November 30, 2014

Rascovar: Maryland should abolish Lt. Governor post

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Anthony Brown sworn in as lt gov 2011

Above: Anthony Brown is sworn in as lieutenant governor in 2011 by Chief Judge Robert Bell as Brown’s family stands by him. Photo by MdGovPics

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

If we learned anything from Anthony Brown’s eight years as Maryland lieutenant governor it’s that the office isn’t worth the taxpayer dollars it consumes.

Indeed, there is no good reason to have a lieutenant governor. There are sound fiscal and management reasons to abolish it.

Brown’s mediocre performance was in keeping with others who have held the job since the office was re-established in 1970 by voters after a 102-year lull. The lieutenant governor has no constitutional powers. He or she does whatever the governor dictates.

Sometimes the governor hands out a few assignments, such as coordinating criminal justice councils (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and J. Joseph Curran Jr.).

Sometimes the governor delegates budget decisions to his No. 2 (Blair Lee III).

At times, the governor uses the lieutenant governor to lobby bills and mediate differences between senators and delegates on important pieces of legislation (Mickey Steinberg).

Sometimes, the office holder is asked to act as a middle-man for local governments (Michael Steele and Sam Bogley III).

But more often than not, the lieutenant governor isn’t allowed to do much heavy lifting.

Figurehead roles

Brown was given a few figurehead roles on commissions – health care is the most glaring example – and he did take the lead on a few legislative bills.

But he made a mess of at least two of those.

He allowed lawyers for private developers to seize control of the governor’s public-private partnership bill to the point that lawmakers killed the measure. It passed the following year without the outside interference that had screamed political favoritism and financial windfall.

Brown also shepherded the fatally flawed health exchange bill through the legislature. What he created turned out to be a disaster.

The bill established the Obamacare insurance exchange as an independent agency. There were no meaningful oversight and management controls or back-office support from the state health department.

The bill also exempted the exchange from state procurement laws. That led to a horrendous outcome in which an under-qualified bidder won the IT contract by low-balling the price and over-promising its capabilities.

No wonder the health exchange’s IT system crashed on Day One.

That fiasco created an image of Brown in this year’s gubernatorial election as an incompetent and clueless office holder.

Second in command of nothing

Composer George Gershwin once mocked the plight of these No. 2 placeholders in a Pulitzer Prize winning playing, “Of Thee I Sing,” in which the vice president, Alexander Throttlebottom, has so little to do he spends his days in the park feeding pigeons.

Brown’s life was a bit better than that: He got to fill his calendar with speaking engagements, rushing from one meaningless event to a somewhat meaningless event reading prepared remarks, shaking hands and smiling a lot.

Is that worth $125,000 a year? Is a staff of eight really necessary to support such a pointless office?

The only job given to the lieutenant governor is to fill in if the governor is incapacitated, or to succeed to the top office if the governor dies.

Save a million dollars

Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr. can save a quick million dollars by taking steps that would eventually abolish the office of lieutenant governor, streamline the executive department and establish a more sensible line of succession.

Hogan should go “back to the future” by turning the secretary of state into his No. 2.

In the early 1800s, that was the line of succession. The secretary of state already has designated record-keeping, election and foreign relations duties that are real and substantive. He’s got a staff of 25 and a $2.4 million budget.

Before the lieutenant governor’s office was re-established, Gov. Marvin Mandel named then Montgomery County Sen. Blair Lee III to serve in the official role of secretary of state and the unofficial role of lieutenant governor until voters decided if they wanted this new office.

There’s no reason the two jobs can’t be combined. Many other states do it that way. The secretary of state could step in if the governor is temporarily unable to perform his duties, and to serve as acting governor until a special election is held.

Hogan could make it part of spending cuts

Hogan could simply announce that Boyd Rutherford, his lieutenant governor, will also take over as unofficial secretary of state, with a combined, slimmed-down staff.

The new governor then would ask the General Assembly to approve a constitutional amendment abolishing the position of lieutenant governor, making the secretary of state next in line if something goes wrong and mandating a special election within 90 days of a governor’s death.

Voters then could have the final say in 2016.

It’s pointless to continue the charade that has existed for 44 years.

Rutherford is ideal for the job because his expertise is government management, not politics. He can contribute to develop a more efficient and cheaper state government.

But he could do the same thing for the governor as secretary of state.

As things now stand, Rutherford will be the seventh highest-paid lieutenant governor in the United States ($137,500), and the third highest-paid by the end of his term ($150,000).

