Lieutenant Governor: The Amygdala of State Government | News, Sports, Jobs


The Democratic-NPL party will honor the legacy of Governors William Guy, Art Link and George Sinner at a rowdy fifth annual party in Bismarck on May 7.

On behalf of former lieutenant governors – at least Wayne Sanstead and I – I boycott the event, tired of being treated like the expendable appendage or amygdala of the body politic.

The government would not fall but would limp without our traditional support for the governor. Governors never back down even though that’s why the office of lieutenant governor exists. The one time the Governor needed backup, no one told me. Apparently they thought the governor’s office would be safer if I remained ignorant.

There are five states that do not have lieutenant governors: Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Wyoming. North Dakota has one but it will probably be abolished when the oil money runs out. After all, it’s just an appendix or amygdala.

In 1974, the people approved a measure that required governors and lieutenant governors to be elected as a team. Before that time, the state had a problem with mixing horses of different colors, so they thought the government would be more peaceful under the team concept.

Professor Larry Sabota of the University of Virginia, a nationally recognized guru of state and local government, summed up the position of lieutenant governor:

“It’s a part-time, low-paying position whose occupants primarily spend their time running for governor.”

This is not the case in North Dakota. In 1976 Wayne Sanstead became the first full-time lieutenant governor and was given a portfolio involving federal funds. He became more of a utility player in later years.

Our lieutenant governors haven’t spent their time running for governor. They faithfully lined up the foul balls. For many states, Sabota is correct. Lieutenant governors often try to upstage governors to gain political recognition. They are a pain in the body politic and elsewhere.

Today, at the beginning of an administration, the governor issues an executive order outlining the duties of the lieutenant governor. Of course, at the end of the command we find “and everything that comes up.”

Thus, lieutenant governors chair or sit on many of the 100 committees, boards, and commissions that make up the government of North Dakota. The governor always receives more invitations to speak than he can accept, so the lieutenant governor fills in by taping prize pigs, naming watering holes, opening picnic areas, or speaking at smaller funerals. Hardly a launching pad for a gubernatorial campaign.

Since the early 1900s, lieutenant governors in the United States have tried to run for governor 55 times and lost 38 times – a 31% success rate or a 69% failure rate, according to the point of view.

In 1978, the people approved a constitutional amendment that would allow the lieutenant governor to sever ties to the Senate. I’ve only had one tie in two sessions of the Senate.

Ironically, the question was to remove the lieutenant governor from the presidency of the Senate. The proposal was a conspiracy between Senator Wayne Stenehjem and myself to have an executive trespasser removed from the legislature. The measure was overwhelmed by 59% “NOPE” vote, notwithstanding the constitutional principle of the separation of powers.

Prior to the 1990 meeting of the National Association of Lieutenant Governors, I pointed out to the officers that the National Association of Governors only met for three days while the Lieutenant Governors met for five days. It made no sense. Another thing, the substance of the convention was supposed to be workshops, but no one was attending.

They told me that I was in the running to be president but they had chosen someone else. Apparently they didn’t like North Dakota’s logic.

So I continued in the dark without their help.



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About Jefferey G. Cannon

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