Friday, April 23, 2010

The Road to Terrace Hill Does Not Go Through the AG's Office

The Road to Terrace Hill Does Not Go Through the AG's Office
(Or through the broom closet in the Capitol basement)

Larry Sabato takes a break from predicting doom and gloom for Democrats and takes a look at this year's big stepping stone to governor's mansions: the office of Attorney General.
"Just this year ten of the fifty current state attorneys general are running for governor: Terry Goddard (D) in Arizona, Jerry Brown (D) in California, Bill McCollum (R) in Florida, Thurbert Baker (D) in Georgia, Mike Cox (R) in Michigan, Andrew Cuomo (D) in New York, Drew Edmonson (D) in Oklahoma, Tom Corbett (R) in Pennsylvania, Patrick Lynch (D) in Rhode Island, and Henry McMaster (R) in South Carolina."
But Sabato says it's a poor launching pad: "Since 1984 there have been exactly 250 state AGs, but only 28 (a mere 11%) became governor. This is precisely half the gubernatorial success rate of lieutenant governors."

Iowa, you may recall, has some experience here. We've only had two attorney generals -- attorneys general? -- since 1974 and both made failed bids for governor. Tom Miller gave up the AG job in 1990 to make a bid for governor, but lost in the primary. His successor, Bonnie Campbell, won the gubernatorial nod over weak competition in 1994, but then blew a 19 point post-primary lead to lose in a landslide to Terry Branstad. Miller, meanwhile, took the opportunity to claim his old job back.

Comeback Kid Branstad was our state's last lieutenant governor to move up to the top (before that it was Bob Fulton, who ruled the state for all of two lame duck weeks after Harold Hughes went to Washington). Indeed, Branstad was our last lieutenant governor to go anywhere. JoAnn Zimmerman ran for governor briefly in 1990, but dropped out to join Don Avenson's ticket (much as Patty Judge did with Chet Culver.)

Branstad's last lite guv, Joy Corning, dropped hints circa 1996, but no one took them. Now, with her choice friendly and gay friendly views, Corning is a pariah in her party, and her very name is BVP code for Branstad's Too Liberal.

Tom Vilsack took an unlikely route to Terrace Hill via a mayorship and the legislature. His number two, Sally Pederson, was and is still mentioned as a candidate for... something, but her last gig was as a party chair. Besides, throughout the Vilsack era it was clear that another statewide office holder, Secretary of State Chet Culver, had his eye on the top. Not that it stopped Mike Blouin and Ed Fallon from trying.

Now, of course, our incumbent lieutenant governor is facing a primary challenge of sorts at the state convention. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Barb Kalbach succeeds, in a convention of the most faithful of the party faithful (the willing to skip a day of gardening) at knocking off Patty Judge. Let's also assume that, even after that slap in the face from his own party, Culver goes on to win re-election.

The lieutenant governor of Iowa has no constitutional power other than to inquire about the governor's good health each morning. There's nothing to stop Culver, who's not known for making friends with rivals, from giving Kalbach the broom closet next to the Capitol cafeteria instead of a broad portfolio addressing "corporate-owned factory hog confinements, campaign finance reform, vertical integration, and big-box store development."

And lest we forget, Kalbach embarks on this fool's errand while her own district's incumbent Republican state senator and incumbent Republican state representative run unopposed.

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