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Good Question: What Does Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor Do?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
Heather Brown loves to put her innate curiosity to work to answer yo...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon announced on Tuesday she will not seek re-election with Gov. Mark Dayton this fall. The former DFL state senator and Duluth city councilwoman said she considered her work on health care and seniors most rewarding during her term, but that she had “expected to be more involved in some policy initiatives and I found ways to do that.”

That had us wondering: What does the Minnesota lieutenant governor do?

“Not a lot,” said David Schultz, a professor of law and politics at Hamline University.

According to the Minnesota State Constitution, Article 5, Section 5, if there is “a vacancy from any cause whatever,” the lieutenant governor takes over.

“Sniffle in the hospital for a few days or if the governor take a road trip, it’s not necessarily clear the lieutenant governor is in charge,” Schultz said. “The lieutenant governor has almost no constitutional duties except literally waiting for the governor to die or get sick or otherwise inconvenienced.”

Of Minnesota’s 39 governors, three died while in office and five resigned. The most recent was in 1976 when then-Gov. Wendell Anderson resigned to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Vice President Walter Mondale.

Since a change in 1974, the governor and lieutenant governor have been elected on the same ballot. While the lieutenant governor has no specific official duties, the governor can appoint their lieutenant to agency positions. In 2004, then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed then-Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau to MnDOT commissioner. She was later removed from office.

“More often than not, the lieutenant governor is not part of the governor’s inner circle,” Schultz said. “Instead, the lieutenant governor is usually put on the tickets for political reasons and geographic balancing.”

Five states don’t have the position of lieutenant governor. In those cases, the president of the senate or the secretary of the state takes over. Over the past several years, State Sen. Phyllis Kahn has introduced legislation in Minnesota for a constitutional amendment that would ban the office. Each time, it has failed to pass.

Prettner Solon thinks the position still has a role in Minnesota.

“Rather than abolishing it, I think we need to beef it up or a little, give it more definition,” she said on Tuesday.

The current salary is set at 65 percent of what the governor’s salary, the lowest of an constitutional officers in the state. In 2013, that was $78,197. In 2015, that will rise to $80,543.

“I would say make the most of it,” Prettner Solon said.

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