Don't diminish lieutenant governor's job

Posted: Friday, August 06, 2010

A heartbeat away . . .

Twenty years ago, after retiring from public life, former Lt. Gov. Lowell Thomas Jr. said this about his former job:

"It's a good salary, secure job, for at least four years. It's pretty easy, mostly office and paperwork. You're in charge of all the notary publics in the state, keeper of the state seal, things like that."

Thomas laughed and added: "You know, so many (candidates) are under the mistaken belief that they can do things as lieutenant governor. They can't. You can only do as much as the governor lets you."

With a job description like that, it's no wonder that four candidates for the job found more pithy issues to expound on in a Kenai/Soldotna Joint Chamber of Commerce candidates forum Tuesday.

Democrat Diane Benson and Republicans Eddie Burke, Jay Ramras and Mead Treadwell answered questions ranging from economic growth to family values. In an election season, stimulating job creation and building a gas pipeline are no-brainer crowd pleasers, even though the lieutenant governor has little power to do anything but promote the governor's policies.

But precious little was said about more serious responsibilities of the Lt. Guv.

Take oversight of the Division of Elections. We oftentimes forget election debacles of the past - boxes of lost ballots, counting irregularities, etc. - before Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer's two terms beginning in 1994. Ulmer re-engineered and revolutionized the state's election process, introducing optical scan ballots that we use today.

We also forget how influential the lieutenant governor can be in the initiative process, with his or her power over an initiative's ballot language, and even its very existence. One only has to remember back four years ago when then Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell blocked the Alaska Clean Water Initiative on grounds that it would act as an illegal appropriation of state lands. Never mind that the issue went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which allowed the measure on the ballot (where it failed). The lieutenant governor was the reason it wound up in court in the first place.

Finally, lest we forget perhaps the most important part of being lieutenant governor, that person is merely a heartbeat (or resignation) away from the governor's mansion. A sobering thought. Remember, that's how Gov. Parnell got his current job.

We think former Lt. Gov. Thomas was being modest in his assessment of the job. Or perhaps the position has just become more high profile than when he was in office.

In any event, we think you should be thinking about those job duties when you pick a lite gov candidate on Aug. 24.

In short: Pick a lieutenant governor like you'd pick a governor - 'cause you never know . . .

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