Race for lieutenant governor often overlooked in Pennsylvania
It was the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and Pennsylvania government, like the nation, was in crisis-control mode.
Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker was in Somerset County where Flight 93 went down, heading up emergency management operations. Within nine days, President George W. Bush tapped then-Gov. Tom Ridge for a position that eventually would become secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
“It was not a time to dwell on difficulties and emotional challenges,” Schweiker said. “It was time to react, and it was time to deploy, and it was time to fight.”
So, on Oct. 5, 2001, Schweiker fulfilled his job description, the one outlined in Article IV, Section 13 of Pennsylvania’s constitution: He was inaugurated to serve out Ridge’s term as governor.
The lieutenant governor is the commonwealth’s second-in-command and first in the line of succession when the governor can no longer serve. The post requires the officeholder to serve as president of the state Senate and chair of the Board of Pardons. But the race for lieutenant governor operates on a far lower profile than that for Pennsylvania’s chief executive.
Running in the May 20 primary for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket are: former U.S. Rep. Mark Critz of Johnstown; Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski; state Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-Canonsburg; Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith; and state Sen. Mike Stack, D-Philadelphia.
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jay Paterno announced on Friday he was dropping out of the race because he didn’t want to go through a protracted court battle regarding a challenge to his nominating petitions.
A February telephone poll of 501 voters by Harper Polling found 48 percent were undecided about the race. It had a margin of error of 4.38 percentage points.
Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley is running for re-election on Gov. Tom Corbett’s ticket without any primary challenger.
Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, considers the lieutenant governor’s race to be overlooked.
“I think most voters, donors, and citizens alike just don’t look to that office as a real mover when it comes to agenda items,” she said.
The job pays about $160,000 a year. The lieutenant governor lives rent-free in a historic Lebanon County residence that is surrounded by Victorian-inspired gardens and rolling lawns of Fort Indiantown Gap and works in an office in the Capitol rotunda, steps away from the green-and-gilded Senate chambers.
The lieutenant governor presides over Senate sessions and in some cases, can vote to break a tie.
“It’s a job with some stature and some prestige, but fundamentally with very little responsibilities,” Terry Madonna, professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College.
Yet, each administration is different, he said. Governors may appoint their deputy to head certain task forces, legislative initiatives or commissions.
Running a campaign for the second-in-command position comes at a fraction of the cost of the governor’s race. By some accounts, a primary in the gubernatorial election costs an estimated $5 million. War chests in the lieutenant governor’s race have yet to crack $500,000, according to the most recently filed committee reports. Another round of reports is due April 8.
Name recognition, geography and endorsements can play a role in earning the nomination, Madonna said. To get on the ballot, a candidate must have at least 1,000 signatures with 100 each from at least five counties. Paterno filed 1,117 signatures. Koplinski challenged them in Commonwealth Court.
None of the candidates has any partnership or public alliance with any of the gubernatorial candidates. This is not unusual, Brown said: Such relationships only develop if it is “strategic and beneficial” to both candidates.
Cawley spent his term pushing proposals to regulate natural gas drilling, resulting in the passage of Act 13, and to privatize state liquor stores, which has yet to materialize.
Schweiker as lieutenant governor chaired the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. Crisis management would largely define his 15-month administration as governor, which began in the wake of Sept. 11, and included the high-profile rescue of nine miners at Quecreek Mining Co. in July 2002.
“The Ridge-Schweiker administration was not merely a moniker,” he said. “It was representative of a point of view of how to administer the government, and it turned out to be a great advantage for my readiness.”
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at [email protected] or 412-380-8511.