Given Maryland's experiences with the office of lieutenant governor, it's a wonder voters haven't demanded it be abolished. This is a job without clear responsibilities and yet it requires utmost loyalty to the governor. The current officeholder, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, got a taste yesterday of the difficulties that come with this post.
Under the state constitution, the lieutenant governor has no duties other than what the governor decrees. In this case, Gov. Parris N. Glendening had Ms. Townsend represent him at a large rally of advocates for the homeless. She got a hostile reception and was ill-prepared to defend the governor's plan to cut aid to disabled and unemployable adults. It was not an auspicious start.
Welcome to the club. Of the state's four prior lieutenant governors this century, two had disastrous experiences. Samuel W. Bogley so offended Gov. Harry Hughes with his anti-abortion activism that he was ignored. Melvin A. Steinberg, after playing an integral role in early legislative successes for William Donald Schaefer, found himself exiled to political purgatory because he voiced opposition to sweeping tax reforms.
So much depends on the good graces of the governor that a lieutenant governor is always in limbo. If Ms. Townsend strays from the Glendening line, her duties could be curtailed. She's totally dependent on the governor for assignments.
How much better it would be if the lieutenant governor had specific chores. As it is, the only rationale for the office is in case the governor dies or is incapacitated and a successor is needed.
Del. John S. Arnick has proposed one alternative: Eliminate the secretary of state's office and hand those duties to the lieutenant governor. Three states do it that way. Why not Maryland?
The secretary of state has some important duties -- overseeing the publication of state laws and regulations; regulating charities; processing extraditions, and determining which candidates appear on Maryland's presidential primary ballot. But most of the work is clerical and amounts to detailed record-keeping. A lieutenant governor could easily supplant the secretary of state.
Why make this change? Because the lieutenant governor ought to have substantive duties enumerated in statute or in the constitution. Taxpayers get zero when the lieutenant governor is put in the political deep freeze by a governor. That isn't fair. And it isn't cost-efficient. If Mr. Glendening and the legislature want to "reinvent" government, they ought to start near the top and combine the functions of secretary of state and lieutenant governor.