Jeff Jacoby

All snark aside, the real puzzle isn't how Massachusetts will get through the next year and a half without a lieutenant governor. It is why we bother to retain the job at all. It is a constitutional position with no useful constitutional function, apart from succeeding a governor who dies or resigns. (The lieutenant governor also attends meetings of the archaic Governor's Council, an anachronistic holdover from colonial days.) He is the governor-in-waiting, with nothing to do while he waits. For doing that nothing, the lieutenant governor is paid a salary of $125,000, and provided with a staff, a State House office, and all the perks of a lofty political title.

Being the state's No. 2 can be a springboard to higher office. But it can also leave a lot of time for getting into trouble, as Murray's rocky tenure has shown. And not only in Massachusetts: A few weeks ago Florida's lieutenant governor Jennifer Carroll abruptly resigned amid a growing scandal involving an Internet gambling company for which she had once been a consultant.

There are a few states, Texas being the most noteworthy, where lieutenant governors are entrusted with serious, high-level responsibilities. Much more common is the Massachusetts-style sinecure, where ambitious politicians have little to do but wait for the state's chief executive to expire or quit.

In California, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom – the former mayor of San Francisco -- has been unusually blunt about the pointlessness of his current job. Asked at one point how often he spent time in the state capital, Newsom replied: "Like one day a week, tops. There's no reason…. It's just so dull…. Sadly, I just – ugh, God."

No state has to have a lieutenant governor. New Hampshire, Maine, and a handful of other states don't. In Illinois, the state House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last month to put a proposed constitutional amendment abolishing the lieutenant governor's office on the state ballot next year. There is no good reason Massachusetts shouldn't consider doing the same thing.

For the next 19 months, Massachusetts voters will wake up every morning and go to bed every night in a state with no lieutenant governor. Like the proverbial fish with no bicycle, we won't notice that anything is missing, or yearn for it to be restored. The commonwealth's founders knew better than to worry about an absent lieutenant governor. Wouldn't this be a good time to make that absence permanent?


Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for Townhall.com.


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