The next Governor of the State of Connecticut will report to work on the 5th of January, 2011 and inherit a gargantuan budget deficit, an unaffordable state government, and a menagerie of intractable social problems not cured by four decades of trying.
One would think that there would be few volunteers for the job.
But not only are there plenty of prospective governors on both sides of the political aisle, they are now recruiting sidekicks, too. Liberal heartthrob Ned Lamont has selected Mary Glassman, the Simsbury First Selectwoman who ran and won her bid for lieutenant governor in 2006 even though her running mate on the top of the ticket, Dan Malloy, did not.
Mr. Malloy fired back with his own choice: State Comptroller Nancy Wyman of Tolland. The two ladies will immediately hit the campaign trail in hopes of drawing delegate support at the upcoming state Democratic Convention on May 21-22.
Though no Republicans have announced running mates yet, they are likely to get into the act in the coming days.
Being second-in-command has always been a politically tenuous arrangement. The noted New Hampshire statesman Daniel Webster turned down an offer to be Vice President of the United States in 1848, saying “I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead and in my coffin.”
Though often little noticed, lieutenant governors have played a significant role in the political history of Connecticut. It is not just our immediate past lieutenant governors and current Governor M. Jodi Rell, whose time at the top has been marked by stratospheric public approval ratings that belie the difficult economy.
Of the 87 lieutenant governors since the American Revolution, 14 have been elected to the Governor’s office in their own right and three more were elected to office after first having succeeded their running mate. Another 10 became governor because of the resignation or death of the incumbent.
Yet despite this history, there is relatively little scrutiny applied to such candidates. There is an extent to which lieutenant governors are treated as campaign paraphernalia – mere baubles collected on the campaign trail and then dispensed to haunt the halls of the state Capitol until such time that the Boss dies, resigns, or goes on vacation.
Michael Fedele, the state’s current lieutenant governor, has spent his time well over the last four years by focusing on business and veterans’ issues when those subjects are top policy concerns for many Connecticut residents. But he faces an uphill climb in getting noticed for those efforts as evidenced by a March 2010 Quinnipiac Poll, in which 80 percent of respondents said they hadn’t heard enough to form an opinion about him.
The job of lieutenant governor carries much the same responsibility as that of governor – the ability to step in from the first moment and lead the state effectively through difficult times. But unlike the job of governor, lieutenants face the additional challenge of not knowing when that “first moment” may arrive.
This reality should be a sticking point for voters this year. Given the magnitude of the problems they will face, both the Governor and Lt. Governor will need to be up to the task – and TV ads will not help you with that decision.
Heath W. Fahle is a policy analyst and consultant based in Manchester. His background in political campaigns includes work for former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and the Connecticut Republican Party. He also is the principal of Revolutionary Strategies LLC, a Web site design and consulting firm. Learn more at www.heathwfahle.com