Paul Jenkins: It's called lite gov for the workload

commentJune 15, 2013 

Have you ever wondered why anybody in their right mind wants to be lieutenant governor? Mr. Hold My Coat. The Ghost Down the Hall. Second Banana. It is a job much as "Cactus Jack" Garner described his vice presidency -- "not worth a pitcher of warm spit."

It's a position so vital that five states do not bother having one. In at least four others, Alaska among them, lieutenant governors function as secretaries of state. Mostly, all of them just hang around waiting for the governor to croak or go on vacation. Minnesota recently toyed with dumping the job because there simply is not enough for a lieutenant governor to do.

Oh, lite guvs claim otherwise, that they are so busy they even have a nationwide group -- the National Lieutenant Governors Association Then there's the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association and the Democratic Lieutenant Governors Association and, if you can believe it, the Past Lieutenant Governors Association.

In Alaska, the job certainly is no great shakes, even with the office's $1.2 million budget and annual six-figure salary. Yet, it seems just about everybody wants it. The 2014 race for it could be one of the more crowded free-for-alls in a slugfest election featuring a governor's race, a Senate and House contest, perhaps a handful of initiatives and a looney referendum to repeal oil tax reform and shove Alaska deep into the red.

The lieutenant governor's job -- and that is stretching it -- would be perfect for me. It's like being royalty -- wads of dough for not doing much. Indoor work. No heavy lifting. Low expectations. The chance for state-paid travel to rural Alaska when the fish are running. Conventions Outside when the weather is lousy. No deadlines. No hassles. I even came up with a campaign slogan: "I will do absolutely nothing. Honest."

Add to the list of goodies a possible free house, an historic abode in downtown Juneau, a home away from home for those trips to the capital, and, well, you get the idea. The gig, I'm telling you, is beyond belief. We all should be running.

Unfortunately, far too many others feel the same way. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is rumored to be running. He says he is, but he cannot make up his mind about what he is running for. The ballot, I suppose, would say something like, "Dan Sullivan (Mayor Dan, not the other one) -- Guess which office." Unions would love to see him in the race, any race, for another shot at driving a stake in his political career's heart.

Then there is state Sen. Lesil McGuire, who described herself to the Associated Press as a doer, a consensus-builder and a team player. The good news for her is that Democrats -- who have yet to pony up a candidate -- do not like her much because she supported Gov. Sean Parnell's oil tax reform. (These guys must get paid to be wrong.)

Of more consequence for Sullivan and McGuire? Between them they are hauling more baggage than Amtrak.

Current Second Fiddle Mead Treadwell -- Alaska's 13th -- is cogitating about bailing out of the cushiest job in Christendom for a shot at Democrat Sen. Mark Begich's seat. Treadwell, though, could surprise everybody and seek re-election. From the interest the race is generating, nobody believes he will. And there is more: Rumors have it that former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, the 10th Second Fiddle and a darling of the far right, also may wade back in. There could be others.

Interest in the position has blossomed. Constitutional Convention delegates debated including an elected successor to the governor and abandoned the notion before finally deciding to include the job -- but called it a secretary of state. A 1970 constitutional amendment changed that appellation to lieutenant governor.

As a job, it is not hard. The state constitution says the lite guv is custodian of the state seal, administers state election laws, appoints notaries public and performs certain ministerial duties relating to the promulgation of regulations under the Administrative Procedure Act -- whatever all that means.

From where I sit, you toss the seal in a locked drawer, hire somebody to handle elections and the notary thingy -- and have the time of your life. OK, there may be some promulgating, whatever that entails, but then your time is your own.

The surprise is not that anybody wants the job. The surprise is that anybody would not.


Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.

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