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Local Editorials

Editorial: Office of lieutenant governor still an afterthought

The office of Illinois lieutenant governor remains something of a constitutional afterthought. A new law that addresses vacancies in constitutional offices ignored the position. So what else is new?

Evelyn Sanguinetti takes the oath of office as Illinois lieutenant governor on Jan. 12. The office she now holds has been treated with little respect over the years by the state Legislature and Illinois Constitution.
Evelyn Sanguinetti takes the oath of office as Illinois lieutenant governor on Jan. 12. The office she now holds has been treated with little respect over the years by the state Legislature and Illinois Constitution.

If comedian Rodney Dangerfield were still alive, he would sympathize with the office of Illinois lieutenant governor. Like Dangerfield, the office "don't get no respect."

It started with the drafters of the 1970 Illinois Constitution.

That document, under which we live today, set forth six constitutional offices: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, Secretary of State, treasurer, and comptroller.

The six offices must have been important, in the delegates' eyes, or they would not have created them.

Keeping the offices filled, in the event of mid-term vacancies, should also have been important, and it is – for five out of the six offices, at least.

If the attorney general, Secretary of State, treasurer or comptroller posts become vacant, the constitution mandates that the governor appoint replacements.

If the governor post becomes vacant, the constitution directs that the lieutenant governor take charge.

But, if the lieutenant governor office becomes vacant, the constitution is mum. No provisions were set forth to name a replacement.

That's strange, indeed, given that a vacancy crops up every once in awhile.

Over the past 50 years, Illinois has had 10 lieutenant governors, and three of them vacated the office during their terms. Two – Samuel Shapiro in 1968 and Pat Quinn in 2009 – ascended to the governorship. One – Dave O'Neal in 1981 – resigned.

The vacancy lasted nearly 8 months after Shapiro departed, more than 19 months after O'Neal quit, and nearly 2 years after Quinn left to take over for the ousted Rod Blagojevich.

The new law approved in the waning days of Quinn's administration addresses the unusual situation of the full-term vacancy in the comptroller's office because of the death of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka last month, after she won a second term but before she could be sworn in.

The law now provides for a special election for four constitutional offices if the vacancy would be at least 28 months before the next statewide election.

Offices affected are attorney general, Secretary of State, treasurer and comptroller.

Again, though, possible lieutenant governor vacancies are not addressed.

The newest oversight likely can be traced to the constitution's failure to provide a means to fill the vacancy by appointment. If you can't fill it by appointment in the first place, bill drafters probably reasoned, how can you fill it by special election?

Looking back half a century, Illinois' political elite have found themselves befuddled by the office more than once.

In 1968, Illinoisans elected a Republican governor, Richard Ogilvie, and a Democratic lieutenant governor, Paul Simon. That fractious anomaly was corrected in the 1970 Constitution, which required each party's gubernatorial and lieutenant governor nominees to run as a team in the general election.

Then in 1986, Mark Fairchild, a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, which caused gubernatorial nominee Adlai Stevenson III to run in November as a Reform Party candidate. He lost.

Then in 2010, Chicago pawnbroker Scott Lee Cohen won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. Although he was talked into resigning the nomination, it was an embarrassment that caused the Legislature to approve a law that requires candidates for party nominations for governor to name their lieutenant governor running mates before the primary.

It's clear that the office has been a nuisance at times, which may be the reason politicians don't mind much if it happens to be empty.

What new Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti does with the position is up to her and Gov. Bruce Rauner.

But if the office is to remain a constitutional afterthought, perhaps it's time to give it some "respect" – a means to fill vacancies, along with giving it real responsibilities – or do away with it.

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