush formed an unlikely alliance with Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. In fact, in 1998, Bullock bucked party lines and endorsed Republican Governor George W. Bush for re-election over the Democratic nominee, Gary Monroe. Ironically, Bullock was the godfather of Mauro's two children.

Similar to Texas, the lieutenant governor of Kentucky formally served as president of the Senate. However, a 1992 Amendment to the Kentucky Constitution attenuated the office, relieving it of all legislative duties. The state's lieutenant governor is now largely a sinecure, like in the case of Massachusetts.

Forty-three states and four U.S. territories have this strange inimitable office. Power varies from state to state and from territory to territory. But for the most part, the job of lieutenant governor gets little respect, mostly being viewed as a mere way station for ambitious politicians. Former Illinois Lieutenant Governor Neil Hartigan (1973-1977) sums up the strange office of lieutenant governor by opining: "You won't have a lot in the way of money. You won't have a lot in the way of staff, but you will have the word 'governor' in your title."