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Electing the Lieutenant Governor

According to the National Lieutenant Governors Association (www.nlga.us), California is among the 18 states that elect separately the Lieutenant Governor and Governor. For many years, California elections functioned with a closed primary election system, where voters registered to a political party could select their party’s nominee only, and all the nominees of the various parties competed against one another in the general election in November.

Now, with the advent of the top two primary system, voters can select from any candidate, whether they are affiliated with a political party or not, but only the top two candidates move on to the general election. In the June 2014 election, the top two primary did not result in any difference in the party makeup of nominees for the office, with the Democratic nominee (incumbent Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom) receiving the top spot, and the GOP nominee (former state fire board member Ron Nehring) winning second place.

Appointing the Lieutenant Governor

Since 1958, three vacancies have occurred during the middle of a term in the Lieutenant Governor’s office. The first two vacancies resulted in direct appointment by the Governor, during a time when legislative concurrence in such appointments was not required. The third vacancy in 2009 resulted in a bit of a standoff between the Governor and legislative leaders for a time before the gave their consent. And, during the third vacancy, an Acting Lieutenant Governor automatically assumed the office for a period of time to carry out the duties.

First, in January of 1969, Congressman Ed Reinecke was appointed by Governor Reagan to become Lieutenant Governor, filling the void left by Robert Finch, who departed to become Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Richard Nixon. Then, in September of 1974, Reinecke was forced to resign after being convicted of perjury while in office, leaving the post vacant with only three months left to go in the term. Governor Reagan, after considering his options, appointed State Senator John Harmer–who also happened to be the GOP nominee for the job in the November general election–to be the Lieutenant Governor for the final 12 weeks in the term. However, officially assuming the office for which he was running didn’t help Harmer in the general election, as he lost to the Democratic nominee, State Senator Mervyn Dymally.

Finally, in early November of 2009, incumbent Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, which resulted in two actions. First, according to the California Government Code (Title 1, Division 4, Chapter 4, Article 2, Section 1775), when a vacancy in the Lieutenant Governor’s office occurs, the chief deputy automatically assumes the duties of the office, until a formal successor is appointed. In this case, Mona Pasquil became California’s first Acting Lieutenant Governor on November 5th, 2009, and continued to carry out such duties as sitting on the University of California Board of Regents and the State Lands Commission. However, the powers of the office of Lieutenant Governor (most notably, serving as Acting Governor during the absence of the Governor) devolved upon the President Pro Tem of the State Senate, then Darrell Steinberg, for the duration of the vacancy.

The second action related to the vacancy was the appointment later that month by Governor Schwarzenegger of a formal successor to the office, State Senator Abel Maldonado. However, since 1974, the rules regarding the appointment of state constitutional officers had changed, and this appointment now required confirmation of both houses of the California Legislature. After some back and forth between Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders through early 2010, including a formal rejection by the State Assembly of Maldonado’s nomination, he was formally confirmed as Lieutenant Governor in April of 2010 by a 51-17 vote in the Assembly, and a 25-7 vote in the upper house. However, Maldonado was defeated by Gavin Newsom in the general election in November of 2010. Thus, while California has not seen many vacancies occur in the office of Lieutenant Governor since 1958, two of the three vacancies have been, from a political perspective, rather interesting to observe.