The Senate State Government Committee Tuesday advanced legislation sponsored by Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) that would reform the way the Office of Lieutenant Governor is filled by making the position one chosen by a party’s candidate for governor to run as a ticket, as opposed to the current method of having the office independently elected.
More specifically, Argall’s Senate Bill 761 would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow the candidate of each political party for the election to the office of lieutenant governor to be selected by the candidate of that party nominated for election to the office of the governor. The pick would also need to be approved by the respective state political party.
Following an amendment adopted to the bill, the pick would have to be made within 90 days following the nomination for the office of governor.
“The goal would be to have a governor candidate, after the primary, select his or her running mate,” Argall said Tuesday. “The idea is that if they run together as a team, there is a much better chance they will govern as a team.”
The committee held a hearing on the legislation in November where they heard from a number of former lieutenant governors and state political party leaders who offered perspectives on the positive and negative aspects of the legislation, but with most testifiers strongly supporting the concept of having the position appointed by the gubernatorial nominee.
“The public hearing, I think, was interesting…all testified that this would be a step forward,” Argall added. “We do believe it will be an improvement over the current process.”
Despite the bill’s unanimous committee approval, it was clear that the legislation is not yet fully baked.
Committee Minority Chairman Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) questioned the need for having a lieutenant governor at all, noting the position was created by the people and has very limited functions that could be absorbed by other positions.
He, along with Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester), questioned the wisdom of having the nominee approved by the state political parties.
“If the intent is for governing, I think you want to remove as much politics as possible so the largest delegation in the party can’t drive the process,” he said.
Others questioned why there is a need to so drastically change the process, noting the Democratic principles embodied in the current method of having an independently elected office.
Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) wondered if it would be possible to legislate creating a more formal partnering during the election process, but still keeping the office independently elected.
“There’s something so Democratic about it that really appeals to me,” she said.
In the current GOP primary, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner has tied his campaign to that of Jeff Bartos for lieutenant governor.
Argall pledged to work with members during the process to ensure the language of the bill can be appropriately tightened to assuage any concerns.
With the legislation being a constitutional amendment, it would need to pass in identical form in two consecutive legislative sessions before being submitted to the electorate for approval. Therefore, it would not have any implications for the 2018 gubernatorial election.
However, it is the 2014 race and the 2018 election that has put the issue in the legislative crosshairs.
The relationship between the current governor, Tom Wolf, and Lt Gov. Mike Stack has been a bit of a forced marriage since the nominations to their current roles in 2014.
Since then, reports of Stack’s misbehavior in office – including allegations of maltreatment and misuse of his once-provided State Police security detail as well as questionable charges relating to his state-provided mansion in Ft. Indiantown Gap – have led many to openly question whether he should seek a second term in office.
Speaking to an Inspector General’s report summarizing an investigation into the Stack allegations, Wolf said Tuesday he has chosen to not make the report’s findings public.
“I’m not going to release it,” he said. “My concern back in the summer was to make sure employees, the police and the staff out there at the residence were safe and were not in a bad job situation; I took care of that. I don’t think anything is to be served by piling on top of that, and I need to be fair to Mrs. Stack, who I think is still undergoing treatment. I don’t see any reason to go further than I did.”
In response, Lt. Gov. Stack thanked the governor for his support.
“My family is grateful for the support from the governor, as well as from family and friends across Pennsylvania as we address this private family health issue," he said.
"We are more committed than ever to make sure that every Pennsylvanian has access to the same quality health care that is available to us.”
However, the decision has drawn some derision from some Republicans.
Senate Republican spokesperson Jenn Kocher tweeted shortly after the governor’s announcement questioning the governor’s lack of transparency, noting several instances where the administration has committed itself to a transparency.
That drew a tweeted retort from the governor’s press secretary JJ Abbott.
“A reminder that the GOP-controlled PA General Assembly is one of the least transparent government bodies,” he posted. “They exempted almost all of their records from the right-to-know law they wrote themselves and claim legislative privilege to keep calendars, emails, and more secret.”
Jason Gottesman is the Harrisburg Bureau Chief of The PLS Reporter, a news website dedicated to covering Pennsylvania’s government.