Ruckus over Office of Lieutenant Governor

Stateline Midwest, a publication of the Midwestern Office of the Council of State Governments: Vol 19, No. 3: March 2010.

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The primary victory in Illinois of a little-known political newcomer has raised questions about how candidates for lieutenant governor are chosen — and about the office itself.

In February, Scott Lee Cohen withdrew from the November election following a blitz of media coverage about past legal problems. Though Cohen ran for lieutenant governor separately from Gov. Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary, the two would have appeared on the same ticket this fall. Some political leaders are now calling for an end to this “arranged marriage” system. (Wisconsin is the only other Midwestern state that uses this system; in the region’s nine other states, the lieutenant governor is either chosen by the governor or selected at a party convention.) 

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Illinois legislators are also now considering a proposal to eliminate this constitutional office. Duties of the office vary from state to state, depending on factors ranging from constitutional language to the decisions made by legislatures, governors or the lieutenant governors themselves. In the Midwest, some lieutenant governors have been put in charge of entire departments. For example, Becky Skillman leads the Indiana Department of Agriculture, and Rick Sheehy is Nebraska Department of Homeland Security director.