Yet he has no constitutional powers. None. Zip. Zed.

Let’s use common sense and rid Maryland of this meaningless office that is wasting a million dollars a year. That’s the kind of practical step voters expect from Hogan.

It would send a powerful message.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

 

  • Phil727ck

    Boyd Rutherford has a great track with private sector and extensive public sector experience having worked with the GSA, USDA, and MD Dept. of General Services. Our new Lt. Governor elect is nothing like the slug that occupied his seat prior to this election. I’m a fiscal hawk and would agree to a cut in pay but the Lt. Governor position is constitutionally mandated and calling for its elimination when we finally get someone with substance is probably not the place to start. Just a thought…

    • Blue Dogs

      Or have the Secretary of State an elected statewide position.

  • Vidi

    Since the Lt Gov position is constitutionally mandated and Mr. Rutherford is more highly qualified than most of his predecessors, why not add weighty responsibilities to his office.

  • luthersomd

    Maryland operated for several hundred years without a Lieutenant Governor until after Spiro Agnew resigned to become VP of the United States. There was considerable angst because the voters had not been given the opportunity to elect Agnew’s successor. Marvin Mandel was elected by the General Assembly to succeed Agnew and the rush was on to fix the succession problem by providing for a Lieutenant Governor. Going back to the system in place prior to the 1970s would be the fiscally responsible thing to do. And making the Secretary of State number one in the line of succession should make everyone happy.

    • Blue Dogs

      Oregon’s elected Secretary of State is also next-in-line to the governorship.

  • ksteve

    I fully agree with Mr. Rascovar on this. As is, the Lieutenant Governor’s position is a waste of money. Putting the Secretary of State next in line makes sense. If there is not already a requirement that a special election be held in the presidential election to fill any gubernatorial vacancy that occurs in year one of the four year term, there should be. We don’t need a Secretary of State serving for a long period of time as governor.

  • Josh Friedman

    Hmm, we’ve had the office for 44 years, did anything happen 44 years ago that would have compelled Maryland to create the Lt Gov office? Oh yeah, Spiro Agnew left after only 2 years, leaving Marvin Mandel, as Speaker of the House, to succeed him. We created the office of Lt Gov to ensure that voters had a say over who becomes Governor if the elected Governor cannot carry out his/her duties. Time and time again, states without a Lt Gov have found themselves in a vacuum when the Gov leaves before the expiration of their term (think Arizona). Worse yet, in New Jersey, the Senate President assumed the Gov’s office when Gov Whitman left to join the Bush Administration. The problem was that, like Maryland, New Jersey’s General Assembly terms ended several weeks prior to the expiration of the Governor’s term, meaning there was no Governor for a period of time in New Jersey (NJ subsequently created the Lt Gov position). If anything, Maryland should follow Virginia’s lead and elect the Lt Gov separately.

    • Blue Dogs

      In AZ, there’s been cases of the governorship changing hands:
      October 20, 1977-Longtime Secretary of State Wesley Bolin (D) ascended to the governorship upon the resignation of then-Governor Raul Hector Castro (D), who stepped down to become U.S. Ambassador to Argentina under President Carter.
      March 4, 1978: Then-State AG Bruce Babbitt (D) became Governor upon the death of Governor Bolin; elected to consecutive 4-year terms in 1978 & 1982.
      April 4, 1988: Secretary of State Rose Mofford (D) became Governor upon the impeachment & removal of then-Governor Evan Mecham (R) from office.
      September 5, 1997: Secretary of State Jane Dee Hull (R) ascended to the governorship upon the resignation of Governor Fife Symington (R); Hull won a full 4-year term overwhelmingly in 1998, but was term-limited from seeking a 2nd full term in 2002.
      January 21, 2009: Secretary of State Jan Brewer (R) ascended to the governorship upon then-Governor Janet Napolitano (D)’s resignation to become Obama’s U.S. Homeland Security Secretary; Brewer easily won a full 4-year term in 2010. Like Hull, Brewer was term-limited from seeking a 2nd full 4-year term in 2014.

      • Josh Friedman

        Exactly. You have a person who was elected to essentially serve as the state’s publisher in chief now ascending to the Governor’s seat. That means that voters, in order to have a say in who will succeed their Governor, must choose between electing someone who is the most competent in discharging the duties of their office (AG, SOS, Treasurer, etc.) and electing someone based on their ability to ascend to a higher office.