Alaska, a state since 1959, has only experienced the office of lieutenant governor since 1970. That year, a change to their constitution converted the office of secretary of state to lieutenant governor. This examination of Alaska’s deputy executive will cover several parts. In this installment, I will review the first three of eight specific sections in Article III of their constitution that are specifically devoted to the lieutenant governor. The Citizens Guide to the Alaska Constitution, written by Gordon Harrison, Ph.D. and published by the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency was a useful tool as I examined the office in preparation for this series of posts.
Article III, Sections 7-14 of the Alaskan Constitution are devoted specifically to their deputy chief executive. As noted above, only in 1970 was an LG’s office created in their constitution, done by simply converting the office of Secretary of State to Lieutenant Governor. Prior to 1970, the Secretary of State was the second-highest elective office in the state.
What is striking in the description of the duties of their lieutenant governor is what they are not tasked with: presiding over the State Senate. Section 7 does not specifically define the duties of the lieutenant governor, indicating that those tasks may be specified by either the governor or the legislature. But, those who created the office in 1970 did not wish to see simply a ceremonial position. Indeed, in Articles XI and XIII, the lieutenant governor is specifically tasked with administering state elections.
Article III, Section 8 is devoted to detailing how the lieutenant governor shall stand for election. In Alaska, both candidates for governor and lieutenant governor stand separately for election in the primary, then run together as a ticket in the general election. This could be a potential problem if both people were from different ideological wings of their respective political parties, but I came across no indication in my research that this has ever been a significant issue.
Section 9 discusses when the lieutenant governor shall serve as Acting Governor. Interestingly, the lieutenant governor serves only in an acting capacity during “temporary absence of the governor from office.” As Dr. Harrison noted, in 1970, those who drafted this constitutional provision appeared to be well aware that even in sparsely populated Alaska, mass communications were developed well enough so that the governor could keep exercising their executive power, whether they are physically in the state or not. Thus, unlike some other states, the lieutenant governor does not automatically become acting governor when the chief executive is simply traveling outside of the state. However, Dr. Harrison also noted that the term is worded vaguely enough so that it potentially could be problematic. There has only been one officially designated Acting Governor. Secretary of State Hugh Wade stepped in and served from January 1959 until April of 1959 when the governor was sidelined by an illness.
The next post in this series devoted to reviewing the Lieutenant Governor of Alaska will discuss Article III, Sections 10 and 11 of the Alaska Constitution.