Much has been written about Florida’s lieutenant governor. Not the person — currently there is no one 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 political parlor game, yet it glosses over a sad reality: Does it really matter? The position has been vacant for the better part of a year — and are we any worse off for it?
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. Jennifer Carroll, our most recent lieutenant governor until she resigned last March, served as 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.
Lawton Chiles had already achieved political success, culminating with a powerful chairmanship in the U.S. Senate. He surprised many with his decision to run for governor. He chose Buddy MacKay as his running mate and entrusted him with great autonomy and responsibility. Perhaps due to Chiles’ health and advanced age or perhaps because he had little left to prove in terms of a political legacy, he shared the duties and power in a rare political partnership. As a result, MacKay was prepared to move into the role, albeit for a very short duration, when Chiles did, in fact, die in office.
Under Gov. Jeb Bush, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, the former education commissioner, worked directly with legislators to craft some of Bush’s top policy priorities involving education and the environment. During those years, I remember having frequent work sessions with Brogan on comprehensive growth management reform. There was little doubt among Tallahassee insiders that Brogan had the governor’s ear and the juice to get the job done.
After Brogan left the position, Bush turned to former Senate President Toni Jennings, a well-respected and strategic political player. As lieutenant governor, Jennings was skillful at using her relationships to shepherd Bush’s top priorities through the legislative process to final passage.
Most lieutenant governors didn’t enjoy this type of authority and responsibility. Additionally, the position 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 is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland.