PHOTO/DENNIS MYERS Lt. Gov. Bob Cashell broke his office out of its status as the lost child of Nevada government by getting state lawmakers to give it serious new duties. Here he lobbied Clark County Assemblymember Ed Kovacs on May 22, 1983.

On the second floor of a Carson City casino, Nevada Day celebrants are crowding into a large ballroom. Most of the tables are full. A band is playing. And at the west end of the hall, Nevada's lieutenant governor is dishing up chili.

This is a modern tradition in Nevada. The Nevada Day chili feed was begun by Nevada Attorney General Richard Bryan in 1982. He held it every year as he rose to governor, then U.S. senator. When he retired from elective office, Brian Krolicki—then state treasurer and a Republican—asked Democrat Bryan if he could take it over. He continues the tradition today as lieutenant governor. (Bryan: “Brian Krolocki was a class act in asking my permission to take over the event. This will be the 32nd year.”)

Krolicki is well known in the state after two terms as treasurer and two as lieutenant governor. But it’s fair to ask whether the public knows what he does in the state’s second highest office besides check on the health of the governor and dish up chili.

Of the state’s six executive branch jobs elected statewide, five have duties that are innate to them. The governor is chief executive. Secretary of state is a record keeper. Treasurer and controller are virtually defined by their functions—one takes in the state’s money, the other pays the state’s bills. And the attorney general has powers and functions that are granted at common law—even the Legislature cannot change them except by amending the state constitution.

But the lieutenant governor? Other than succeeding to the governorship and presiding over the Nevada Senate every other year, not much comes to mind.

It’s been a puzzle for as long as Nevada has existed. What should be done with the job?

Nevada State Journal/March 17, 1899: “Nevada has about the same need for a Lieutenant Governor as for a Board of Harbor Commissioners.”

During the British colonial period, lieutenant governors were important because governors were often absent in England for long periods. With independence, they declined in importance, though the examples of the colonial experience suggested models as states entered the union. A lieutenant governorship was usually provided for in new state constitutions.

At an event at the Nevada StateArchives, three lieutenant governors posed— Lonnie Hammergren(left), Sue Wagner and Bob Miller.

An objection was raised at the first Nevada Constitutional Convention (“like the fifth wheel of a coach”), but it did not prevent the inclusion of the office. When that constitution was defeated by Nevada voters, the second convention included the office of lieutenant governor with no objection at all.

It was common for the office to be invested with a legislative presidency, as in Nevada, a trend possibly influenced by the vice president’s U.S. senate role.

In recent decades, as states have acted on reorganizations or other reforms, the trend has been in favor of creation of the office. States have occasionally abolished it, but then usually brought it back. But creation of duties for the office have been a distinct afterthought to the creation of the post itself. Except in the largest states, legislative presidencies are not full time.

Nevada has seen early decades of a working lieutenant governor, followed by a decline in its status and functions, then—in 1983—a new role.

From 1865 to 1873, the lieutenant governor served as warden of the Nevada Prison. After that experiment, the 1875 legislature put him—it was always men in those days—into the jobs of state librarian and Nevada adjutant general. This arrangement was more successful, or at least more lasting. The librarian job lasted until 1894 and adjutant general until 1926, which was an important function during two wars—the Spanish American and World War I.

Thereafter, the notion of a working lieutenant governor languished for decades and the post became effectively part time. Over the course of those decades there were occasional disputes and episodes that showed limits on the office.

The courts speak

Governor-elect Brian Sandoval chatted with Lt.Gov. Brian Krolicki shortly after the 2010 election.

When Gov. John Jones died in April 1896, it generated two disputes that resulted in important court rulings. After Lt. Gov. Reinhold Sadler became chief executive, an election for the unexpired portion of his term as lieutenant governor and a dispute over his salary prompted two Nevada Supreme Court decisions. The court found that under the language of the state constitution, unlike the federal model, when a Nevada governor dies or resigns, the lieutenant governor does not become governor. Rather, the lieutenant governor remains lieutenant governor and acts as governor. The governorship stays vacant. To put it another way, the lieutenant governor assumes the duties but not the office of the governor. No new lieutenant governor can be appointed or elected because that job is still occupied.

