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December 7, 2005

Why We Have a Lieutenant Governor

Kevin E. Dayhoff

How did Maryland ever survive without a lieutenant governor? In over 371 years, there has been a constitutional office for that job for only 38 years.

Political junkies throughout the state are burning up the Internet these days, dominating dinner conversations and overwhelming the telephone wires speculating on just who Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich will pick as his running mate in 2006 now that Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is seeking the U. S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul Sarbanes.

Of course, there is no end to the speculation on whom Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan will cast in the Number 2 spot on their ticket challenging Governor Ehrlich.

What is the history of this office and why has it so suddenly been elevated in importance? What is the criterion for the lieutenant governor selection and who might be a good in that role?

We'll start with a history lesson and tomorrow we'll look into the future - at least through the possibilities for next November's crucial election.

Our state has been around since the Ark and Dove landed at Saint Mary's City in 1634. Maryland has had one form of government or another since it first organized in 1689, when John Coode was the "Leader of the Protestant Associators" from 1689 to 1690.

However, before 1970, Maryland only had one lieutenant governor, and that was under the short-lived 1864 Maryland Constitution.

>From 1850 through the late 1860s, Maryland changed its form of government three times. Gov. Thomas Swann and Lt. Gov. Christopher Cox were elected under Maryland's 1864 Constitution, to a four-year term from 1865 to 1869. Mr. Cox was the first in Maryland history to hold that position.

Governor Swann's predecessor, Gov. Augustus W. Bradford, was elected under Maryland's 1851 Constitution for a four-year term from 1862 to 1866.

Governor Swann and Lieutenant Governor Cox were sworn into office on January 11, 1865, under Maryland's 1864 Constitution - but Mr. Swann "did not take office" until Governor Bradford's term was over a year later.

To help with the chaos, Maryland changed its form of government again in 1867. If you are confused, then you read this correctly.

In Maryland's 1867 Constitution, the office of lieutenant governor was abolished because so many citizens disliked Lieutenant Governor Cox. He was so unpopular that when Governor Swann was elected U.S. Senator in 1867 (by the General Assembly), he refused elevation to the governor's chair because of the public's enormous aversion to him.

The history of Maryland for the two decades of the 1850s and 1860s is one of sheer fascination. Confusion reigned. Riots, voter fraud, murder and mayhem, political, business and financial intrigue and military arrests and occupations were epidemic.

In one example, when the Maryland General Assembly met in Frederick on April 26, 1861, federal troops were occupying Annapolis at the time. Months later, several members were "arrested" just before another special session was called to order in Frederick on September 17.

It was in the wake of two decades of political unrest that the Maryland Constitution of 1867 was ratified and the office of lieutenant governor was abolished. The prevailing thought was that if, for whatever reason, the governor needed to be replaced, it was in the best interests of the state to let the Maryland General Assembly make the decision.

In recent history, when Republican Gov. Spiro Agnew resigned to become vice-president of the United States in January 1969, there was no lieutenant governor. The Maryland General Assembly met in special session on January 6 to elect a new governor.

Democrat Marvin Mandel, who was Speaker of the House of Delegates, was selected and he assumed the position that same day. After that, Marylanders wanted to have a more direct say in choosing their governor, so the office of lieutenant governor was created again.

So, just what is the significance of that position? Historically, it is a job that has yet to be clearly defined - although, to be sure, Michael Steele has certainly started the process.

Quick, other than Democrat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Townsend who served from 1995 to 2003 with Gov. Parris N. Glendening, can you name any of the six lieutenant governors since the 1970 Amendment to the state's constitution?

I thought not. That's my point.

First, there was Blair Lee III (1971 to 1979), who served with Governor Mandel. Additionally, Lieutenant Governor Lee served as acting governor from 1977 to 1979 following the resignation of Governor Mandel.

Next was Democrat Samuel W. Bogley, who served during Gov. Harry Hughes' first term from 1979 to 1983.

For his second term, Governor Hughes chose J. Joseph Curran, Jr. Yes, that Joe Curran, who is now in his fifth term as Maryland's Attorney General.

>From 1987 to 1995, Melvin A. Steinberg (D) served with Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Not one of them succeeded the governor to the State House.

Being the lieutenant governor in Maryland is really an odd job. Who would want it? The criteria are a paradox. It must be a person who has the necessary drive and ambition to have gained enough name recognition to be electable.

Yet, once a person of that caliber and accomplishment assumes the office, there is really nothing for him or her to do, as the office has no power. Under the 1970 amendment to the Maryland Constitution, the lieutenant governor "shall have only the duties delegated to him by the governor."

Prevailing wisdom is that a lieutenant governor-running mate can't really help a gubernatorial ticket; they can only "not hurt." Put an alpha male or female in the position of lieutenant governor and it spells "a melluvahess" just waiting to happen.

Often the governor-lieutenant governor ticket is a political marriage devoid of overwhelming personal compatibility. The governor will often bring his team to the office. That team will encircle the governor and exclude the lieutenant governor, especially if that person rivals the governor in competency or charisma.

Wikipedia informs us that Maryland's lieutenant governorship is weaker than the office in most other states. In Texas, the lieutenant governor is the president of the state's Senate. In California, the lieutenant governor assumes all of the governor's powers when he or she is out of the state.

In both of those states, as in some others, the lieutenant governor is elected in his or her own right, independent of the state's governor.

In practice, especially as demonstrated during the tenure of Mr. Steele, "Maryland's Lieutenant Governor attends cabinet meetings, chairs various task forces and commissions, represents the state at ceremonial functions and at events which the Governor cannot attend, and advises the Governor," writes Wikipedia.

If there is a vacancy in the office of the governor, the lieutenant governor becomes governor. A vacancy in the lieutenant governorship is filled by a person nominated by the governor and confirmed by a majority vote of the General Assembly voting in joint session.

Thank goodness Mr. Steele is vacating the office by way of an election. Could you ever imagine getting a lieutenant governor confirmed in today's Maryland General Assembly?

Fortunately, Governor Ehrlich will select his choice to replace Mr. Steele on his ticket. Tomorrow we'll explore the criteria for this decision.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at:

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