Now that Sheila Simon has become the third lieutenant governor in 32 years to say, “Screw this gig,” maybe we should ask whether Illinois still needs a lieutenant governor.
Not every state has one. In Tennessee, West Virginia, Maine and New Hampshire, the president of the state senate is next in line for the governorship. In Arizona, Oregon and Wyoming, it’s the secretary of state. Under those schemes, either John Cullerton or Jesse White would have taken over after Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment.
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.)
Nobody missed O’Neal and Kustra, and nobody missed having a lieutenant governor in the two years between Blagojevich’s impeachment and Quinn’s re-election: there’s no provision for filling a vacancy. We saved the lieutenant governor’s $137,000 salary, and the cost of a staff and office.
Neither O’Neal or Kustra were ever elected to higher office. I don’t think Simon will be, either. Before Quinn invited her onto his ticket, to replace the embarrassing Scott Lee Cohen, Simon had never won an election for anything but Carbondale alderman. When she ran for mayor, she lost. Quinn did her a big favor, and she looked disloyal and opportunistic by ditching him without any concrete plans. Simon only said she looks forward to “serving Illinois in a role where I can be an even more effective advocate.”
My guess is that will be her old job as a professor at the Southern Illinois University law school. But even that’s more exciting than being lieutenant governor.