MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As the candidates for Governor get ready for the upcoming party primaries in Minnesota, many of them are announcing their running mates. The Lieutenant Governor announcement always gets a lot of attention during campaign season, but what does a Lieutenant Governor actually do?
“What the lieutenant governor does is not a lot,” said David Schultz, a Hamline University law professor who testified in a hearing on the issue of eliminating the Lieutenant Governor in Minnesota. “To summarize it: they wait for the Governor to get sick, die or go on an extended leave.”
The running mate for Tom Emmer, a Republican candidate for Governor, worked for a group that advocated eliminating the Lieutenant Governor position. Annette Meeks was with the Center of the American Experiment, where she took on a review of state government. One of her recommendations was to eliminate the job she now seeks.
“There’s not a lot of work to do — at a time where many of us say, ‘I might be losing my job,’ the Lieutenant Governor is protected because the constitution says that job has to be there.”
The job is only mentioned once in Article 5, Section 1 under the Executive Branch, although there is a history of eliminating one of those positions. Voters abolished the State Treasurer as of 2003.
The only explicit mention of duties: “In case a vacancy occurs from any cause whatever in the office of governor, the lieutenant governor shall be governor during such vacancy.”
The Lieutenant Governor makes $78,197, but according to Schultz, the total office expenses hover around $150,000 a year.
“Every dollar counts,” he noted. “We might be able to save that … or put it into something more important than keeping the Lieutenant Governor in place.”
Five states don’t bother with a Lieutenant Governor: Maine, New Hampshire Oregon, Wyoming and Arizona are all doing fine. However, New Jersey and West Virginia have recently restored the position of Lieutenant Governor after years of not having the job.
In February 2010, State Rep. Phyllis Kahn tried to get rid of the lieutenant governor job, but her bill failed in committee 9-7.
“Both sides see this as a way to reward somebody or do horse trading with, you have enormous political inertia against getting rid of the position,” said Schultz.
Since 1983, the last five lieutenant governors have been women, which has Schultz wondering if that lets the political parties off the hook from nominating a woman to the top job of Governor.
“In many ways there’s a certain amount of sexism in the Lieutenant Governor job, as if it’s a safe place to put a woman,” he said.