Friday, October 2, 2009

I can't believe I agree with Alan Lasee

The State Senator from DePere has proposed a constitutional amendment to eliminate the offices of Secretary of State and Lieutenant Governor.

Over the years, most of the actual duties of the Wisconsin Secretary of State have been taken over by the Department of Administration. The office is more or less ornamental these days. Why waste the money and the space on the ballot to elect a figurehead who does nothing useful?

And speaking of ornamental figureheads brings us to the office of Lieutenant Governor. Other than waiting for the Governor to become incapacitated or to resign, the office has no other duties to justify the salary. There are plenty of other elected officials who could be given the duties of emergency governor (Speaker of the Assembly, Senate Majority Leader, or Attorney General, for example).

Yes, this could lead to the Governor's office changing parties if the Gov. resigns for a federal appointment. That is just what happened in Arizona, which does not have the office of Lieutenant Governor, when Janet Napolitano became Secretary of Homeland Security.

If Wisconsin's history is any guide, though, that is going to happen anyway; it will just wait a few years until the elected Governor's term is up. Both Democrat Martin Schreiber and Republican Scott McCallum were lackluster Governors who failed to get re-elected to the office they inherited. But neither party was willing to mount a primary challenge to a sitting Governor. In that way, the Lieutenant Governor actually handicaps his (or her) own party. A party might be better off losing power for a few years and then running someone who has a chance to serve a full term or two (or three).

Think about the kind of politicians who run for Lieutenant Governor in this state. Since the gubenatorial candidate does not pick his or her running mate, the Lt. Gov. will not be someone who was a rival in the primaries and could strengthen the ticket in the general election. Instead it will be someone who never ran for Governor but thought they might squeek by as Lt. Gov., since it is a pretty much invisible office that few voters care about. It is a refuge for lazy politicians.

That, more than anything, is why I believe Barbara Lawton has no chance of becoming Wisconsin's next Governor. If she was willing to do the actual work required of a serious statewide campaign, she never would have become Lieutenant Governor in the first place.


Zach W. said...

Jill, I'm in agreement that the office of Secretary of State could be done away with, but I'm not sold on eliminating Lt. Governor. Sure, it's largely a do-nothing position, but then again, the same has been said of the Vice Presidency of the United States.

Ordinary Jill said...

The Vice President serves some functions -- not just breaking ties in the Senate, but also acting for the President in some Head of State duties (attending state funerals and other official functions, for instance). The same is true of the First Lady, who does not have a constitutional office but nonetheless performs a role in our government. Very few democracies combine the office of Chief Executive with that of Head of State (most have either a President and a Prime Minister, or a President and a King/Queen who split those duties).

On the state level, the Governor does not usually need to host visiting royalty or go to many state funerals, so there is less need to delegate that sort of thing.