In preparation for California’s upcoming Primary election, we are releasing a quick background of each of the Constitutional Officers and what they actually do in the California government.
Today, we are covering California’s Lieutenant Governor, currently Gavin Newsom.
Former California Lieutenant Governor, and former California Governor Gray Davis, had this to say about the job, “There’s no denying that the official responsibilities of the lieutenant governor are more modest than some other constitutional offices – the English call it an ‘heir and a spare.’”
Similar to the Vice President of the United States, the Lieutenant Governor is President of the Senate but can only cast a vote to break a tie. This is an uncommon occurrence. The last two times it was used were in 1996 in favor of a Domestic Partners Registry over same-sex marriage and in 1975 in favor of legalizing certain previously outlawed adult intimate relations. Also, during an absence of a Governor such as absence from the state, death, resignation, or impeachment, the Lieutenant Governor will act as Governor.
The Lieutenant Governor also serves as the chair on several boards such as the three-member State Lands Commission, a rotating position with the State Controller, and the California Commission for Economic Development. He or she also sits on several boards, such as the University of California Board of Regents, California State University Board of Trustees, California Ocean Protection Council, and the California Emergency Council.
The Lieutenant Governor also has the implied power of the bully pulpit. So while the official duties of the LG are limited to Acting Governor when the Governor is absent and casting a tie breaking vote in the Senate, the LG can use their position to argue for their preferred policies. For example, Newsom authored the Report on the State of Higher Education in California in order to promote a new education policy. He also vocally supported the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2013.
However, even current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom has joked about the irrelevance of the job, borrowing a joke from former Secretary of State John Kerry, describing the position as “Wake up every morning, pick up the paper, read the obituaries, and if the governor’s name doesn’t appear in there, go back to sleep.” Others agree with the sentiment. “With all due respect to that office, anybody who holds it has a fate almost worse than death,” said Larry Gerston, a political scientist at San Jose State.
Since the state’s birth in 1850, only two Lieutenant Governors have been elected governor. The remaining Lieutenant Governors who rose to Governor were due to an absence of an elected Governor. The last Lieutenant Governor elected to Governor, Gray Davis, was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.