Lt. Governor primaries are a waste of money

The Republicans running for the lieutenant governor nomination this summer performed an unanticipated public service by focusing rare attention on this inconsequential office. And that attention caused some, at least, to wonder if Connecticut really needs a lieutenant governor.

Then, when the winner, Heather Bond Somers, received the vote of only 7 percent of her party's registered voters through no particular fault of her own, one also had to wonder why all of the state's taxpayers, Republicans, Democrats and the unaffiliated, had to pay more than a million dollars to nominate her.

That's what the three candidates got from the taxpayers - $1,218,825 - as all of them had qualified to have their campaigns financed by the public simply by raising $75,000 each. A really good investment return but also a classic case of taxation without representation.

For the general election, Somers and incumbent Nancy Wyman will be along for the ride, having to share the $6.5 million each in public funds that Republican Tom Foley and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy qualified to receive. Don't expect to see much of that money spent promoting the lieutenant governor candidates.

Connecticut has actually needed a lieutenant governor or a reasonable facsimile of one three times in the past 60 years. It happened when the governor prematurely left the office for health reasons or to go on to bigger things, which, in Connecticut, have included a post in the president's cabinet and jail.

Constitutionally, the lieutenant governor only has to preside over the Senate, a duty more often filled by the president pro tem. The rest of the time, the lieutenant governor fills in when the governor's out of state and attends events that aren't important enough to get the governor.

Lieutenant governors should also be very nice. When one candidate, Penny Bacchiochi, made up racism charges about an opponent, she didn't seem very nice and came in second, even though she was the party endorsed candidate.

The current lieutenant governor is so nice, she's considered a real asset to the governor, who isn't quite as nice as she is. (She's been a she when the governor is a he and a he when the governor's a she since Eunice Groark became Lowell Weicker's lieutenant governor in 1991. This is something the "outsider," Dan Walker, who finished third, may not have known when he ran for the office even though only males were running for governor.)

The job commands a comfortable salary of $110,000 and a chief of staff, a press agent, clerical assistance, a company car and driver. That adds up to nearly a half million dollars a year, which is a miniscule part of the state's annual budget.

But let's not forget that while a budget is composed of mostly big-ticket items, it also has also many miniscule parts that tend to add up. Getting rid of the unnecessary miniscule items is like getting rid of the squeegee men in New York. Sets the tone and all that. (Not that I'm comparing the office to squeegee men.)

Which brings us back to that primary for which all of us had to chip in for the commercials and campaign expenses of those three candidates who may or may not have run if the public hadn't been paying. They had nothing to lose and a chance to move from obscurity to a bit of name recognition for some future endeavor and took it.

They, of course, also knew about the three who moved up when Abe Ribicoff became secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Ella Grasso became seriously ill and John Rowland resigned and went to prison. All of their successors, John Dempsey, William O'Neill and Jodi Rell, became popular governors and were elected twice on their own.

But no lieutenant governor succeeded as a candidate for governor without the boost of finishing a predecessor's term, though some have tried.

Abolishing the office by amending the state Constitution isn't going to happen, but maybe some voters will begin to wonder about using their money to run for this meaningless office. For starters, the parties could require the nominee for governor to pick a running mate the way presidents do and have them endorsed - or not - by the nominating convention. That would at least save the cost of a separate primary.


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