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Eagleton Institute of Politics
Eagleton Institute of Politics



published in print 01/31/05        NJBiz online

This State Needs a Lieutenant Governor

by Ingrid Reed

When January begins I often think of Janus, the god who had two faces—one looking backward and the other looking forward. Seeing Acting Governor and Senate President Richard Codey confidently delivering his State of the State address, I wondered if he felt like Janus in his dual role as leader of the upper house of the Legislature and New Jersey's chief executive.

Will Codey be the last Janus-faced governor of New Jersey, and will the state finally get a lieutenant governor?

Last fall Assembly Speaker Albio Sires and at least 10 Assembly members of both parties remembered their civics lessons about the importance of the separation of powers. They submitted bills to ask voters to amend the state constitution to create the office of lieutenant governor. New Jersey is one of only eight states in the country without such an office.

The time has finally come to deal with this issue, which the constitutional convention of 1947 never debated. For nearly 60 years we have lived with the possibility of a fill-in governor holding two conflicting leadership roles. This person would be elected by the people of a single legislative district and could belong to a different party from the departing governor.

After two experiences with the cumbersome acting-governor arrangement in the last five years, most New Jerseyans—two-thirds according to a recent Star Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers Poll—think it is time for a change. But creating a lieutenant governor means addressing lots of details. The bills submitted to the Assembly took very different approaches on how the lieutenant governor gets elected and what he or she would do while waiting until needed. The discussion of these issues by the Assembly State Government Committee was uncharacteristically civil and filled with respectful exchanges across partisan lines.

A new reason for creating the office of lieutenant governor was injected into the discussion by Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D-Ewing). They made the case that electing a lieutenant governor would create an opportunity for diversity in those who hold statewide office. A second candidate appealing to all New Jersey’s voters could increase the possibility of women and minorities running for statewide office and getting the media exposure needed to achieve it.

Some early versions of the lieutenant governor bills called for the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run together in the primary. This would let voters know in advance whom the gubernatorial candidate would select as a running mate and would give exposure to a number of potential lieutenant governor candidates.

The General Assembly has since completed its work on the lieutenant governor bill. It calls for the governor to appoint the lieutenant governor to a cabinet position. As for how a person gets to be a candidate for lieutenant governor, the Assembly settled on the familiar federal system that leaves it to the person who wins the gubernatorial primary to select the candidate for lieutenant governor within 30 days.

Now the Senate must do its work. If the Assembly bill stands as written it might not broaden the opportunity for diversity in the state’s highest offices since it would be up to the gubernatorial candidates to select their running mates after the primary elections. In states like California, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately, creating a risk that the winners could be from different parties. But if our Legislature acts, at least two additional people will have the chance to win statewide office and the successor to a departed governor will hold only one post at a time.

Of course, there is another detail: Voters must first approve the constitutional amendment that may be on the ballot this November. Then there will be a three-year wait for the first governor and lieutenant-governor team to be elected in 2009. So don’t put away your Janus head just yet.