On two occasions, in 1912 and 1965, lieutenant governors usurped the powers of governors who were out of state. On the first occasion, with Gov. Tasker Oddie in Washington, D.C., the state attorney general died, and Lt. Gov. Gilbert Ross appointed a replacement without consulting the governor. Ross had chosen a politically well-connected replacement, so Oddie was in a delicate position. If, on returning to the state, he revoked the Ross appointment, he would probably have prevailed in court. But he could have offended all those political connections of the new attorney general, so he chose to let it go.

That was not what happened in 1965. When Gov. Grant Sawyer went out of state for a speech in California, Lt. Gov. Paul Laxalt convened a grand jury to investigate Sawyer’s highway department. When Sawyer returned, he revoked the order, and the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in his favor. The court found that when the governor can be contacted, and there is no urgency, the lieutenant governor cannot use the governor’s powers for other than minor or administrative purposes.

In 1977, a further controversy erupted over the office’s limited powers. There had long been questions about whether the lieutenant governor’s Nevada Senate tie breaking vote—which is granted by the state constitution—allows full fledged votes on all matters, or is limited to minor matters. In the mid-1970s the Equal Rights Amendment made the issue critical.

In 1975, legislative counsel (the legislature’s lawyer) Perry Burnett rendered an opinion that said the lieutenant governor (then Harry Reid) could vote on any tie. When that legislature ended, Burnett was fired by anti-ERA legislative leaders and a new counsel, Frank Daykin, was hired. A new opinion was requested, and Daykin ruled that the lieutenant governor could vote only on minor issues, not on legislation. In May 1983 Attorney General Brian McKay rendered an opinion overruling Daykin. There was, McKay found, a “legally sound, persuasive” case for the lieutenant governor to vote on all matters that tie before the senate. There the matter rests until the courts have reason to get involved.

Back to work

Through the years of a part-time lieutenant governor, there was occasional discussion of what to do with the post. In 1974, the legislature ordered a staff study which surveyed all living Nevada lieutenant governors, reviewed the research, and outlined a variety of alternatives, but no changes resulted. Instead, change finally came as the result of the initiative of one incumbent. At the 1983 Nevada Legislature, Nevada got back into the business of a working lieutenant governor.

The new governor, Richard Bryan, had proposed ambitious new plans for economic development and tourism to reduce the state economy’s dependence on gambling and construction. It was a remedy for the crippling impact of the recession through which the state had passed in 1981-82. A state that had believed its casinos made it “recession-proof” had learned otherwise.

The new lieutenant governor, Bob Cashell, lobbied the legislators to give him a role in this plan. They came through. Two new commissions were created, one for tourism promotion and the other for economic development. And the legislators provided for the lieutenant governor to chair both panels.

It was a good match. In the next 28 years, six lieutenant governors held those posts. The economic development job was particularly important and became more so as the state’s casino industry declined under the impact of California tribal gambling.

Sue Wagner, who was in the legislature when the office was beefed up and herself became lieutenant governor in 1991, said she was pleased with the changes Cashell had wrought in the office.

“Those responsibilities were important to the office,” she said last week. “I was able to take trade missions to places like Mexico. I worked with agents and location people in Hollywood to build up our movie productions. We were able to let those people know there is more than roulette wheels to Nevada, and introduce them to the Sierra, mountains and lakes. … There was something substantial to do with the job.”

That was the state of affairs until 2011, when Gov. Brian Sandoval convinced the lawmakers to strip the economic development chair from the job and make it appointive by the governor. In addition, the economic development function was moved into the governor’s office, resulting in a personalization of the function—the agency is now actually called the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

The lieutenant governor is now a member of a new board of economic development and still chairs the tourism commission, but the dynamic has changed.

Abolition?

Oddly, the office of lieutenant governor is getting a lot more attention this year than usual because of two factors. One is that Democrats did not field a strong candidate for governor, so the next stop on the ballot that is seriously contested is lieutenant governor. The second is that the election of a Republican lieutenant governor would give Gov. Brian Sandoval the freedom to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016 without turning the governorship over to a Democrat.

So the office is getting more notice than usual, but it’s not always leading to any discussion of the office itself, partly because the two leading Republican candidates—Sue Lowden and Mark Hutchison—are mostly talking about each other, and not in friendly tones. That leaves Democrat Lucy Flores, the only major candidate in her primary, to talk about the job itself, which she has been doing (“Contender,” RN&R, April 10).

“There is so much more that can be done with this office,” she told Fox News Latino last month. “I think it has been under-utilized. And it provides a great opportunity for someone who has a vision, energy and of course, a different perspective.”

