Some advice for Schwarzenegger: Nobody for Governor Lite

Halloween is past and it’s too early for April Fools’ Day, but with some of the spirit of those holidays, we would like to offer our advice to Governor Schwarzenegger on his decision to name a new Lieutenant Governor now that John Garamendi is in Congress.

Our advice?  Don’t appoint anyone.  Leave the position as empty physically as it is empty of responsibility, duties, or meaning.   Seize this opportunity to make government more efficient in a manner that will not harm citizens—unlike many proposals for eliminating state jobs.

The Lieutenant Governor is among the most useless positions in state government, and unquestionably the least consequential of the elected constitutional offices.  Even Garamendi’s world class ability to turn just a hint of substance into reams of press coverage was thwarted by being Governor Lite.  His congressional campaign website listed his accomplishments as Insurance Commissioner, state Senator, Deputy Secretary of Interior, and even as a Peace Corps volunteer.  But the bio’s paragraph on Garamendi’s years as Lieutenant Governor is a job description devoid of accomplishments.

Leo McCarthy was one of California’s ablest public servants; an Assembly Speaker who routinely got things done without flamboyance or angst.  But McCarthy, even as the state’s longest serving Lieutenant Governor and having solid relations with both Governors Deukmejian and Wilson, could not transform the dross of the Lieutenant Governorship into gold.

That the Lieutenant Governorship is so impotent shouldn’t be a surprise.  A Lieutenant Governor’s primary function is to become Governor if that position becomes vacant or if the Governor is out of state.  Modern communications have rendered the latter function moot.  Of the state’s 46 Lieutenant Governors, only four moved to the corner office when a Governor resigned or died.  Only three have successfully used the LG as a jumping off point to become Governor and only one managed to do it in the last 90 years.  The Lieutenant Governor is also the President of the state Senate with the power to break ties in the state Senate; the last time that happened, Rocky was a brand new movie and the Nation was cerebrating the bicentennial.

Governor Lites also have ex officio seats on the UC Board of Regents and the CSU Board of Trustees.  This is not as impressive as it sounds.  The LG is only one vote on rather large boards.   It is notable that past Lieutenant Governors have been known more for their absences than their contributions to Board deliberations.  

California will never have an executive partnership like that of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, George Bush and Dick Cheney, or Barack Obama and Joe Biden for the simple reason that Presidents choose their Vice Presidents.  In California, Governors and Lieutenant Governors are elected separately, rarely campaigning as a team. Moreover Californians have elected Governors and Lieutenant Governors of different parties in six of the last eight elections.  Not that being of the same party is any guarantee of a partnership or even a cordial relationship.  Gray Davis stripped Cruz Bustamonte of his Capital parking space; Jerry Brown refused to defend Merv Dymally against charges ultimately proven to be utterly false; Pat Brown regarded Glen Anderson as a bumbler; Earl Warren ran for a third term partly to spite Goodwin Knight’s blatant ambitions; and Hiram Johnson so disliked his Lieutenant Governor, William Stephens, that after being elected to the U.S. Senate, Johnson delayed resigning for months.

In short, the position has no real institutional power, is a political cul-de-sac, and wouldn’t be missed if abolished (except, of course for the four current legislators running for the Governor Lite in 2010).   So why not just let it stay vacant?  We realize that the Constitution actually says the Governor shall name a replacement and that that pesky adverb is usually interpreted as a mandate.  On the other hand, after the Assembly refused to confirm his nominee for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1993, Pete Wilson simply let the position stay vacant until the 1994 elections.

Our suggestion flies against the conventional wisdom that Governors should always take advantage of the benefits of filling vacancies.  On the other hand,  this does represents a box that can be blown up (at least temporarily) and could inspire the myriad of constitutional reformers to think about low hanging fruit:  do we  really need a both a Controller and a Treasurer?  Didn’t the old appointed Insurance Commissioner have fewer scandals than the elected one?  Shouldn’t the Secretary of State be non-partisan?  Might we not learn something from the national government about the benefits of focusing on a single elected executive?

Besides, the Governor could save us some money… and the necessity of finding work for an office for which work does not come naturally.

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