We don't need a lieutenant governor

Updated 11/13/2010 4:09 PM

It's been almost 22 months since Rod Blagojevich lost his impeachment trial and Pat Quinn replaced him as governor. During that time, the state of Illinois has operated without a lieutenant governor.

Has anybody noticed any difference?

Has anybody worried about it? Has anyone issued dire warnings that the absence of a lieutenant governor threatens the stability of state government? Has there been any feverish campaign to alter the state constitution so that the office can be filled when there's a vacancy?

There is no question that state government in Illinois is in sorry shape, but no one, as far as we can determine, has tried to suggest there's a link between that unfortunate condition and the empty chair in the lieutenant governor's office.

Thing is, this isn't the only time we've operated with that empty chair. In the summer of 1998, Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra of Park Ridge resigned to take a job as a university president with half a year to go on his term.

(Kustra, by the way, held such a love-hate regard for the office that he had kind of a penchant for resigning from it. He'd also tried to resign in 1994 to become a radio talk show host in an attempted career change Blagojevich could appreciate but then changed his mind when Gov. Jim Edgar developed heart problems.)

Of course, there's also Dave O'Neal, who resigned as lieutenant governor in 1981 citing "boredom." The vacancy in the office lasted 17 months that time, and Gov. James R. Thompson and the state seemed to get along fine.

Nobody noticed any difference then, and nobody's noticed any difference now. To anyone with any common sense, what does that suggest?

"The insignificance of the position to the operation of our state government is painfully clear," says state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat who co-sponsored legislation earlier this year aimed at abolishing the office.

You know what a private business decides when a job is open for 22 months in the middle of a recession? It decides this: If we could get along without that job for 22 months, we probably don't need that job.

Illinois, as everyone knows, is so deep in debt that no one knows if we'll ever climb out. Does it make sense, under those circumstances, to continue to operate an unnecessary office that cost the taxpayers almost $2 million two years ago and as much as $4 million annually back in the days when George Ryan held the position?

What does the lieutenant governor do? Check the governor's medical charts every morning and otherwise, look for something to do. Whatever the lieutenant governor does, it could be done by someone else.

That's how it works in Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Wyoming. Those states operate without a lieutenant governor. Illinois could and should too. We need a constitutional amendment to eliminate the office.

As Franks says: "If we're ever going to reform government and get rid of nonessential services, we've got to get rid of this archaic office."