Posted: Aug. 5, 2011
THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, BUT NOT THE GOVERNOR'S LIEUTENANT
By Celia Cohen
Markell-Denn. Minner-Carney. Carper-Minner. Castle-Wolf. Delaware elects its governors and lieutenant governors separately, but it is hard to tell.
Governors and lieutenant governors always seem to be joined together at the hyphen. The voters have not sundered them by party for 27 years, not since they elected Mike Castle as the Republican governor and S.B. Woo as the Democratic lieutenant governor in 1984.
Electing the offices separately looks like a political anachronism whose time has gone.
"It's happened sort of by default," said Greg Lavelle, the House minority leader who is also the Republican Party's vice chair.
It was not always so. From the end of World War II until the current streak of same-sidekicks began in 1988, it was half and half. Five elections with governors and lieutenant governors of different parties, five the same.
For now, there is every reason to think the streak of politically-paired governors and lieutenant governors will reach seven elections in a row in 2012. This could change, if the Republicans ever come up with candidates to run against Jack Markell and Matt Denn, the Democratic "ticket."
Every now and then, there have been proposals to amend the state constitution to single-ballot elections. It actually almost happened in the early 1970s, when the General Assembly decided to rewrite the entire constitution, including a provision to eliminate the separate elections. The wholesale revision died because the secretary of state was supposed to advertise it but forgot.
No classified ad, no constitution. It was the 1970s equivalent of accidentally hitting the "delete" key.
It seems somewhat strange the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately. Delaware did not have a lieutenant governor until the office was created by a new constitution in 1897, and by that time, the state had a century to watch what had happened with the president and vice president.
"Being frozen out of the executive branch was the experience of Thomas Jefferson when he served as vice president to John Adams. The federal government quickly moved to a system where parties nominate a slate, although technically there is separate balloting in the Electoral College," said Joe Pika, a political scientist at the University of Delaware.
"I'd think Delaware would want to have an effective executive team right out of the chute so that both executives can contribute to the state's business."
There are arguments to be made both ways, and they are. Mike Castle, probably the most famous ex-lieutenant governor in the state, would prefer a switch to the single-ballot election. Matt Denn, the current occupant, likes it the way it is.
Castle probably has more experience than any other Delawarean with lieutenant governors. Not only was he elected as one in 1980 when Pete du Pont, a fellow Republican, was the governor, but he also served two terms as governor himself with Woo, a Democrat, as the lieutenant governor in his first term and Dale Wolf, a Republican, in his second.
"I think the governor, regardless of party, has a right to his or her own lieutenant governor. The state would be better served. Take a look at Joe Biden helping President Obama," Castle said.
By contrast, Denn regards the lieutenant governor's autonomy as an asset.
"Selfishly, it would be nice not to have to run on my own, but I think the governor is actually better served by having someone else in the room answerable to the voters. That assumes you have a governor who lets you play that role," Denn said.
"There's also no guarantee because the governor picks his or her running mate that there's going to be a sustained relationship of trust."
The preference for separate or joint elections does not fall along party lines.
John Daniello, the Democratic state chair, is with Castle, favoring the tandem responsibility that comes with a single ballot.
"Not that my opinion counts for anything, but it lets the lieutenant governor serve as a true lieutenant," Daniello said.
Tom Ross, who was the Republican state chair until he stepped down in April, is a checks-and-balances man who agrees with Denn on the value of an independently elected lieutenant governor.
"The way it's set up now, perspective candidates feel each other out, but ultimately the people get to choose. I don't see any advantage to changing the system," Ross said.
From a pure political standpoint, the parties and the lieutenant governors gain from the separate elections because it gives the candidates campaign experience and the opportunity to make their own mark.
"You're better off having done it," a Democratic operative said.
For now, the "tacit slates" -- as Pika, the political scientist, calls them -- roll on, connecting the lieutenant governors with their governors for better or worse. Ask Castle and Ruth Ann Minner, who zoomed upward to governor. Ask John Carney, who did not, although getting elected as a congressman, even with a two-year break thrown in, is not bad consolation.
"It's probably just how people think these days," said Lavelle, the House minority leader. "There are legitimate arguments on both sides, which probably leads to not changing anything."