Dan Lawlor: Time to Get Rid of the Lieutenant Governor
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Elizabeth Roberts is a deeply capable and remarkable person. It is a good thing she's in government, but she doesn't need to be the Lt. Governor. In fact, I don't think anyone needs to be the Lt. Governor.
Mrs. Roberts excepted, more often than not, the office of Lt. Governor is a holding position for politicos to plot their further rise to power. You have a staff, you can pretty much do what you want, and you can prepare to run for Congress, Governor, United States Senate or wait to be appointed to work in the Courts. This is true going back to before the Civil War.
Consider some of those who have served as Lt. Governor. People from 19th Century Republicans like Aram Pothier and Melville Bull, to 20th century Democrats like Robert Quinn and John Notte, to the more recent Democrats like Bob Weygand and Charlie Fogarty went on to run for other offices. It's a pretty good gig. You get paid by the state to meet people, organize people, and prep for next steps.
I could rattle off a list of numerous friends and family members who have enough interest in government to be perfectly capable in the position of free lance policy design, and waiting for the Governor to be incapcitated.
In New England, neither Maine nor New Hampshire has a Lt. Governor's post. In Western States, the very different states of Arizona, Oregon, and Wyoming all do not have a Lt. Governor's post or staff. We can do without the position.
In 2010, Bob Healy ran an independent/Cool Moose/Republican hybrid campaign to abolish the office of Lt. Governor. He received about 40% of the vote in the election.
I have a suspicion. If voters were able to choose, via a referendum question, "Should Rhode Island have an Office of Lt. Governor?" I believe more people might vote no.
In fact, I think the office of Lt. Governor was saved from abolition in large part because of Elizabeth Robert's unique skills and visions. The truth is, I don't most people who serve as Lt. Governor are as smart as she is.
We should not spend over $1 million dollars a year on the chance that someone as good as her will be available. Many point to her great work with health care. Absolutely true. However, she could have been hired as a consultant, commissioner, or healthcare czar to do similar work.
Constitutionally, the key thing that the Lt. Governor does is wait for the Governor to be unable to serve. Does that really require an elected office, and one that costs over $1 million dollars a year?
We need to work to eliminate opportunities in politics for people simply attracted to power. The court magistrate positions given to insiders, having lobbyists on the Judicial Nominating Commission, the hundreds of thousands of dollars made by former legislators as lobbyists, the political appointees, all of this inhibits our ability to be a successful state.
The fewer chances there are for people to make a pretty large buck off the public by doing less, the better we are. The state has too many problems - from chronic homelessness to gun violence to foreclosure crisis - to waste money on political insiders.
I would encourage Governor Chafee to put an advisory question on the 2012 Statewide Ballot - something like, "Should the office of Lt. Governor be abolished?" I'd be curious what the people say.
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