Why This Lieutenant Governor Election Is Important

In our regular election cycle Wisconsin elects a governor and lieutenant governor every four years…in the even years opposite the presidential election cycle. In the primary, party partisans get to select the individuals they’d like to see represent their party in the general election. Then in the general election the winning candidates from the party primaries are linked as a party ticket. So in 2010 Wisconsin elected Governor Scott Walker with Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

That isn’t always how it worked. From statehood through 1967, the term for governor and lt. governor was just two years and the voters voted for the individual offices rather than a party ticket. This change took effect with the 1970 elections.

And now we come to the recall elections for governor and lt. governor. There initially was some confusion during the run up to the petition signing period. But essentially this is how it works. Each elected official is recalled individually. So both Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Kleefisch will run in separate recall elections and it looks like there will be primaries in both cases.

There are I think four potential outcomes to the general election on June 5th. Both Republicans win and we keep a gloating status quo. The Democratic challengers win and the whole world in Madison goes topsy turvy. Or we get a mismatch of a Republican in one office and a Democrat in the other.

So here is why the race for lieutenant governor is so dang important!

Yes, I know that the only real function of the lt. governor is to sit in his/her office and wait for the governor to accept an ambassadorship or cabinet seat or resign to spend more time with his family…but what if our second worse case scenario comes to pass and Governor Walker is re-elected and the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor is elected? That new Democratic lieutenant governor has to be one of the brightest, most active, most charismatic, and most energetic leaders the party has to offer in state government. That individual likely becomes the focal point of Democratic state policy, the de-facto political party leader, someone who is able and willing to call to task the continued blunders, lies and assaults committed by the Republican Party.

Yeah, I know, it seems like a good place to bide your time, to draw a decent salary, and to earn your state pension without having to do anything or draw any attention to yourself…but this time it might actually mean a great deal to the health and well being of our great state of Wisconsin.

PS: This election is the equivalent of a free kick for any current office holder that would like to be lieutenant governor…so after having four major candidates in 2010…I am surprised that the highest profile candidate now is Mahlon Mitchell.


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14 thoughts on “Why This Lieutenant Governor Election Is Important

  1. The second worse case scenario could have a silver lining if John Doe gets closer and closer to Walker.

  2. Great to see others giving this necessary Civics lesson. I believe I did so once right here in a comment.

    I don’t think that a Democratic win-win would create a “topsy-turvy” chaos as the author claims. Quite the opposite, I believe that restoring the office to responsible adults will be a stabilizing influence on the whole. Sure the GOPs will be furious and try to wreak their revenge on the system. But they’ll have to do it from another branch of government, where they’ll stand out like a sore thumb.

    The latest news is that Walker will not have any primary competition, so it’s up to the Democrats to put their best foot…feet forward to guarantee that we have the very best candidate or candidates in the race for 3 out of the 4 possible outcomes.

    If Walker should prevail, but end up with a Democratic Lieutenant Governor, chances are good that the Democrat will become Governor if and when Walker is indicted or forced to step down to “spend more time with his family” (before he’s sent off to prison). This means an incumbent Democratic Governor when the 2014 election comes around. Need I say more?

  3. Actually Arthur Kohl-Riggs claims to have enough signatures to be included in a Republican primary for governor.

    1. Hmm, well it wouldn’t be the first time that a TV newscast was wrong. I guess time will tell.

      On one hand I’d like for Walker to have to work as hard as he can be made to work on this recall. On the other I see having a primary challenger as diluting the mandate against Walker and his ilk. This is more than a simple recall, it’s a “citizens’ impeachment”.

  4. With the recent resignation of one GOP state senator (who’d been facing recall) effective the end of the legislative session, right now the state senate is balanced 50/50 between the parties — meaning, in the event of being called into session by the Gov, any party-line vote would be a tie, and the Lt.Gov would get the tie-breaking vote.

    After the June 5 recall elections (which cover several more GOP state senators as well as the Gov and Lt.Gov), that balance is likely to change again, but the point is that waiting in line for the Gov seat is not the Lt.Gov’s only significant duty.

  5. “…but the point is that waiting in line for the Gov seat is not the Lt.Gov’s only significant duty.”

    Not sure what else they do that is significant…but from the Wisc Constitution, waiting is pretty much what they do:

    Lieutenant governor, when governor. SECTION 7. [As
    amended April 1979] (1) Upon the governor’s death, resignation
    or removal from office, the lieutenant governor shall
    become governor for the balance of the unexpired term.

    (2) If the governor is absent from this state, impeached, or
    from mental or physical disease, becomes incapable of performing
    the duties of the office, the lieutenant governor shall serve
    as acting governor for the balance of the unexpired term or until
    the governor returns, the disability ceases or the impeachment
    is vacated. But when the governor, with the consent of the legislature,
    shall be out of this state in time of war at the head of the
    state’s military force, the governor shall continue as commander
    in chief of the military force. [1977 J.R. 32, 1979 J.R. 3, vote
    April 1979]

    1. Presiding over the state senate, Ed.

      Just like the US VP presiding over the US Senate.

      With all the legislative foul play that’s gone on in the last year — and that needs to be undone PDQ — that makes the LtGov an active player.

      The tie-breaking ability is a “Senate President” power, not a “Lieutenant governor, when governor” power. The Governor can’t break Senate ties, just as the US President can’t.

  6. Raven, I am sorry but you are wrong:

    If the governor appoints the lieutenant governor to a statutory board, committee or commission on which he is entitled membership as his representative, the lieutenant governor has all the authority in that position that would be granted the governor.[6]

    Originally, the lieutenant governor also presided over the state senate and cast a vote in the event of a tie; however, after an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution in 1979, the senate chooses a senator to be presiding officer

    1. Ah? And when the Senate is split 50/50 down intransigent party lines as at present, who casts the tie-breaking vote to elect that presiding (and tie-breaking) officer?

      (Actually *two* officers then: the regular “Senate President,” *and* the “Senate President pro tem” [=”for the time being”], the designated senator who fills in when the LtGov regular Senate President is absent.)

      This seems to create a “bootstraps” conundrum.

      1. although split 50/50, since the legislature is not in session and not likely to be called into session before the recall and fall elections are over…it’s hardly an issue.

  7. I believe both Lt. Gov’s Farrow and Lawton were also cabinet secretaries at some point in the McCallum and Doyle administrations

  8. Also Ed is correct the Lt. Gov has no real constitutional authority other than to wait to become acting-governor, they only gain authority if the Governor chooses for them to act as a cabinet secretary or a UW Regent, etc etc.

  9. Or worst case scenario is we get 2 Democrats in office and working citizen has to pay for those that are not willing to get jobs.

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