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No need for a weak lieutenant governor


Published:   |   Updated: December 27, 2013 at 04:15 PM

Much has been written about Florida’s lieutenant governor. Not the person — there is no one now in the job — but, rather, the position.

There has been speculation about who would eventually fill the position that has been vacant for nine months since Jennifer Carroll stepped aside. While she formally resigned, it is widely believed she was asked to do so.

“Who will be the next lieutenant governor” is a fun parlor game, yet it glosses over a sad reality: Does it really matter?

The position has no formal duties or responsibilities. Once asked to join the ticket, the candidate performs as head cheerleader for the campaign and as a surrogate for the top of the ticket. There’s not much public opportunity for independent thought or personal opinion.

The lieutenant governor does not serve on the three-person Cabinet, and therefore does not get involved in any of the weighty clemency issues or land acquisition decisions. Likewise, he or she is left out of the voting on rules and procedures involving the 12 boards and commissions that the governor and Cabinet oversee. The lieutenant governor is not even needed to break a 2-2-tie vote. In case of a tie, the governor’s position prevails.

Historically, the state did without a lieutenant governor. Then in 1968 the position was reinstated. Carroll was only Florida’s 18th.

Nationally, five states do not have a lieutenant governor, and in four other states the lieutenant governor is equivalent to the secretary of state.

In Florida, the position is created in our state constitution and a few particulars appear in state statutes, but for the most part there is little structure, authority and responsibility enumerated. The lieutenant governor’s primary duty is to replace the governor in the case of his death, resignation or inability to perform the duties of the office. Additionally, the lieutenant governor may have other duties as assigned by the governor and the Florida Legislature.

The position comes with an impressive title, a nice suite of offices in close proximity to the governor and a respectable salary of $125,000. Depending on the managing style of the governor, the lieutenant governor can be given some challenging tasks or can become a ceremonial ribbon-cutter or funeral attender.

During the tenure of two governors, Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush, several lieutenant governors seemed to enjoy more of a true partnership in governing.

Most lieutenant governors haven’t enjoyed this type of authority and responsibility, however. Additionally, the position has seldom led to higher elected office.

While it can be much more, the position has generally been a dead end, a primarily unchallenging ceremonial post in which loyalty and obedience to the governor and other high-ranking officials is rewarded with a nice title and salary and, on occasion, a meaningful task.

Is it any wonder current officeholders aren’t clamoring for the position?

Either beef up the position or do away with it. Determining its importance based on who’s occupying the Governor’s Mansion is no way to run a state.

Paula Dockery served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.

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