Need for office is questioned

By FRED LUCAS State Journal Staff Writer Published:

Republican Senate President David Williams said the office serves mostly as a death watch. Democratic House Speaker Jody Richards said it should have some specified duties beyond serving at the discretion of the governor. Even Gov. Paul Patton - who used the office as a stepping stone - has previously gone as far to say "We shouldn't have a lieutenant governor."

Kentucky isn't alone in questioning the role among the 42 states that have a lieutenant governor. In some states it's a powerful position and getting more so. In others, it's purely ceremonial. The only thing they all have in common is the role of being tapped should the governor be unable to perform his or her official duties.

Lt. Gov. Steve Henry said he plays an active role in state government serving on 30 boards and commissions, and has taken his own initiatives in getting funding for the state's veterans, health care programs and promoting a national gun lock program.

"If the lieutenant governor's job is to be in the wings and to serve at the discretion of the governor, you're going to be hard-pressed to take on additional responsibilities," Henry told The State Journal.

Julia Hurst, executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, said 20 of the nation's lieutenant governors preside over the state Senate, while seven head the state commerce or tourism departments, and others take on various appointed duties. The lieutenant governor in neighboring Indiana is the secretary of agriculture.

David Winder, a political science professor at Valdosta University in Valdosta, Ga., completed a national study on lieutenant governors last year. The study ranked the states' second highest ranking official on a yard stick of 1 to 7 points, based on their effectiveness and duties. Kentucky's lieutenant governor got 2 out of 7 points. That's below the 3.5 point average, Winder said.

Some of the roles Henry has are being vice chairman of the State Properties and Buildings Commission, the County Debt Commission and the Kentucky Turnpike Authority. During his first year in office, Henry oversaw the Human Resources Cabinet before it was divided into two separate cabinets.

For more on this story, see the latest State Journal.

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