By Barry Rascovar
Dec. 1, 2014—If we learned anything from Anthony Brown’s eight years as Maryland lieutenant governor it’s that the office isn’t worth the taxpayer dollars it consumes.
Indeed, there is no good reason to have a lieutenant governor. There are sound fiscal and management reasons to abolish it.
Brown’s mediocre performance was in keeping with others who have held the job since the office was re-established in 1970 by voters after a 102-year lull. The lieutenant governor has no constitutional powers. He or she does whatever the governor dictates.
Sometimes the governor hands out a few assignments, such as coordinating criminal justice issues (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and J. Joseph Curran Jr.).
Sometimes the governor delegates budget decisions to his No. 2 (Blair Lee III).
At times, the governor may use the lieutenant governor to lobby bills and mediate differences between senators and delegates on important pieces of legislation (Mickey Steinberg).
Sometimes, the office holder is asked to act as a middle-man for local governments (Sam Bogley III and Michael Steele).
But more often than not, the lieutenant governor isn’t allowed to do heavy lifting. During the final terms of Gov. Harry Hughes and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Bogley and Steinberg were left twiddling their thumbs.
Brown was given a few figurehead roles on commissions – health care is the most glaring example – and he did take the lead on a small number of legislative bills.
But he made a mess of at least two of those.
He allowed lawyers for private developers to seize control of the governor’s public-private partnership bill to the point that lawmakers killed the measure. It passed the following year without the outside interference that had screamed political favoritism and financial windfall.
Brown also shepherded the fatally flawed health exchange bill through the legislature. What he created turned out to be a disaster.
The bill established the Obamacare insurance exchange as an independent agency. There were no oversight or management controls or back-office support from the state health department.
The bill also exempted the exchange from state procurement laws. That led to a horrendous outcome in which an under-qualified bidder won the IT contract by low-balling the price and over-promising its capabilities.
No wonder the health exchange’s IT system crashed on Day One.
That fiasco created an image of Brown in this year’s gubernatorial election as an incompetent and clueless office holder.
Mocking the Office
Composer George Gershwin once mocked the plight of No. 2 placeholders in a Pulitzer Prize winning playing, “Of Thee I Sing,” in which the vice president, Alexander Throttlebottom, has so little to do he spends his days in the park feeding pigeons.
Brown’s life was a bit better than that: He got to fill his calendar with speaking engagements, rushing from one meaningless event to a somewhat meaningless event reading prepared remarks, shaking hands and smiling a lot.
Is that worth $125,000 a year? Is a staff of eight really necessary to support such a pointless office?
The only job given to the lieutenant governor is to fill in if the governor is incapacitated, or to succeed to the top office if the governor dies.
‘Back to the Future’
Governor-elect Larry Hogan Jr. can save a quick million dollars by taking steps that would eventually abolish the office of lieutenant governor, streamline the executive department and establish a more sensible line of succession.
Hogan should go “back to the future” by turning the secretary of state into his No. 2.
In the early 1800s, that was the line of succession. The secretary of state already has designated record-keeping, election and foreign relations duties that are real and substantive. He’s got a staff of 25 and a $2.4 million budget.
Before the lieutenant governor’s office was re-established, Gov. Marvin Mandel named then Sen. Blair Lee III to serve in the official role of secretary of state and the unofficial role of lieutenant governor until voters decided if they wanted this new office.
There’s no reason the two jobs can’t be merged. Many other states do it that way. The secretary of state could step in if the governor is temporarily unable to perform his duties, and to serve as acting governor until a special election is held.
Combining the Jobs
Hogan could simply announce that Boyd Rutherford, his lieutenant governor, will also take over as unofficial secretary of state, with a combined, slimmed-down staff.
The new governor then would ask the General Assembly to approve a constitutional amendment abolishing the position of lieutenant governor, making the secretary of state next in line if something goes wrong and mandating a special election within 90 days of a governor’s death.
Voter then could decide if they approve of this new arrangement in 2016.
It’s pointless to continue the charade that has existed for 45 years.
Rutherford is ideal for the job because his expertise is government management, not politics. He can contribute to developing a more efficient and cheaper state government.
But he could do the same thing for the governor as secretary of state.
As things now stand, Rutherford will be the seventh highest paid lieutenant governor in the United States ($137,500), and the third highest paid by the end of his term ($150,000).
Yet he has no constitutional powers. None. Zip. Zero. Nada.
Let’s use common sense and get rid of this meaningless office that is wasting a million dollars a year. That’s the kind of practical step voters expect from Hogan.
It would send a powerful message.