A crucial function of lieutenant governors everywhere. (Photo: Getty Images)
As of close of business on Thursday, the penultimate day of filing to run for political office, thirteen (13!) people had plopped down their $200 and signed their names to run for lieutenant governor of the state of Nevada, a fact sure to prompt much of the rest of Nevada to ask: Why?
There’s only one reason to run for the job: The winner would become governor if the actual governor dies, quits, is impeached, is abducted by aliens, is arrested and sent to a reeducation camp by a newly installed authoritarian federal regime, or is otherwise unable to serve.
As the voiceover reading side effects on a prescription drug ad might say, “death has happened.” Between 1890 and 1934 four Nevada governors died while in office.
A couple more have left the job for other reasons. One parachuted himself into the U.S. Senate in 1945 after a senator died. It would be 44 years until another lieutenant governor would become governor, when in 1989 Bob Miller succeeded Richard Bryan, who got elected to the Senate.
That was a full third of a century ago. So a lieutenant governor is bound to get a midterm promotion to the top job sooner or later, right?
Some people – okay, me mostly – have railed for years against the very existence of the Nevada lieutenant governor’s job, which is part-time and has fluffy obligations – breaking a tie in a state Senate that has an odd number of people, sitting on low-profile boards that have meetings sometimes, cutting ribbons at new business openings in strip malls.
The job’s, well, joblessness in and of itself is innocuous enough. And for decades it’s been a political dead end – the last lieutenant governor who went on to get elected to higher office was Harry Reid, and even that wasn’t direct; his term ended in 1975, and it was years later, in 1982, that he got elected to the U.S. House.
So it would be — make that has been – easy to not give the office of lieutenant governor, or the person occupying it, a second thought.
The operational irrelevance of the Nevada lieutenant governor’s office was most recently brought into stark relief last year. The person who was elected to the office in 2018 resigned to take another job, the office was left vacant for months, and … nobody could tell.
But there was one time in recent memory when the job, or rather its existence, transcended niggling pointlessness to take on a pernicious and decidedly annoying air. I refer of course to the 2014 election year.
The aforementioned Harry Reid did many zany things, certainly including but not limited to his decision in 2014 to have the Democratic Party, a Harry Reid subsidiary at the time, effectively abandon an entire election cycle.
Reid feared that popular then-Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, would easily win reelection and then run against Reid for Senate in 2016. Failing to find, hand-pick, or even allow a credible Democratic candidate to run against Sandoval, Reid instead directed his much vaunted “Reid machine” to put all its famed magnificence into … the race for lieutenant governor. If Democrats won that, or so the thinking went at the time, it would effectively tie Sandoval to the governor’s job, because if he ran for Senate and won, a Democrat would become governor, a fate Sandoval could never bring himself to allow.
It all sounds so absurd now. Reid ended up not running for reelection after all in 2016, and Sandoval has rarely indicated anything other than politely suppressed loathing for the idea of going to Washington.
And shockingly (not shockingly), Reid & Party’s effort to spark interest in a race for a part-time job with no inbox failed to connect with that most crucial of Democratic constituencies, casual voters.
It was a tough year for Democrats all over the country in 2014. A Republican won the Nevada LG race anyway. But Democrats, candidate-less at the top of the ticket, also lost both houses of the Legislature. A hapless state continues to dig out from that policy rubble to this day. The whole thing was a fiasco.
The request, by both Democrats and Republicans alike, to take the lieutenant governor’s race seriously was, well, offensive. Some people (okay, me mostly) have despised the office’s very existence ever since.
With maybe one or two exceptions (Texas comes to mind), the lieutenant governor job is a joke everywhere.
Nevada voters could pass a constitutional amendment to eliminate the job. Five states have no lieutenant governor. And yet there they are, still states.
Nevada voters could also pass a constitutional amendment to relinquish the nomination process, allow the gubernatorial nominee to select their running mate, and the governor and lieutenant governor would run as a ticket. A few states do this too.
A gubernatorial nominee’s selection of a running mate would amount to their first executive decision, which in turn might force a more, shall we say, serious selection of a person to be governor if something happens to the governor. Having selected a running mate, a governor might be more inclined to give that person genuine responsibilities in their administration, perhaps even empowering the office of lieutenant governor with some measure of day-to-day significance.
At the least it would spare us the inanity that is any and every lieutenant governor campaign (did you know they’re all “for” economic development?).
But for this year, we’re stuck with at least thirteen (13!) people running for the job, not one of whom has demonstrable qualifications to actually be, you know, in the event, governor.
Let me know how it turns out. Or not.
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