After they're picked, most lt. gov. candidates have little influence on votersby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — When candidates for governor make their choices for the second spot on the ticket, they try to make it a big deal.
But once they're elected, most lieutenant governors tend to fade into the background. And at least recently, it's rare that a lieutenant ever becomes governor.
Candidates do whatever they can to attract attention when they think they've got something that will make them look good, so it's no surprise that they treat lieutenant governor announcements as big news.
Former Gov. Arne Carlson twice made those announcements.
"All of us who either are or have been in politics, we'd love to get up and have a major news conference and announce that we publicly support apple pie and get a standing ovation and a Nobel Prize for courage," Carlson said. "And so, obviously, if we can select a good candidate for the lieutenant governor, the more publicity you attract, the better off it is."
Voters pay attention to lieutenant governor picks because the choices provide early information about the candidates at the top of the ticket, he said.
Carlson said just like picking vice presidential candidates, choosing lieutenant governors almost always involves careful political calculation.
"If you're a metropolitan person, the standard thought is we've got to get somebody from the rural areas to balance your ticket," he said. "And if you don't you're going to have some criticism and if there's truth to that. Then you get the gender balance, you ought to balance on gender and perhaps on age if there's a huge age imbalance, maybe you've got to correct that."
Until Gov. Rudy Perpich picked Marlene Johnson to run with him in the early 1980s, candidates were apparently unconcerned about gender balance. But ever since, the governor has been a man and the lieutenant governor has been a woman.
Sitting in the ready library she runs at an east St. Paul public elementary school, Mae Schunk says she's been paying attention to the lieutenant governor new conferences.
Schunk was Jesse Ventura's lieutenant governor. She remembers the day Ventura's campaign called.
"I was polishing my kitchen cabinets that hadn't been done for a year!" she said.
She also remembers being nervous when it came time to announce her candidacy at a State Capitol news conference.
"I had a fear of saying the wrong thing," Schunk said. "You know this is the media. This is going out all over the whole state. But I guess I did alright."
Unless a governor dies in office, quits or otherwise becomes unable to serve, there's really nothing constitutionally required of the lieutenant governor. Schunk focused on education.
She said as Ventura's lieutenant, she always had access to her boss and she says more than once she let the outspoken governor know some of his rhetoric was not sitting well with Minnesotans.
"Sometimes I walked into his office and I said, 'governor, this dish rag is getting a little bit soiled.'" she said.
Schunk said she and Ventura talked about her taking on the job of education commissioner, but decided that position required full-time attention.
Schunk's successor, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, served as transportation commissioner for several years while she was lieutenant governor, but the Minnesota Senate removed her from that job following the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.
Former Ventura spokesman John Wodele has worked on several campaigns. Until she withdrew several weeks ago Wodele's wife, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, was a DFL candidate for governor.
Wodele says while politics plays a role in making lieutenant governor decisions, the most important part of the choice should be picking someone who has the capacity to take over as governor.
He says lieutenant governor choices can help gubernatorial candidates early but are almost irrelevant in the general election.
"The further you get away from the endorsements and the primary the less effect they're going to have, almost no effect during the general election. It's not going to make a difference," Wodele said. "They can hurt you, but they're not going to help you much."
In the last race for governor, many think a slip-up with DFL candidate Mike Hatch's running mate, Judy Dutcher, may have played a role in Hatch losing. Just days before the election, Dutcher botched a question about E-85, an alternative fuel that blends ethanol and gasoline.
"And what is E-85? What is it? E-85 gas. Hello he's asking me about E-85 -- it's like the college quiz bowl," Dutcher said.
Many think Hatch's angry reaction to criticism of Dutcher hurt him more than Dutcher's gaffe.
Independence Party-endorsed candidate for governor Tom Horner will round out lieutenant governor news conferences early next week when he announces his pick at the state Capitol.
- Morning Edition, 05/28/2010, 7:20 a.m.