Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Lieutenant Governor Card

The Lieutenant Governor Card

With Chris Rants joining Bob Vander Plaats as an officially announced candidate, the 2010 primary season is beginning in earnest. Now is as good a time as any to look at an aspect of the race that won't be on the ballot: lieutenant governor.

2006 was unusual in that three candidates named running mates before the primary. It was the first time anyone had done that since 1990, the first time number one and number two ran as a ticket.

Iowa changed its system with a 1988 constitutional amendment. Before that, lieutenant governor was an independently elected office with its own primary and general election. The lieutenant governor had some clout as well, presiding over the state senate.

But that power went away with the amendment. No longer an independent officer with a statewide constituency, the lieutenant governor now has a constituency of one. (Technically, the party convention nominates, but that's been a rubber stamp so far.)

Since the switch in 1990, the running mate spot in Iowa has been used primarily for two purposes: getting a rival out of the race and gender balancing the ticket. Sometime it serves both purposes. Since Jo Ann Zimmerman, the last independently elected lieutenant governor, broke the gender barrier in 1986, the office has been exclusively female.

In the first election by ticket, 1990, incumbent Republican governor Branstad obviously wasn't going to keep incumbent Democratic lieutenant governor Zimmerman. So she started out running for governor. But after the deadline to get off the ballot, House speaker Don Avenson made her the running mate. Zimmerman thus had to 1) get people to NOT vote for her in the primary and 2) run for re-election against the governor she was serving with.

To replace Zimmerman, Branstad picked state senator Joy Corning, who embarked on an eight year trip to obscurity. Not as obscure as failed Republican running mates Almo Hawkins (1998) and Debi Durham (2002), perhaps. But when she started talking circa 1996 about maybe running for governor herself, Corning was ignored.

In 1994 Democrats had their woman, Bonnie Campbell, at the top of the ticket. She picked Leonard Boswell, who weathered the disastrous Campbell campaign without damage. He's the only running mate, successful or failed, who has escaped an electoral dead end thus far. (BVP's fate is yet to be determined.)

While Sally Pederson made a name for herself in the Vilsack years, she never did run on her own. I vividly remember the flyers going around the 1998 state convention at the moment she was to be nominated and asking "who?" Pederson's duties came to be defined largely in political terms, as she served as state party chair and lieutenant governor concurrently.

2006 saw the only all-male ticket, as Jim Nussle got BVP out of the race very early. Chet Culver did the same with Patty Judge, but he got gender balance out of it too. Not to be outdone, Mike Blouin named Andi McGuire. All this was, for the first time since `90, before the primary and entirely unofficial, since running mates aren't on the primary ballot.

(Anyone else wonder who Ed Fallon would have picked?)

Judge has been the highest profile on policy of the three ticket-elected lieutenant governors. In a way, with her own statewide constituency built up over two Secretary of Agriculture races, she's almost a throwback to the independently elected era.

Judge raises the stakes for the Republicans, and so does a potentially big field. If it looks close, the small advantage a running mate brings could make a difference in either the primary or the general. Des Moines Cityview suggests Rants go with former legislator Libby Jacobs. But the risk in the current Iowa GOP is a McCain-Lieberman type scenario where a convention, elected from the core of the core of the activists at low-turnout county conventions, refuses to rubber-stamp a running mate... and that strangles the campaign in the cradle. (Or aborts it if you prefer. Snarky, yet tasteless.)

More lite guv trivia
: Eight states have no lieutenant governor at all. In New Jersey the president of the state senate takes over, which led to four acting governors in one week in January 2002.

18 states still elect the two offices separately. 24 do it as a ticket the way we do, though some have a separate primary for lieutenant governor. This can lead to shotgun marriages like Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn in Illinois, who weren't on speaking terms even before Blago got caught. Still, that's not the worst that's happened in Illinois. Remember 1986, when the LaRouchies won the primary and the only Adlai Stevenson could get out of it was by inventing the "Illinois Solidarity Party?"

And Iowa's last lieutenant governor to move up was Robert Fulton, who took over for two whole weeks in January 1969 when Harold Hughes went to the U.S. Senate. He's still introduced as "former Governor Fulton" at party shindigs.

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