There’s an old joke at the state Capitol -- the Lieutenant Governor’s main job is to check the obituary page every morning to make sure the Governor is still alive.
It’s a funny office. My father, who is an attorney, said he thought this is an office he would like because it has this great title, but nothing you really had to do.
Ted Lascher chairs the Public Policy and Administration Department at Sacramento State. He says, aside from taking over when the governor is out of state or indisposed, the office is largely undefined. It becomes a reflection of whoever holds it. And there, says Lascher, lies the appeal for many candidates.
"For somebody who is ambitious and wants a platform that he or she can shape, there are some advantages to the very fact there aren’t a lot of day to day responsibilities."
Facing off in the Democratic primary are State Senators Jackie Speier and Liz Figueroa and Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi. All are well known political forces who’d like to turn the number two office into the number one bully pulpit in the state.
"This is an incredible opportunity to transform this office from a backwaters position to one in which the people of the state actually get their money’s worth."
Senator Speier says she’d be a consumer watchdog, holding investigative hearings around the state. And she’d create an office of whistleblower protection. But first, Speier says she’d become “the guardian of higher education,” maximizing the Lieutenant Governor’s positions on the California State University Board of Trustees and the University of California Board of Regents.
"There’s no one looking our for higher education. We spend four times as much money on the inmates in state prison than we do on students at the University of California.”
The latest Field Poll shows Speier ahead of her two Democratic rivals. Her closest competition – at five points behind -- is John Garamendi. He had heart surgery last April and says he’s now recovered. If elected, Garamendi would advocate for healthcare reform.
"We have got to change the healthcare system in this state and across the nation and I know that we can ultimately achieve a universal healthcare system."
A former legislator, Garamendi says he’d also fight global warming and work to change energy policy.
“We need to move to alternative energies, we need to have a much more serious conservation program here in California.”
Finally, State Senator Liz Figueroa says if elected, she’d be active in world trade issues while continuing the work she’s done in the legislature over the last decade.
“Fighting for consumers, fighting for immigrants and good working conditions and making sure our students and working families are represented. Making sure we have health care for every child in the state of California.”
The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to take on Republican state Senator Tom McClintock in the fall. Political analysts say he already has solid backing in the GOP primary.
So while the Lieutenant Governor is a heartbeat away from the highest office in the state, it can also be a political dead end. Only two have gone on to be elected governor, most recently, Gray Davis. Despite those odds, McClintock is making it clear that’s his goal.
“Anyone who is not planning on running for governor has no business running for this office.”
As campaigning for the primary election comes down to the wire, the candidates for Lieutenant Governor are hoping voters will see the office as they do – undefined, but with limitless possibilities if the right person is elected.