We Like to Laugh But the Job of Lieutenant Governor Is Anything But a Joke

Friday, June 7, 2013

Now that Tim Murray has resigned and the office of lieutenant governor has been vacated, some folks are predictably calling for the position to be eliminated.
“…the real puzzle isn’t how Massachusetts will get through the next year and a half without a lieutenant governor,” wrote Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby on May 26.  “It is why we bother to retain the job at all.” That column was headlined: “The Most Useless Job in the State.”
I understand why Jacoby and others think that way.  They’ll just never convince me they’re right.
Yes, we could save a relatively small but not insignificant sum of money by eliminating the office of lieutenant governor.  But in the process we’d destroy a powerful lever we the citizens have on the operations of state government -- a good tool to wield against a bureaucracy that naturally tends toward indifference and inaction.
Because we elect the lieutenant governor, we can call up his office and ask him to take a particular course of action or look into a matter that may concern us.  If we have a legit case, and if the lieutenant governor is any kind of a politician, something good could result from that call.
Remove the lieutenant governor from the arena and we have one less bigfoot there to throw his weight around on our behalf.
The calls to rid ourselves of this supposedly redundant office remind me of the “good government” cries in the Seventies to reduce the size of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 240 to 160 reps.  That move was supposed to make the House more efficient; all it really did was deprive us of representation.
There’s a straightforward law of politics: when we have fewer elected representatives, our government becomes less, not more, responsive; the fruits of government move further from, not closer to, our grasp.
Also please consider this: the office of lieutenant governor is a valuable proving ground for politicians.
Obviously, it’s valuable to the politicians who can use it as a stepping stone to higher office. 
Less plain is its value to the voters, i.e., a lieutenant governor who’s able to mount a credible campaign for governor will have passed an arduous public tryout of four or eight years’ duration.  We know what we’re getting when we vote for a man or woman who’s been lieutenant governor.  Bad surprises in the corner office of the State House are, therefore, less likely.
Think of Frank Sargent and Paul Cellucci, two down-to-earth, moderate Republicans who became governor on the strength of their performances in the second seat.  Their work in a supporting role convinced us they could be solid leading men.  And we weren’t wrong.
Shouldn’t we be pleased that, in the office of lieutenant governor, we provide potentially very talented politicians with multi-year auditions for the governorship?    
If their talent is genuine and they move up, we get a governor who’s less likely to flop; our Commonwealth is better off.
Without having been lieutenant governor, Calvin Coolidge never would have become governor of Massachusetts, and then vice president and president of the United States.  Lieutenant governor can be a way station on the road to the presidency!
Michael Dukakis showed that even a losing campaign for lieutenant governor can help make a really smart politician governor.  Recall that it was Dukakis’s star turn as Kevin White’s running mate in White’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1970 that set Dukakis up to win the governorship in 1974.

Too easily we forget that our democracy and all that it makes possible -- our rights, our safety, our way of life -- rest on the political abilities (and, of course, the honesty) of our elected leaders.
Forty-three of the fifty states have lieutenant governors.  I hope Massachusetts never decides to make it forty-two.


Anonymous said...

I could more heartily DISAGREE.

1. When you count the full-time aides that come with the job (double digits!)it is not..... " a relatively small but not insignificant sum of money".
2. You are the first I have read that calls the position...."a powerful lever". All others I"ve read call it a meaningless position, with no responsibilities.
3. As far as a losing " one less bigfoot there to throw his weight around on our behalf"; I've never heard of a LT. Gov. who did anything other than the gov's bidding.If one ever tried.....s/he will never be invited to another meeting.
4. Finally, I can not think of a stronger reason to eliminated the job that the positives you see in another career politician spending 8 years"in-training" and then 8 years on the job.
5. Elections and the coverage today is a more powerful vetting process than 4 -8 years of indivisibility.

Sorry John, but the reality I see in having career politicians in a one party state, does not have a rose colored filter. The career politicians I see don't seem to fight for me, but s/he loves the power and spotlight, than in getting an economy going.
One less Lt. Governor, less all those aides, is a BIG savings for me.

Amee said...

This is cool!

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