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27.1.10

Save LA money by dropping unneeded lt. gov. office

As a number of folks rush to crown Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu the incoming mayor of New Orleans even without any election having taken place, Gov. Bobby Jindal has come up with an excellent idea on how to handle any future vacancies in the state’s number two job: don’t have any by abolishing it.

Predictably, some politicians expressed disapproval without really telling why, but the advantages of this would make a lot of sense. In order for this to take effect before the next round of elections, two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature would have to agree to amend the Constitution and to schedule the popular election for this fall’s election date (concurrent with school board elections, among others), where it must gain majority approval.

Principally, this would save money. Frankly, the lieutenant governor has little to do now while pulling down over six figures in salary. Nominally, he heads the Department of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism, but there’s actually a real secretary to do those things. Eliminate the lieutenant governor’s job and the staff that goes along with that, and this year’s budget indicates over a million bucks a year could be saved. (In fact, Jindal appears to want to eliminate CRT as well and send its functions elsewhere which would make good sense as well since in some ways it’s duplicative; for example, both this department and the Department of State have responsibilities for museums.)

Not having someone sitting around waiting for the governor to vacate the office or become incapacitated (or in Louisiana, leave the state borders) is not unprecedented among other states. Seven do not have one and one is not popularly elected, and of the 43 only 25 have legislative responsibilities. Jindal’s proposal would be to have the Secretary of State succeed to the governorship in time of vacancy, currently the office in the state with the least amount of policy-making duties, which is done in Oregon and Wyoming, in addition to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

About the only justification to have the office is because it offers one more elective job for politicians and an increased chance to live off of taxpayers. That’s the only (bad) reason why legislators may balk at this if proposed by Jindal, since it will be one less outlet for a term-limited legislator to find refuge when being forced out of his current legislative office. This is in strong contrast to how governors probably see its value, where, as exists currently, someone of a different party can take shots at the governor while having little responsibility himself for policy-making and therefore having to deal with the consequences of his suggestions. But with Landrieu possibly out the door, the biggest obstacle lobbying against such a change (a sitting lieutenant governor) may become removed.

When Louisiana rid itself of its elections commissioner a few years ago, it went from being the state tied with the most separately elected executive officials (not including education). Moving further down the list is an idea whose time has come, and Jindal should pursue this with some vigor.

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