Ward Room was way ahead of the state House of Representatives in calling for the abolition of the lieutenant governor’s office. On Feb. 14, we wrote,
The Illinois lieutenant governorship is a particularly insignificant position. Until 1970, the lieutenant governor presided over the state senate, but the new constitution stripped the office of that role. Now, the lieutenant governor is chairman of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, chairman of Rural Bond Bank of Illinois, head of the Illinois Main Street Program, and chairman of the Illinois River Coordinating Council. Dave O’Neal quit in 1981, citing boredom. Bob Kustra quit in 1998 to become president of Eastern Kentucky University. Both had recently lost races for U.S. Senate. (The last eight lieutenant governors have either run for governor or Senate -- both, in the case of Paul Simon -- which means the position is nothing but a frustrating way station for higher office.)
But the proposed constitutional amendment that passed the House on Thursday has its own problems. It designates the attorney general to replace a governor who dies, resigns or is indicted. (Hey, this is the Illinois governorship, one of the most dishonest offices in American politics.) That means a governor could be replaced by a successor of a different party.
Before Illinois adopted its current constitution in 1970, the governor and lieutenant governor were elected separately. At the time, Paul Simon, a Democrat, was lieutenant governor, while Richard Ogilvie, a Republican, was governor. Ogilvie was reluctant to leave the state, because his absence put Simon in charge. (It’s safe to say, by the way, the Paul and Sheila Simon are the only father-daughter lieutenant governor combination in American history.) The new constitution put the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket.
Seven governors have left office before their terms expired:
John Reynolds, resigned to serve in House, 1834
William Henry Bissell, died, 1860
Richard Oglesby, resigned to take a Senate appointment, 1873
Shelby Moore Cullom, resigned after election to Senate, 1883
Henry Horner, died, 1940
Otto Kerner, resigned to become a federal judge, 1968
Rod Blagojevich, impeached, 2009
All seven were replaced by lieutenant governors of their own party. As it happens, they also served with attorneys general of their party, but that’s not always the case. Democrat Neil Hartigan was attorney general during Gov. Jim Thompson’s last two terms, and Democrat Roland Burris served under Gov. Jim Edgar.
Voters deserve four years of governing by the party they elected. Any plan to eliminate the lieutenant governor needs to ensure that.