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Shaw: Let voters decide on the need for lieutenant governor

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Updated: October 26, 2013 6:31AM



It’s Gov Lite time.

We’re not talking about beer, diet soda or low-calorie meals, but the quadrennial ritual in which candidates for Illinois governor announce their running mates, or those running for lieutenant governor — aka Gov Lite or Lite Gov.

In Illinois, lieutenant governor is the political equivalent of an ice salesman at the North Pole. Or as the late Chicago TV weatherman P.J. Hoff put it, being essentially “vice president in charge of looking out the window.”

But superfluous or not, the office persists, and some candidates for governor already have picked their partners.

Others are still going over their dance cards, and all are playing the same game — find someone who provides racial, ethnic or geographical balance and has deep enough pockets to help fund the campaign.

That’s the politics. But we’re interested in the economics.

The Better Government Association isn’t calling for the elimination of the lieutenant governor position, but it’s definitely on our watch list as we consider ways to downsize and streamline a state with the most units of government in the country.

Others are ready to toss Gov Lite in the recycling bin, including the Illinois House, which voted overwhelmingly in April to dump the office, calling it a “luxury” our cash-strapped state no longer can afford.

If the bill passes the Senate this fall, the next step could be a November 2014 referendum ballot when it would be up to us, the voters.

With a salary of $118,000 and an office budget of nearly $2 million, Gov Lite essentially is an expensive insurance policy.

The state Constitution says the major responsibility of the office is to take over if the governor
dies, resigns or, as in the case of Rod Blagojevich, gets impeached and ousted by the General Assembly.

Aside from playing the waiting game, the office is without portfolio. Its occupant mostly fills his or her days pursuing pet legislative or policy agendas and teeing up runs for offices with more distinct duties and power.

That hasn’t been enough for some recent Lite Govs. One quit because he was bored, and another threatened to resign and become a radio host but changed his mind and stayed on.

As for Pat Quinn, he actually liked the job and recommends keeping the office.

Why not? He got to pursue the gadfly agenda he always has enjoyed, took over as governor when Blagojevich was kicked out and kept it by winning the 2010 election.

But it’s worth noting that while Quinn completed Blago’s second term, the Lite Gov’s office went dark and no one even noticed.

The current occupant, Sheila Simon, also wants to keep the post around, but she’s exiting to run for another office, state comptroller.

Nationally, only five states don’t have a lieutenant governor, so they either tap the state Senate president or a secretary of state to replace a governor who leaves office during a term.

The proposed Illinois bill, which would take in effect in 2019, makes the Illinois attorney general the successor to the governor. Whatever.

Our takeaway is that Illinois continues to be a safe haven for thousands of unnecessary, taxpayer-supported political positions and the generous perks and benefits that come with them, including unaffordable pensions.

So maybe it’s time to let the voters decide if Gov Lite is an unneeded anachronism that should be relocated from the state Capitol to a shelf at a corner bar.

Andy Shaw is president and chief executive of the Better Government Association.



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