Interestingly, Cashell is now calling for abolition of the office of lieutenant governor. It was a proposal he first embraced after he was elected to the job in 1982, but changed his mind upon winning the new duties from lawmakers. Now, with the economic development functions moved into the governor’s office and the lieutenant governor’s post less significant, Cashell is back to supporting abolition. “Those duties could be handled by the secretary of state or attorney general like in other states,” he said. (For a time there was a trend, particularly in Western states, of combining the jobs of lieutenant governor and secretary of state. That trend has receded, though New Jersey recently created the job of lieutenant governor for the first time, with responsibilities of a secretary of state.)

Cashell said that under the new arrangement, he has encountered corporate executives who were impressed that Nevada’s governor, Sandoval, met with them personally when they were looking for new sites. He said this suggests to him that moving the operation into the governor’s office has worked.

But Richard Bryan as governor got the same reaction from corporate executives with Cashell himself as economic development chair, because the governor got involved in meeting with them then, too. Neither the removal of the lieutenant governor or change in the organizational structure were necessary for Sandoval to be personally involved in luring new business. After all, under the previous system, while the economic development chair of the commission (which set policy) was the lieutenant governor, the economic development director, who ran the agency, was appointed by the governor.

Wagner believes abolishing the lieutenant governor’s office would be a mistake, and she has reservations about the reduction in its responsibilities. She said incumbent Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki—who is term-limited out of office this year—has done a good job in economic development, building on his business experience and his two terms as state treasurer before becoming lieutenant governor. She said even losing the economic development responsibilities did not keep him from continuing to work on bringing new business to the state. “Brian Krolicki has actually done something despite the changes in economic development,” she said.

Options

The National Conference of Lieutenant Governors once identified four forms the job has taken in various states.

• Under the executive plan, the lieutenant governor serves principally as an executive branch official, usually as a clear subordinate of the governor and in a state in which the chief executive is a legally strong governor.

• The legislative plan refers to a system under which the lieutenant governor is a member of the executive branch only in the sense of succession and otherwise is a fully functioning member of the legislature. This approach is used in one party states with constitutionally weak governors—that is, in several Southern states. In those states the lieutenant governor is quite powerful in the legislature.

• The administrative plan offers a lieutenant governor who is a strong, independently elected officer who heads a sector in the executive branch, similar to the state treasurer or secretary of state. As noted earlier, several small Western states (Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming) at one point moved in the direction of either giving the lieutenant governor the duties of the secretary of state, or making the secretary of state successor to the governor.

• The traditional plan provides for a lieutenant governor whose legislative duties are relatively minor and who otherwise performs numerous ceremonial tasks.

Another policy choice involving the lieutenant governor’s office is whether or not to have team elections—governor and lieutenant governor candidates running on tickets together. The idea has been proposed in the Nevada Legislature, though there hasn’t been much appetite for it. The model of the president and vice president running together was developed to remedy a specific problem—the original plan of the runner-up in the presidential race becoming vice president caused unhealthy mischief. Nevada has no similar problem needing solution.

One possibility for change is amending the state constitution to make the lieutenant governor a member of all the boards and commissions on which the governor serves. This change would provide generalized duties that meet tests both of constitutional endurance and of executive familiarization to prepare lieutenant governors in case they should be called on to become chief executive. Such a proposal has been made by the National Conference of Lieutenant Governors (now the National Lieutenant Governors Association) and was offered as an option in the 1974 Nevada legislative staff study on the lieutenant governorship. With such a constitutional assignment of duties as the basis for a working lieutenant governorship, other duties could be added by statute if needed.

There is a final problem involved in giving new duties to Nevada’s lieutenant governor. There is good reason for the acting governor’s status, to keep the governor’s office vacant and his powers safe from usurpation during a temporary absence or disability. But a situation involving a death or resignation—that is, a permanent end to the governor’s service—is another matter. If the office of lieutenant governor is invested with serious and full-time duties, then succession under the current constitutional provisions would present a legal dilemma and a serious problem in the operation of state government. While the lieutenant governor served as acting governor, the duties of the lieutenant governor would go undone.

Whatever decisions are taken on the lieutenant governorship, it would be nice if they were given more serious consideration than has been the case in the past. For most of a century, the job has been affected more by happenstance than by serious and considered lawmaking, and could again drift into that pattern.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...