Indiana’s second-in-command afforded powers second to none compared to Midwest’s other lieutenant governors
Shortly after setting her sights on her current office, Indiana Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman recalls being gently warned about what lay ahead by a legislative colleague.
“Any time the legislature has a great idea and doesn’t know what to do with it,” the colleague said, “they give it to the lieutenant governor.”
Undeterred, Skillman was elected to the post in 2004, and seven years into her tenure, she calls it “the greatest job in the world.” That’s because the office of lieutenant governor in Indiana carries with it an array of responsibilities and duties that is unmatched in the Midwest. In fact, with 46 separate constitutional and statutory duties, the office is arguably one of the most demanding and influential among lieutenant governorships nationwide.
According to Julia Hurst, executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, the one duty common to all lieutenant governors in the 43 states that have them is gubernatorial succession. After that, the range of responsibilities varies considerably from state to state.
Just over half of the nation’s lieutenant governors, including five of the 11 in the Midwest (Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) also serve as presiding officers in their state senates.
But in Indiana, it is the executive branch duties given to the lieutenant governor that distinguish the office from its counterparts across the Midwest. Although other lieutenant governors are empowered to head up select agencies or commissions, none have the breadth of authority exercised by Indiana’s second-in-command.
Thanks to various constitutional and statutory provisions, including a 2005 reform effort abolishing the Indiana Department of Commerce and reassigning some of its core functions, Indiana’s lieutenant governor serves as the secretary of agriculture and rural affairs. This gives Skillman authority over the Indiana Department of Agriculture, the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Office of Energy and Defense Development, and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.
Indiana’s lieutenant governor also oversees the Office of Tourism Development (a role that took on added significance in connection with this year’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis) and serves as chair of the state’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Council.
With an executive staff of just 14, Skillman relies heavily on the appointed directors of the agencies that she oversees. Together, these directors constitute a “lieutenant governor’s cabinet,” with whom she meets regularly to discuss strategy.
Skillman says the Indiana model works well, in part, because it requires the governor and lieutenant governor to work closely together. This, in turn, helps to ensure the smooth continuity of government operations in the event of an unexpected succession in leadership, as the state experienced firsthand upon the death of Gov. Frank O’Bannon in 2003 and his succession by the lieutenant governor at the time, Joseph Kernan.
Like most other lieutenant governors (including all in the Midwest), Indiana’s is elected jointly on a single ticket with the governor.
In addition to her constitutional and statutory duties, Skillman, a former state senator, has served as the point person for Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ legislative agenda. She has also led eight international trade missions and is currently in the midst of a 92-county tour of Indiana in an effort to strengthen the state’s ties with local government officials.
Skillman loves the job and all that it entails. But after seven years, there are at least two lessons she has learned about the office that any prospective candidate would want to know: be sure you have “a lot of stamina,” and be ready to manage your time wisely.