Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 18, 2014

Why Do We Suddenly Care About Races for Lt. Governor?

The office of lieutenant governor is so important that five states don’t even have one, yet that hasn’t stopped the national political media from treating some contests for the office as crucial indicators of something.

In the recent primary runoff in Texas, anti-establishment conservative state Sen. Dan Patrick unseated incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst by a sizable margin. The result received considerable attention since it fit neatly into the “tea party takeover of the Republican Party” narrative that has been struggling to survive since all but one GOP member of Congress won his or her primary through the end of May.

Maybe it’s the proliferation of political reporters and news outlets or the lack of other serious contests, or a mixture of both, but the conclusion that a race for lieutenant governor has some larger, long-term political impact is still unproved.

What if Patrick loses the general election to Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte? It would most likely be a statement about Patrick’s limited appeal and not evidence of a near-term shift of Texas into the competitive column.

But what if Van de Putte leverages her office to become governor of Texas in 2020? Then Texas will have a Democratic governor. But that doesn’t mean the entire state is turning Democratic. States often give minority parties a chance to govern at the state level while turning away the “wrong” party in federal contests.

Given the state’s growing minority populations, Texas could (and likely will) be competitive at some point in the future. But we are still multiple cycles from that happening. Democrats aren’t anywhere close to taking over any of the 24 Republican-held House seats, and the party struggled to nominate a candidate who wasn’t a Lyndon LaRouche activist to face GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

Could the polarizing Patrick sabotage Republican hopes elsewhere on the ballot?

We just saw that movie in Virginia last year, and it didn’t end quite the way conventional wisdom said it would.

In 2013, Democrats rejoiced when Republicans nominated conservative lightning rod E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor of the commonwealth. He was supposed to be an anvil around the neck of Republicans.

But just a week or so before the election, Jackson was hardly a household name. In a late October poll by Hampton University, less than half of registered voters in Virginia knew enough about him to have an opinion of him. His personal ratings were 18 percent favorable/23 percent unfavorable.

Jackson lost his race, but Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli lost the gubernatorial race by a more narrow margin than expected, and Republicans expanded their majority in the House of Delegates.

But shouldn’t we pay attention because lieutenant governor can be a launching pad for higher office? Not exactly.

As Aaron Blake pointed out in a recent piece for The Washington Post, the office is more likely to get the state’s number two removed from political life entirely. “Since the start of 2012, six lieutenant governors have resigned, six more have seen frontrunning campaigns for governor or Senate crumble, and three have opted not to run alongside their bosses for reelection,” Blake found.

Of those who tried to move up, Dewhurst’s loss to Ted Cruz in the 2012 Republican Senate primary is well documented. This cycle, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is currently the underdog for the GOP Senate nomination in Alaska after looking like the very early front-runner.

Six out of 100 current U.S. senators are former lieutenant governors. But two of them were appointed (Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz and Montana Democrat John Walsh). Two of them were elected to the U.S. House before the Senate (Hawaii Democrat Mazie K. Hirono and Nevada Democrat Harry Reid). Democrat Tim Kaine was governor of Virginia before getting elected to the Senate.

Just 1 percent of the current Senate was elected from the lieutenant governor position: Idaho Republican Jim Risch, and he served briefly as a caretaker governor.

It’s possible that a race for lieutenant governor can have a broader impact in a state and nationally. But until it happens, it’s OK to focus on races that actually matter.

  • Layla

    There is no takeover of the Republican party. There would NOT BE a Tea Party if the GOP were listening to it’s base instead of K Street. I wonder how many know that the Tea Party is BIPARTISAN.

    I think most people are coming to the realization that repeatedly sending elected officials back to office works AGAINST the American people. Just look at what has happened to the United States. You’ve cost us our homes, our jobs, forced a healthcare system on us for political reasons that most CANNOT AFFORD. Now you are going to be closing utilities and jacking up our utility rates. This is nothing more than political robbery and corruption.

    And I don’t care what side of the aisle you are on. The American people must step up to the plate and remove anyone with more than two terms or expect more of the same failures, on both sides.

    Simple, really. VOTE.

    • Stronk_Comanche

      “the Tea Party is bipartisan”

      Yes, in that it has both Republicans and Libertarians. Not a single Democrat or progressive identifies in any sense with the means that the Tea Party seeks to employ as solutions to our country’s ills.

  • Joe

    But, as a Texan, Texas has a very strong Lt. Gov position. This person runs the Senate. Much more powerful than other Lt. Gov. posts in other states.

    • nathanlgonzales

      My point is that national media shouldn’t try to draw broader national conclusions from the LG races, primary or general.

  • Benjamin Dover

    Those things which become available to most of us only become so because they were first the luxury of a few who could afford to try them.

  • Yonatan YONATAN

    BOTH POLITICAL PARTIES ARE A DISGRACE TO THIS COUNTRY. THEY HAVE CHOSEN TO PUT THEIR PARTY’S POLITICAL AGENDA ABOVE THE NEEDS OF THOSE IN DIRE NEED IN OUR COUNTRY. FOR SEVERAL MONTHS THEY HAVE PLAYED POLITICAL GAMES WITH EACH OTHER, WITH THE UNEMPLOYED AS THE TRUE LOSERS. THEY HAVE SHOWN A TOTAL LACK OF COMPASSION AND COMMON DECENCY TOWARDS THESE FAMILIES WITHOUT AN EXTENSION OF BENEFITS SINCE LAST DECEMBER. THEY HAVE USED THE PLIGHT OF THESE FAMILIES AS A BARGAINING CHIP FOR POLITICAL LEVERAGE. THEY DON’T CARE THAT THESE MILLIONS OF FAMILIES SUFFERED FINANCIAL RUIN, AND MANY LOSS THEIR HOMES, WAITING FOR THE SENATE TO DO THE RIGHT THING AND FINALLY PASS THE EXTENSION BILL. NONE OF THESE POLITICIANS SHOULD BE IN OFFICE. THEY ARE UNWORTHY OF THE JOB..

  • teapartyidiots

    I think this race is actually the Dems best chance in Texas.

  • George B

    Stu, I’m surprised you don’t understand how executive power is
    distributed between multiple elected officials in Texas. After
    Reconstruction, Texans wrote a constitution that puts state government
    on a remarkably short leash. The office of Lieutenant Governor controls
    what pieces of legislation come up for a vote in the Texas Senate for a
    legislature that only meets for about 5 months every 2 years. Texas
    Speaker of the House Joe Strauss and Lt. Gov David Dewhurst blocked
    legislation from conservatives. In turn, conservatives worked hard to
    defeat supporters of Strauss and end the political career of Dewhurst.

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