Connecting state and local government leaders
Besides regularly checking the pulse of the governor, most people don’t know what the second-highest office in their state actually does.
You think the vice president’s job is vague? Try being a state’s lieutenant governor.
According to a new research report released last week by the National Lieutenant Governors Association, their members have an average of eight duties assigned in law, with almost half the states having five statutory duties or less in law.
There are, however, states where the lieutenant governor is heavily empowered by their state constitution and laws. The quintessential example is Texas—a state with a weak governorship, but an extremely strong second-in-command. Texas’ lieutenant governor doesn’t just preside over the state Senate, as is the case across half the states—he or she also assigns committees, directs which bills head to which committees, and sets the floor agenda. That’s real power--and it doesn’t end there. The lucky lieutenant has a wealth of committee appointments and other roles.
Texas isn’t the only state with an empowered lieutenant governor; Alabama’s lieutenant governor, Kay Ellen Ivey, sits on over 20 boards and makes over 400 appointments across state government.
The number of statutory duties can also be highly deceiving. Quite like the vice presidency, the legal authorities don’t necessarily tell the entire story of the power of the office—with much of it deriving from duties assigned by the governor.
Colorado’s lieutenant governor only has five statutory duties, but is specifically empowered by statute to serve as the state’s chief operating officer. That role is exactly what governor John Hickenlooper had in mind when he appointed Donna Lynne to the position last year. A former deputy mayor of New York and Kaiser Permanente executive, Lynne is now focusing on performance in government and citizen services in the state.
Maryland, Mississippi and New Jersey’s lieutenant governors have no statutory duties at all. That doesn’t mean they twiddle their thumbs all day listening for the sounds of an ambulance and plotting future political campaigns, though.
Maryland’s lieutenant governor, Boyd Rutherford, chaired the state’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force, which is resulting in significant changes to how the state coordinates agencies in fighting the opioid epidemic.
Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is working with his Louisiana counterpart, Billy Nungesser, to promote “the cultural and musical heritage of the two states as they work together to grow their respective states’ tourism industries.” New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno not only leads efforts to improve New Jersey's economic vitality, but also wears a second hat as the Secretary of State, making her the chief election official for the state.
For a full list of the lieutenant governor’s statutory duties, visit the National Lieutenant Governors Association website.
Mitch Herckis is Senior Program Director of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.