Republican Ron Nehring recently launched his bid for California lieutenant governor by chastising the Democratic incumbent for using the office is an obvious stepping-stone for a 2018 gubernatorial run.
"It's a key leadership position in state government and the lieutenant governor's office is what the holder chooses to make of it," Nehring told the Los Angeles Times. Current Lt. Gov. "Gavin Newson treats it like a taxpayer-funded gubernatorial exploratory committee for 2018 .... The office should be used as a platform to develop the type of bold reform plans that the state needs."
Nehring said if elected he would use the post to shape proposals to improve the state's tax code, regulations, schools and pension system.
Nice try, but basically fantasyland.
The California lieutenant governor's office may be among the most powerless positions in the country. Sure, the office's occupant earns a six-figure salary and gets a security detail. And of course it's a heartbeat away from being governor of the most populous state in the country.
Except it rarely works out that way.
Lieutenant governors of both parties have found themselves frustrated with their paucity of official duties. Or their inabilities to carve out a public profile on even a single issue, as vice presidents of the United States have sometimes done.
Newsom exemplifies the inherent frustration of the California lieutenant governor's office. He's ignored by Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat. Even the state Senate, which he technically presides over, gave him the boot. As the Los Angeles Times noted in July 2013:
On a Monday this spring, he was escorted off the Senate floor.
A security officer had told the lieutenant governor that he couldn't sit in the same room as lawmakers when they debated policy because he was a member of the executive branch.
Outside, Newsom slumped on a wooden bench, his face that of a star pupil who'd been sent to the principal's office.
The indignity came more than two years after leaving the San Francisco mayoralty, a high-profile perch he held for seven years. As the Times wrote:
Just a few years ago, Newsom, a Democrat, was on his way to political stardom as the big-city mayor who flouted state law and ordered San Francisco to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
That controversial move led to years of legal wrangling and resulted in last month's Supreme Court decision that allowed gay marriage to resume in the state. He also launched the country's first universal healthcare initiative - three years before President Obama's program won congressional approval.
Still, Newsom, 46, is seeking a second term as lieutenant governor. With Gov. Brown term-limited in 2018 Newsom will be in a prime position to seek the top spot.
Newsom will likely face off in November against Nehring, who has never held elected office previously. He served as chairman of the state Republican Party for four years and of the San Diego County GOP for six years.
Abolish the Office?
From time to time Californians of different ideological stripes have proposed abolishing the lieutenant governor's office altogether. Including Newsom. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in February 2012:
A year into his term as California's Lt. Governor, Democrat Gavin Newsom said Thursday said that it's time to 'get rid of the position' unless the job is made more effective - by having the state's top two constitutional officers run as a single ticket and work as a team.
The former San Francisco mayor - the acting governor of California for five days with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in Washington DC - said that many other states, including Maryland and New York, have such a system, which he said is more "effective and empowering" for both offices.
Newsom cited both the contentious relationship between Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and his Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Curb; during Brown's first term, Curb famously vetoed legislation and made controversial appointments in Brown's absence.
California journalist Joe Mathews once even wrote a satirical Los Angeles Times column putting himself forward for lieutenant governor. In fall 2009 Mathews penned an open letter of sorts to then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who was seeking a replacement for former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi (D) - winner of a recent congressional election.
"Someone with real experience in government would be frustrated by the utter powerlessness and insignificance of the lieutenant governor's office," Mathews wrote.
"My skill set dovetails with the only real duty of the lieutenant governor: to wake up each morning, check that the governor is still alive and go on about my business. Perfect! As a journalist who has written about you since you first ran for office back in 2003, I've been doing that professionally for six years. There'd be no need for on-the-job training."