In what he acknowledges to be an unusual move, Kevin Lembo, the state’s Healthcare Advocate, filed papers today seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
Lembo hasn’t joined any of the six (possibly seven) Democratic candidates exploring a run for the governor’s office in 2010, but expects to be asked before the state convention in May.
“It will be my job over the next six months to make my case to the Democratic voters of Connecticut,” Lembo said in a phone interview Sunday.
Traditionally, a candidate for lieutenant governor would be named shortly before the convention in May, during which the delegates endorse a candidate. That leaves delegates little time to vet candidates, Lembo said.
“Sometimes the governor leaves office and no one has really vetted the lieutenant governor, who is suddenly charge of an $18 billion budget,” Lembo said. “Twice in recent history, Connecticut’s lieutenant governor has been asked to assume the state’s top job, and the people of this state have a right to make an informed choice about who is second in command.”
Connecticut law clearly envisioned someone seeking election as lieutenant governor, because the candidates for the office stand independently before the convention for a vote and they run independently in the primary, he said.
In 2006, Simsbury First Selectwoman Mary Glassman was Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy’s running mate. But when she garnered more votes than West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka in the primary, she found herself running with New Haven Mayor John DeStefano in the general election.
Over the next few months Lembo will be pulling double duty, serving his second-term as the state’s Healthcare Advocate during the day and stumping for lieutenant governor nomination at night.
“There are obvious constitutional obligations of the lieutenant governor’s office, such as presiding over the state Senate,” Lembo said. “But it has the potential to be more than that.”
Lembo hopes that whichever candidate is at the top of the ticket exploits the power of the lieutenant governor’s office and puts him in charge of policy issues that will have a long-term impact on the state.
When it comes to the state budget deficit Lembo said he absolutely thinks the state can solve it, but it won’t be done by “picking all the dandelions out of the lawn and saying we solved it.”
In order for the state to come out of this economic crisis it will need to fundamentally change its operations, Lembo said. As soon as a new governor takes office. he or she will immediately need to deploy their transition team into the state agencies and get them operating as efficiently as possible, he said.
In the meantime, Lembo said he planned on having a conversation with each of the Democratic candidates for governor before he filed his paperwork today.
The response he’s gotten so far has been “humbling,” he said.
“The reaction is uniformly positive,” Lembo said. “Folks acknowledge it’s a different route to the nomination and in many cases agree that a lot of ground has to be covered between now and May.”
He said while there are a few candidates for governor who excite him, he doesn’t have anyone in particular in mind at the moment.
Lembo, who has a masters in public administration from California State University, has been a public servant for the past decade.
Before becoming the state’s first healthcare advocate, Lembo worked for six years in the state comptroller’s office on issues as diverse as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the Rainy Day Fund, and health insurance related to state employees, retirees, municipalities, nonprofits, and small businesses.
During the last six years as healthcare advocate, he has worked on helping consumers untangle the complexities of the health insurance industry. In 2008, Lembo and his staff saved consumers $5.23 million in health care costs, up from the $531,000 he saved consumers in 2004 during his first year in office. Lembo also traveled to Washington D.C. several times to help inform the House Oversight Committee on issues regarding health insurance rescission policies.
Lembo, 46, lives in Guilford with his spouse. The two have raised three children together.