Lt. Governor: The Almonds of State Government | News, Sports, Jobs

The NPL Democratic Party will honor the legacy of Governors William Guy, Art Link and George Sinner at a fifth annual boisterous party in Bismarck on May 7th.

On behalf of former Lieutenant Governors – Wayne Sanstead and myself at least – I’m boycotting the event because I’m tired of being treated as an expendable appendage or tonsil of politics.

Without our traditional support for the governor, the government would not fall, just hobble along. Governors never resign, although the office of lieutenant governor exists for that reason. The only time the governor needed backup, nobody told me. Apparently they thought the governor’s office would be safer if I stayed ignorant.

There are five states without lieutenant governors – Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Wyoming. North Dakota has one, but it will likely be phased out when oil money runs out. After all, it’s just an appendix or an tonsil.

In 1974, the people approved a measure that required governors and lieutenant governors to be elected as a team. Before that time the state had a problem with mixing horses of different colors so they thought the government would be more peaceful under the team concept.

Prof. Larry Sabota of the University of Virginia, a nationally recognized guru of state and local government, summarized the Lieutenant Governor’s position:

“It’s a low-paying, part-time position whose inmates spend most of their time running for governor.”

This is not the case in North Dakota. In 1976, Wayne Sanstead became the first full-time lieutenant governor and received a portfolio that included federal funds. In later years he became more of a utility player.

Our lieutenant governors didn’t spend their time running for governor. They faithfully caught foul balls. For many states, Sabota is right. Lieutenant governors often try to stage governors in order to gain political recognition. They’re a pain in body politics and elsewhere.

Today, at the beginning of a term, the governor issues an executive order detailing the duties of the lieutenant governor. Of course we find at the end of the order “and everything else that comes.”

As such, lieutenant governors chair or serve on several of the 100 committees, panels, and commissions that make up the North Dakota government. The governor always gets more invitations to speak than he can accept, so the lieutenant governor steps in by ribboning prize pigs, naming waterholes, opening picnic areas, or speaking at smaller funerals. Hardly a launch pad for a gubernatorial campaign.

Since the early 1900s, lieutenant governors in the United States have tried to run for governor 55 times and lost 38 times—a 31% success rate or a 69% failure rate, depending on your point of view.

In 1978, the people approved a constitutional amendment that allowed the lieutenant governor to sever ties with the Senate. I’ve only had one tie in two Senate sessions.

Ironically, it was about removing the lieutenant governor as head of the Senate. The proposal was a conspiracy between then-Senator Wayne Stenehjem and myself to eject an intruder from the executive branch of the legislature. The measure was swamped by 59% “NO” Vote notwithstanding the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

Before the National Association of Lieutenant Governors met in 1990, I pointed out to officials that the National Association of Governors met for only three days, while the Lieutenant Governors met for five days. It made no sense. Another thing, the content of the convention was supposed to be workshops, but no one attended.

They told me I was eligible for President, but they chose someone else. Apparently they didn’t like North Dakota logic.

So, without her help, I continued in the dark.

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