Who Wants To Be Lieutenant Governor?

When I was a mere tot, I wrote a letter to Claude Kirk, then the governor of Florida, asking him about his apparent "campaign" to be the Republican nominee for vice president in 1968.

He wrote back, "explaining" to me that nobody really runs for vice president, that it's up to the presidential nominee, yadda yadda yadda.

Of course, people DO run for vice president ... as we've seen in recent years ... just as they run for lieutenant governor.

Someone said a long time ago that the only function of a lieutenant governor is to inquire each day about the state of the governor's health. There's a bit of truth to that, but of course it's not that simple. The fact is, people do run for LG for the opportunity to become G one day. That seems to be the strategy of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D). He was not going to beat out Jerry Brown for his party's gubernatorial nomination, so Newsom did the next best thing: he decided to run for the number two post, with the hope of becoming number one in four years, whether or not Brown wins in November.

Another bit of LG news this weekend: in Illinois, the Democratic State Central Committee, as expected — see my Friday post — ratified Gov. Pat Quinn's choice of Sheila Simon to replace the disgraced Scott Lee Cohen as the party's nominee. Simon, the the daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon, is from downstate Carbondale, which gives the Dems some geographic balance. There is no indication that Simon has any big political ambitions.

But a lot of people who have run for lt. gov. in the past have done so with the clear purpose of becoming number one. Of the current list of governors, 10 — Quinn, Sean Parnell (R-AK), Jodi Rell (R-CT), Butch Otter (R-ID), Mark Parkinson (D-KS), Steve Beshear (D-KY), David Paterson (D-NY), Bev Perdue (D-NC), Rick Perry (R-TX) and Gary Herbert (R-UT) — all had once served as LG.

Here's a look at four top states and their recent history of elected lt. govs. trying to move up.

CALIFORNIA: There's still no LG in California, and the reason is politics. After incumbent John Garamendi (D) was elected to fill a congressional vacancy last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named state Sen. Abel Maldonado (R) to replace him. But the Democratic state legislature, unwilling to confirm someone who could one day be the GOP gov nominee, has been dragging its feet. And conservative Republicans are not so crazy about him either; he cast a key vote in favor of Schwarzenegger's tax-raising budget. But here's a look back at previous LGs in the state, their term in office, and how they fared in their bids to move up:

John Garamendi (D 2007-09) — Was running for governor for 2010 but, with his bid going nowhere, he dropped out to seek (and win) the congressional seat vacated by fellow Democrat Ellen Tauscher. Twice, before he was LG — in 1982 and 1994 — he was defeated in gov. primaries.

Cruz Bustamante (D 1999-2006) — Ran in the 2003 special election that recalled Gov. Gray Davis (D); in his bid to succeed Davis, Bustmante lost to Schwarzenegger.

Gray Davis (D 1995-98) — Elected gov. in 1998, re-elected four years later, only to be recalled a year after that. Also lost to Dianne Feinstein in a bitter 1992 Senate primary. Before Davis, the last CA LG to move directly to the governorship was Goodwin Knight (R), who moved up in 1953 when Earl Warren became Chief Justice of the United States and then was elected on his own in '54.

Leo McCarthy
(D 1983-94) — He's the last California LG not to run for gov. He did lose to Sen. Pete Wilson (R), however, in 1988, and in another Senate bid, in 1992, he lost the Dem primary to Barbara Boxer.

Mike Curb (R 1979-82) — Lost the 1982 GOP gov. primary to George Deukmejian.

Mervyn Dymally (D 1975-78) — Defeated for re-election in 1978 by Curb.

Ed Reinecke (R 1969-74) — Lost the 1974 GOP gov. primary to Houston Flournoy.

Robert Finch (R-1967-69) — Resigned to become HEW Secretary under Nixon.

Glenn Anderson (D 1959-66) — Defeated for re-election in 1966 by Finch.

TEXAS: Rick Perry (R) was the last Texas LG to move directly to the governorship, doing so in 2000, after George W. Bush resigned; before that, it was Preston Smith (D), who succeeded retiring Democrat John Connally in 1968. One LG who sought to move up was Ben Barnes (D 1969-72), who lost the 1972 primary.

NEW YORK: Everyone is watching to see if LG Richard Ravitch (D), an appointee, will become governor this year; that would only happen if Gov. David Paterson (D) is forced to resign. Here's the record of other recent LGs trying to advance:

David Paterson (D 2007-08) — Became governor in 2008 following the resignation of Eliot Spitzer (D), embroiled in a prostitution scandal.

Betsy McCaughey Ross (R 1995-98) — Within a couple of years after being elected on the ticket led by George Pataki (R), she was informed by the governor that he wanted a new LG for 1998. That led McCaughey Ross to quit the GOP and seek the Democratic nomination for governor in '98. She lost that primary to Peter Vallone but stayed on the ballot at the nominee of the Liberal Party.

The last elected LG to be elected Gov was Mario Cuomo (D), who served one term as LG under Hugh Carey ('79-82) and then replaced Carey as governor in the 1982 elections. Carey's first LG, Mary Anne Krupsak, challenged Carey for the governorship in the '78 primary and lost badly. Neither of Cuomo's LGs — Alfred DelBello nor Stan Lundine — particularly cared for the job, and both had no desire to move up.

Before that, Malcolm Wilson — Nelson Rockefeller's loyal number two for Rocky's long tenure (1959-73) as governor — was the last LG to move up, doing so when Rockefeller resigned in 1973. But Wilson's bid to keep the governorship was thwarted by Carey in 1974.

ILLINOIS: Pat Quinn (D) was LG when Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) was impeached, convicted and removed from office in January 2009 on corruption charges. Quinn is seeking a full term as governor this November. Here's the record before that:

Corinne Wood (R 1999-2002) — Wood was untouched by the political scandals that rocked the administration of Gov. George Ryan. But she was still tainted by them, and in her bid for the gov. nomination in 2002, she finished third in the GOP primary to Jim Ryan.

Bob Kustra (R 1991-98) — Didn't run for governor but did seek a Senate seat in 1996, losing the GOP primary to Al Salvi.

George Ryan (R 1983-90) — After two terms as LG, Ryan was elected secretary of state in 1990. After two terms there, he sought and won the governorship, in 1998. He's now serving somewhere else.

Dave O'Neal (R 1977-81) — Didn't run for governor but did seek a Senate seat in 1980, losing to Alan Dixon (D) in the general election.

Neil Hartigan (D 1973-76) — Defeated for re-election in 1976 by O'Neal. He was also the Dem nominee for governor in 1990, losing to Jim Edgar (R).

Paul Simon (D 1969-72) — Lost the 1972 Dem primary to Dan Walker. Simon won a House seat in '74 and held it ten years until ousting Charles Percy (R) in the 1984 Senate race.

Sam Shapiro (D 1961-68) — Became governor in 1968 when Otto Kerner (D) resigned to become a federal judge. Lost his bid to retain the governorship that year to Richard Ogilvie (R).

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: