The resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer should serve as a wake-up call to the importance of the office of lieutenant governor. Spitzer, caught up in a prostitution scandal, will exit his job on March 17 and be replaced by David Paterson, former minority leader of the state Senate and, according to The New York Times, "scion of a prominent Harlem political family." Needless to say, heads are spinning in New York with the sudden power shift that occurred within a 48-hour period, and many folks are taking a close look at Paterson for the first time. So do Washingtonians know who is a heart-beat or a hooker scandal away from the governor's chair in Olympia?
The lieutenant governor's office here has notoriously been a holding pen for either semi-retired, lackluster, or unserious politicians. They've included band leader Vic Meyers, former University of Washington football coach John Cherberg (who held the office for a record 32 years), and former U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard, for whom the office was a comfortable soft landing into semi-retirement. Pritchard's other claim to fame: He was the co-inventor of pickleball. The current holder is Brad Owen, who, according to Wikipedia, is the longest tenured lieutenant governor in the country. He was elected in 1996.
The fact is, the lieutenant governor doesn't have much to do. He presides over the Senate during legislative sessions, but otherwise it's a lot of make-work. Owen styles himself a rock star and has traveled the state with his band to play at high schools in a show that features an anti-drug message. At other times, he's taken overseas junkets, acting as a kind of trade ambassador-at-large. Someone's gotta sell those apples.
Check his Web site and you can see a press release congratulating "fellow" rockers The Ventures on their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Not sure what it is about musicians and the lieutenant governor's job, but former Nirvana bassist and current Seattle Weekly blogger Krist Novoselic also once considered running for the office. Maybe it's because you can sleep days.)
When not rocking out, Owen can be seen paying tribute to TV clown J.P.Patches (OK, that's actually worthwhile). Otherwise, he's speaking to the Boy Scouts or reminding folks that it's important to remember everything we do is for the kids. Owen likes kids so much, that when he was a state senator from Shelton, he said an Ellen Craswell-sponsored bill proposing to castrate sex offenders didn't go far enough.
Perhaps the closest Owen has come to getting a chance to occupy the big chair was in 2005, during the legal dispute over the Dino Rossi/Christine Gregoire election. One legal option the judge might have taken was voiding the election. In that case, Gov. Owen would have stepped in.
The dispute was settled in Gregoire's favor and now she's up for re-election. However, in light of the fickle finger of fate, it might be time to give some serious consideration to who's the emergency back-up in case an unexpected political or personal crisis turns the state on its head.