Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Should Utah eliminate office of lieutenant governor?

Published: Sunday, May 1 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

Pignanelli: From personal experience, I know Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert is a wonderful, competent person. (Note: My wife, a huge fan of Herbert, wishes to declare that our marriage should not suggest she endorses, or even likes, my columns — especially this one). Notwithstanding Herbert's superb attributes, the history and status of his office requires its elimination.
Clyde L. Miller served as secretary of state (the original name for lieutenant governor) from 1965 to 1977. As superintendent of the Capitol grounds, he spread patronage with amusing results. His security guards constantly mishandled their weapons, and the bullets are still lodged in the marble walls. Miller ordered that the guards could keep their guns but not carry any bullets. Veteran politicos recall the colorful but controversial Miller brought Utahns of different political and religious stripes together for an important purpose: to pray for the continued health of Gov. Calvin Rampton.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dave Monson (1977-1985) angered Democrat Gov. Scott Matheson early on and was excluded from any major role. In order to prevent such partisan disagreements, the Constitution was amended so the governor and lieutenant governor were elected in tandem, from the same political party. This did nothing to enhance the responsibilities of the office. During the tenure of Val Oveson (1985-1993), many responsibilities under his jurisdiction (i.e. business filings, Capitol security) were transferred to other Departments. The lieutenant governor remained the state chief elections officer, with county clerks administering most voting activities.
The current responsibilities for the lieutenant governor are either ceremonial ("Custodian of the Great Seal of Utah") or dependent upon gubernatorial assignments. The vague statutory duties can be fulfilled by Cabinet members or other appointments. A bipartisan election/ethics commission (much needed anyway) can supervise elections. Utah's governors have been healthy and stable — they always complete their terms (Mike Leavitt is the sole exception). Thus, a handy standby is an unnecessary luxury. Succession for the improbable vacancy can be designated to other constitutional offices including the Senate president, House speaker and attorney general.
Eliminating state offices is not a novel concept. The Little Hoover Commission, initiated by Rampton in 1966, suggested the state treasurer was no longer needed. The 1996 Democratic nominee for state treasurer, the charming and delightful D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, promised to abolish the office if elected. No one could articulate why a gubernatorial appointment could not complete the same tasks at a lower cost. Statewide elected officers are not needed for duties that are duplicated, or can be effectively performed, by other officials. Gov. Huntsman is demanding a complete overhaul of state government to maximize efficiency. All would know he means business with a proposal to eradicate the lieutenant governor, treasurer and auditor positions. The best makeovers start at the top with a haircut — and so should a restructuring of state functions.

Webb: So, Frank wants to eliminate the office of lieutenant governor. Truly a dumb idea. It's such a bad suggestion on so many levels that surely only a fuzzy-thinking Democrat could have dreamed it up.
There is, for example, the little problem of succession. Suppose the governor were to die in office, become incapacitated or take another job (as Mike Leavitt did). Who would become governor?
The Senate president (currently next in line after the LG) or House speaker could move up, but then we'd have a governor who was elected by only a small fraction of the state's voters, and not for that specific job. A special election could be held, but it would be expensive and disruptive.
Utah's current system makes a lot more sense: The lieutenant governor runs in tandem with the governor, voters fully understanding the LG is next in line, ready to ascend to the governorship if necessary. If the governor leaves midterm, you have continuity and a smooth transition. Just like president and vice president.
In addition, great value exists in having two elected people in the governor's office. They can cover more ground and more issues. The merit of the office of lieutenant governor is nicely demonstrated by our current lieutenant governor, Gary Herbert. He is tackling some of the state's toughest problems and is able to bring to bear the weight of the governor's office on some crucial issues.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has assigned Herbert four key and meaningful tasks, in addition to his statutory duties of overseeing elections:

• Transportation. This is an enormous responsibility. Herbert said if citizens knew how serious our transportation challenges are, "they'd be shaking in their boots." He is point person in putting together a comprehensive, long-term, transportation plan that will include a transportation summit in the fall.

• Water. This includes continuing crucial conservation efforts but also developing water for the future. Water is the single largest limiting factor on Utah's growth. Big current issues include moving Lake Powell water into Washington and Iron counties and Bear River development.

• Homeland security. Huntsman wanted to bring the weight of the governor's office to work with the Department of Public Safety on this issue.

• Rural affairs. All sorts of hot issues are percolating out there off the Wasatch Front: RS2477 roads, wilderness, oil and gas development, ATV access, rural economic development and so forth.
So Herbert, with 14 years' experience as a county commissioner, has his hands full, and he's the right person for the job.
I'm all for a strong and streamlined executive branch. I'm in favor of making the offices of treasurer, auditor and maybe even attorney general appointed positions (like in the federal government). But keep the lieutenant governor. A governor can't be everywhere he or she needs to be, and it makes sense to have a lieutenant governor as backup to share the heavy workload.

Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. A former candidate for Salt Lake mayor, Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. Pignanelli's spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is executive director of the state Department of Administrative Services in the Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. administration. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com.

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