Governor in waiting 

No topic on our Arkansas Blog inspires more vitriol than a mention of the race for lieutenant governor. Even if the smack talk is coming mostly from the campaign coteries, why such ardor for an office that means so little?

The candidates will remind you that the lieutenant governor is but a heartbeat away from the governor’s office. Thus, their positions on weighty issues are important.

I suppose that’s true. But the history is that an electoral quirk (Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency) and the long arm of the law (Jim Guy Tucker’s criminal conviction) produced the only meaningful elevations of the No. 2 man since the office was created in 1914. Harvey Parnell also got a leg up on his race for governor in 1928 by rising to the office on Governor Martineau’s resignation.

Year in and year out, the lieutenant governor primarily serves as presiding officer in the state Senate. You’re far more likely to influence state policy from a seat in the legislature. Think about it. Who’s been more powerful the last four years — Sen. Bob Johnson or Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller? In retrospect, Winston Bryant’s little initiative to discourage teen suicide was a singular concrete achievement by a No. 2 over the last several decades.

It’s not much of a political platform either. The attorney general’s office is a far better place to affect public policy. I’d give odds that the man elected attorney general this year is more likely to be elected governor someday than the man elected lieutenant governor. Still, the seven candidates for Senate president are well on the way to spending millions in the aggregate for this small-bore office.

On the Democratic side, Jay Martin is talking job creation, educational opportunity and helping seniors. Bill Halter has a position on just about everything from a state lottery to school funding to college scholarships. Tim Wooldridge’s website seems more focused on his fund-raising than anything else, but he wants to give manufacturers a break on the sales tax and he loves prayer in schools. Mike Hathorn likes education and economic development, too. The Republicans — Chuck Banks, Jim Holt and Doug Matayo — are also full of substance (or something). But the real issue in their race is whether Banks or Matayo can find a way around the average Republican primary voter’s blank-eyeball devotion for Holt (and retain a shred of decency in the process).

So how would I run for lieutenant governor? I’d promise to treat it as the part-time job that it is. I’d distribute a resume and answer any question a reporter or taxpayer might ask. But I’d promise little except to show up when required. I would, however, promise to cut the office budget. In 1984-85, the office spent $33,911 on salaries. This year, it’s spending $126,944. Does the lieutenant governor really need more than a single staffer (there are now three, plus $10,000 for extra help) and an answering machine? The office certainly doesn’t require State Police security and transportation, even if it is allowed by law. The cops have better things to do than cart a powerless public official around.

Give me a candidate who’ll drive himself to work when his presence is required and promise nothing he can’t reasonably be expected to deliver. There’s a man to tie to.



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