The California Constitution provides the lieutenant governor with only three formal duties. First, in Article 2, Section 17, the lieutenant governor is tasked with carrying out “recall duties” if a formal attempt to remove the governor from office is ever carried out, a duty that can also be performed by the state controller in the event the state’s second-in-command is unable or unwilling to perform it. Political history on this front is rather scant, but in 2003, the lieutenant governor serving at the time, Cruz Bustamante, did carry out this task by officially scheduling the recall of then-Governor Gray Davis.
The second formal duty assigned to the lieutenant governor can be found in Article 5, Section 9, where he is designated as President of the California State Senate, and has a casting (tie-breaking) vote in that body, though in practice he rarely appears at Senate sessions other than during very formal events, such as the opening of a new session or the presentation of the State of the State address by the governor.
The third formal constitutional duty that the lieutenant governor is assigned is to serve as a member of the Board of Regents for the University of California (UC). The UC system is the only one of California’s three higher education systems to be formally noted within the constitution, and the lieutenant governor serves in an ex-officio capacity.
These three constitutional duties leave the lieutenant governor a bit of room, but not much, for political movement. Carrying out recall duties can be fraught with political danger if the lieutenant is from the same political party as the governor (as was the case in 2003), or could easily escalate into an exercise looking something less than dignified if the lieutenant and the governor hail from different political parties. And, presiding over the state senate in sessions other than very formal ones, is frowned upon by senate leadership, which leaves little room for political growth as well. Finally, serving as a UC regent can help boost the political profile of the lieutenant governor, especially during times when students may be seeking a member of their governing board to go to bat for them on a controversial issue, such as increases in student tuition.
Thus, the state constitution does not assign many tasks for the lieutenant governor to perform, and there is little room for political growth via exercising constitutional duties, due to the imposition of formal and informal constraints.