Few things are certain in life, or so the saying goes, beyond death and taxes. But I’ve found another truism you can take to the bank. The office of the lieutenant governor should be dismantled, abolished, and dispatched by voters to where it belongs: in the dustbin of Connecticut’s sordid political history.
There, I said it. I can think of a dozen different ways to spend the annual budget of the LG’s office, which as best I am able to tell, is roughly half a million dollars and includes a car, a driver, and a small staff that does . . . well, it’s not exactly clear what they do.
The LG’s post is even worse than the vice presidency, which Franklin Roosevelt’s second-in-command, John Nance Garner, famously described as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.”
I’ve often wondered what the LG does all day. Jodi Rell, who later became governor when her boss, the twice-indicted John Rowland, went to jail, spent her time going to ribbon cuttings and calling the morning drive-time shows at 100-watt radio stations.
When Rowland resigned in 2004, Rell was so conditioned to being an obscure figure who had performed ceremonial tasks for almost eight years, that she had difficulty transitioning to a real job with real responsibilities. For most of her six years as governor, Rell remained in LG mode, accomplishing little more than she would have if she had remained second in command.
At this writing, 45 of the 50 states have an LG. Two of those that don’t are our neighbors. New Hampshire and Maine have a system in which the presiding officer of the state Senate assumes the governorship in the event that the chief executive is unable to serve. That used to be the case in New Jersey until 2009, when the office of the LG was re-established.
However, the Garden State constitution now requires that the lieutenant governor be appointed to serve as the head of a cabinet-level department or administrative agency within the governor’s administration. In other words, the state gives the LG something substantial to do to earn her $141,000-a-year salary.
As if to justify her own $110,000 salary, Connecticut LG Nancy Wyman proudly announces on her website the responsibilities of her office, which include being chairperson of a few commissions and councils. And those duties are assigned to her by the governor. Most notably, she is the co-chair of the board of directors for the state’s new health insurance exchange, Access Health CT. The exchange’s CEO, Kevin Counihan, reports to Wyman.
Surely, those tasks could all be shifted to other members of the Malloy administration. According to the state Constitution, Wyman’s only official duty is to preside over the Senate when it’s in session. Couldn’t the actual Senate President — currently Don Williams — do that?
And since the job itself is so insubstantial, it attracts a rather unusual breed of politician. The usual platitudes about running for office obviously do not apply here. Someone running for a seat in the General Assembly or for one of the other constitutional offices — or, for that matter, a spot on a town zoning board — can plausibly claim to want to make a difference or have a passion for helping run the government.
But the LG candidate can’t say any of those things with a straight face. That’s because the only conceivable reason anyone would want the job is that it might be a ticket to something better. The increased visibility of being second in command might give the LG a leg up in a run for governor. Or, as was case 10 years ago with Rowland, the LG becomes governor if the top dog is poised for the slammer. Or if the chief executive is carried out of the Capitol in a pine box, the LG quickly becomes relevant.
According to Wyman’s communications director (yes, she has a communications director), her boss happens to be the incoming chair of the Lieutenant Governors Association — whatever that is. Wyman was ready to assume the chairmanship after this week’s LGA convention in Girdwood, Alaska. But she will be elevated to that post sooner than she expected because the current chair, LG Todd Lamb of Oklahoma, couldn’t be bothered to show up for the convention.
One candidate for LG in Arkansas is running this year on a promise to abolish his own office. Tim “Crash” Murray, the LG in neighboring Massachusetts, resigned last year and no one noticed. Nor was there a special election to fill his shoes because . . . well, aside from driving recklessly in his state-owned car on I-190 and nearly getting himself killed, no one really knows what he did anyway.
For a satirical look at just how irrelevant the job of second banana is, see the HBO series “Veep” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Unlike the bumbling and foul-mouthed Selena Meyer, Wyman is a decent hardworking woman who worked her way up from a seat on the Tolland School Board to state representative to state comptroller.
Still, there’s got to be a better way to spend half a million dollars. I hear our hospitals are looking for money.