Elections can make strange bedfellows. Illinois politicians found that out the hard way through the office of lieutenant governor.
Before 1970, the Illinois Constitution required candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to be elected separately, which allowed voters to conceivably choose a governor from one party and a lieutenant governor from another.
In 1968, that actually happened, so leaders changed the process so candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, after being nominated separately in the primary, ran jointly in the general election.
Politicians still weren’t satisfied because winners of the gubernatorial primary might be stuck with less-than-satisfactory running mates. Pesky voters.
Such a scenario happened in 2010. Democratic voters nominated Gov. Pat Quinn for governor and Chicago pawn broker Scott Lee Cohen, who had legal problems, for lieutenant governor.
Cohen was persuaded to step down, and the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, gave future candidates for governor the power to choose their own running mates.
Two Republican gubernatorial candidates recently named their choices for 2014; state Sen. Kirk Dillard picked state Rep. Jil Tracy, and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford picked Steve Kim, a Chicago attorney.
However, two significant problems remain with the office. First, the lieutenant governor has no real constitutional authority to do anything besides wait for the governor to die or resign. That situation led former Lt. Gov. Dave O’Neal to quit in 1981. In 1998, 7-year veteran Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra quit early to become a college president.
We note that the current first-term lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon, also has had enough; she plans to run for state comptroller.
Second, no constitutional provision exists to replace the lieutenant governor if the office becomes vacant, which it was from early 2009, when Quinn took ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s place, to early 2011.
Illinoisans will find out next year whether the new way of choosing a lieutenant governor is a better way. Other flaws in the office should likewise be addressed.