Thursday, February 11, 2010

POLY SCI 101: Keep Lt. Gov.

The political process that will soon be undertaken by Democrats to pick a new nominee for lieutenant governor is stirring up the rhetoric from those people who want to believe that this state would somehow be better off if the political post were merely eliminated.

Of course, these people are usually the kinds who have some ideological hangup about the concept of government in general. They usually rant about “term limits,” not realizing how shortsighted it can be to arbitrarily boot some people from office, and also usually can’t tell the difference between a partisan and a non-partisan election (they’re the ones who want runoff elections in cases that would be totally inapropriate).

SO EXCUSE ME for thinking their rhetoric is a lot of hot air, and also for being thankful that it is a very difficult process that one has to go through to amend the Illinois Constitution – which is what it would take if one were to want to eliminate the lieutenant governor’s post in this state. Even with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, introducing a bill calling for such an amendment to do away with the post in 2015, it is a long shot.

I’ll admit it.

I am a defender of the concept of lieutenant governor. Those people who say the state has managed just fine the past year without a lieutenant governor are missing the point (and not just that the state is not doing “fine” these days, but that is a commentary for another day).

My big reason for opposing the elimination of the post is that I think it is a benefit that when we have elections for governor of Illinois, we also learn exactly who will replace that person should there be some sort of tragedy that befalls them.

SOME PEOPLE WILL argue that we ought to just rely on the line of succession (which under the current Illinois Constitution puts the state attorney general next in line after the lieutenant governor to take over the state in the event that something happens to both of the top-ranking state government officials.

They will argue the Illinois attorney general could just take over state government in the event that something happens to the governor.

Now I don’t get as hung up as some people do about the concept of how such a move could result in a partisan political shift in mid-term (when the day comes that we have a Democrat governor and GOP A.G., or vice versa).

That would be awkward, but partisan shifts are a part of what electoral politics is all about.

WHAT I DON’T like is that it means that if something were to happen to a future governor and there was no lieutenant governor in place, we’d have not only a shakeup within the governor’s office, but also in the office of the attorney general.

I don’t like the idea of that much chaos in that many places within state government at one time (although some smart-alecks will quip that we have nothing but chaos spread throughout all of Illinois government these days).

To me, one of the factors in terms of picking a governor ought to be whether or not one can accept the person who is put in line to succeed him in case of an emergency.

If there is a factor in Illinois’ use of the lieutenant governor position that ought to be changed, it is the fact that the position runs separately during the primary elections from the top post. It ought to be a pair all the way through – although it is not uncommon for informal pairings to develop, such as how Andrew McKenna’s gubernatorial campaign this year made a point of telling its supporters to choose Matt Murphy to be his running mate.

IT GOES BACK to the older days of Illinois when the two top posts used to run separately throughout the entire election process. Usually, the mood of the state was such that the same political party won both positions in any given election year.

Except for 1968, when Dick Ogilvie won governor as a Republican, but had to put up with Democrat Paul Simon as his lieutenant governor. Needless to say, Simon was trusted with nothing by his superior. That fact that it was around that same time that Illinois was undergoing another Constitutional Convention to put together a new document meant that the issue was so fresh in peoples’ minds that changes were made.

That is when we got the current setup of candidates running separately during the primary but paired together in the general election. Not even the chaos of the 1986 Democratic primary that paired Adlai Stevenson III with Lyndon LaRouche follower Mark Fairchild has been enough to get political people in Illinois to make a further change – which would be to copy the presidential process by which nominees get to pick their own running mate.

I think that is good because the “choice” often gives us some insight into the top candidate’s character. It can become an issue. As recently as 2008, how many people were inclined to think favorably of the McCain campaign until the senator from Arizona picked “that woman” to be his running mate.

I LIKE IT. I wish we had something similar for Illinois. But we don’t.

Which is why we’re now in a process where the Democratic Party bigwigs are going to pick the new running mate (although primary election winner Scott Lee Cohen’s followers make a point of saying he doesn’t have to formally resign his claim to the nomination until August). Those political party people say they will try to respect the wishes of Quinn, who will get a rare chance to actually influence the choice of his running mate.

Which makes me wonder how long it will be before Republican partisans start their bellyaching about how unfair it is that Quinn may get to pick his running mate, while their apparent nominee, state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, is stuck running with the 27-year-old neophyte with more than $1 million in family cash who defeated five other Republicans who also wanted the political post that once was described as not worth “a bucket of warm spit,” or words to that effect.

Maybe we'd be better off making the post worth more than "spit."


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