The old story about Calvin Coolidge certainly summarizes the attitude toward the office of lieutenant governor espoused by The Post ("Anyone for Lieutenant Governor?" editorial, March 27).
One evening when Silent Cal was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, he was seated next to an attractive woman at an official dinner.
"Tell me," she gushed, "what do you do?"
"I'm the lieutenant governor," he said.
"That's wonderful. Tell me all about it," his dinner companion requested.
"I just did," was the succinct reply.
That old image of the lieutenant governor as a stand-in and ribbon-cutter is no longer valid. Many states are finding important new roles for their lieutenant governors. The leadership abilities of lieutenant governors will be in greater demand as state governments find more pressure to produce creative solutions to critical problems.
Lieutenant governors can organize and take the lead on many important projects. I'm not suggesting that every time a governor wants to run a controversial proposal up the flagpole, the lieutenant governor be atop the pole with a lightning rod. But a lieutenant governor can use his or her past experiences and present access to state leaders to add depth and reach to an administration.
Abolishing the office is the wrong answer to the right problem -- how to make the lieutenant governor a contributing member of state government. As The Post has pointed out, a number of states afford the lieutenant governor a tremendous degree of authority in leading their respective state senates.
Yet I must take issue with the statement that the office is generally bereft of useful work. For example, by law in Indiana, the lieutenant governor directs the Department of Commerce, which includes economic development, agriculture and tourism. I am not alone in holding such responsibilities. Again by way of example, the lieutenant governor of Nevada heads the state's departments of economic development and tourism, my colleague in Kansas chairs the state's tax review commission, Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor heads the state's Emergency Management Agency, and other lieutenant governors across the nation chair or serve on a multitude of commissions, boards and councils. In most states, the governor has also assigned additional duties to the lieutenant governor.
Three states have recently reviewed their office of lieutenant governor (or lack of it) and have reached conclusions opposite those raised by The Post. New Jersey's governor called earlier this year for the creation of the office of lieutenant governor in his state. In New York, after a great deal of input, a legislative committee recommended strengthening the office by adding duties, rather than abolishing it. In Kentucky, the House of Representatives easily turned back an attempt last month to reduce the office to a part-time position with no significant responsibilities.
In Illinois, where Democratic primary voters have nominated two candidates out of the mainstream of traditional values to run on their statewide ticket, including one for lieutenant governor, the cry is not to abolish what is an effective office. Rather, a move is under way to extend the practice of team general elections for governor and lieutenant governor -- where a vote is cast for one party's candidates for the two offices together, a requirement in 22 states -- to team nominations, a statutory device used in eight states to ensure an even greater degree of personal, political and ideological compatibility between the governor and lieutenant governor.
Calvin Coolidge was called Silent Cal because of his reticence. Today's lieutenant governors have a lot more to talk about.