No one knows your name, but there's no heavy lifting
Quick: Who is the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania?
It's not fair checking the Internet or calling state Rep. Kurt Masser's office on the QT. Do you know who the lieutenant governor is?
Three reasons we should know: (1) We elected him (at the same time we elected the governor). (2) We pay the guy about $150,000 a year. (3) He could succeed to the governorship in the event of a vacancy.
Yet, the other day as I drove by the lieutenant governor's official residence at Indiantown Gap, the only name I could think of was "Catherine Baker Knoll." I remember her very well, but Knoll, who died in office, was lieutenant governor during most of the Rendell administration. The present lieutenant governor's name escaped me, and I suspect I'm not alone.
Most Pennsylvanians, except for the most addicted political junkies, have never heard of Brad Koplinski either. In addition to being a member of Harrisburg City Council, Koplinski is an announced candidate for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 2014. He's serious about it, too. Koplinski has visited all 67 counties as part of his quest, and his website lists 115 supposedly well-known Democrats who have endorsed him.
The primary is eight months away, but the campaign has already begun in earnest, not only for Koplinski, but for his probable opponents. The best known is former Congressman Mark Critz. Others are Brenda Alton, Harrisburg's parks and recreation director, and Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith.
The list of candidates for the 2014 lieutenant governor primary is likely to grow, and may eventually include Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who lost to Tom Corbett in 2008 for state attorney general; state Sen. John Wozniak, of Johnstown, and Michael J. Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association. Our former congressman, Chris Carney, has also been among those mentioned.
There'll likely be more. It doesn't matter how long the list is because a lieutenant governor candidate only needs to attract support from a plurality of primary voters, not a majority. For instance, the present lieutenant governor won the 2010 Republican primary with 26 percent of the vote over eight other candidates,
That's par for the course. Knoll, who, as a former state treasurer, was well known in state Democratic circles, only mustered 25.4 percent in the 2002 primary, but that was good enough to top a crowded field, which included two prominent state senators, Jack Wagner and Allen Kukovich.
In 1978, Robert P. Casey won the Democratic lieutenant governor nomination over 13 people because he was fortunate enough to have the same name as the famous future governor. This "Robert P. Casey" was not the former state auditor general and, as of that time, twice unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, but a biology teacher from Pittsburgh.
No matter how many candidates are in the race, it's worth taking a shot if you aspire to state office. You seldom need to convince a majority of primary voters, and the job is quite a prize. There's certainly no heavy lifting. The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate (only having a vote in case of a tie), serves as chairman of the Board of Pardons, a member of the state emergency management agency and, from time to time, as a member of advisory committees.
The lieutenant governor's office is, without question, an attractive gig. What it is not is a reliable pathway to the governorship.
The last lieutenant governor to succeed to the governorship by election was Raymond P. Shafer in 1967. Some tried but were unsuccessful - Ernie Kline, Raymond Broderick, Mark Singel and even William Worthington Scranton III, son of a very popular Republican governor.
Only two lieutenant governors have succeeded to the governorship as a result of vacancies. John C. Bell served as governor for 19 days in 1947 when Gov. Edward Martin resigned early to take a seat in the U.S. Senate. Mark Schweiker, lieutenant governor under Tom Ridge, became governor in October 2001 when Ridge resigned to serve as homeland security adviser and later secretary of the new federal homeland security department. In addition, Singel served as Pennsylvania's acting governor for eight months in 1993 while Gov. Casey was recovering from a multiple organ transplant.
There's never been a Northumberland Countian in the lieutenant governor's office or even on the ballot for the position, at least not in modern history. The late Northumberland County Commissioner James P. Kelley was occasionally touted for the job, especially at the peak of his influence in the 1980s. State Rep. Robert P. Belfanti, had he been interested, would also have been a credible candidate. Both were skilled campaigners with solid records in public service, and they each had friends in every part of the state.
It's within the realm of possibility, of course, that a county resident could eventually join the growing list of 2014 Democratic lieutenant governor hopefuls, but it's hard to imagine who that might be.
In the end, Koplinski, or Smith, or Morganelli, or Carney, or whoever the Democrats settle on will be working hard to succeed the incumbent lieutenant governor, who may well be fortunate enough to win the Republican nomination next year without opposition.
Quit wracking your brains - the lieutenant governor is Jim Cawley.
(Betz is an assistant editor of The News-Item.)