Rep. Keefer proposes eliminating lieutenant governor position
Recent controversy surrounding the current lieutenant governor has led some in state government to question the purpose of the position, and one York County legislator wants the office eliminated completely.
Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Dillsburg, introduced a bill Nov. 27 to abolish the state's office of the lieutenant governor, which "has only a limited number of duties, which include serving as the President of the Senate and chairing the state’s Board of Pardons," according to her memo seeking cosponsors.
Keefer, who could not be reached for comment, wrote in her memo that eliminating the office would lead to significant annual savings and serve as a "sensible step to protect taxpayer dollars."
The change would require a constitutional amendment, which means the legislation would need to pass in the House and Senate in consecutive years before appearing on a statewide ballot.
Just a handful of states, including Arizona, New Hampshire and Oregon, operate state governments without a lieutenant governor, who succeeds a governor in office if he or she dies, resigns or is removed.
This scenario last played out in Pennsylvania when former Gov. Tom Ridge resigned to become Homeland Security adviser to former President George W. Bush in 2001. Former Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker became governor and Robert Jubelirer, president pro tempore of the state Senate, became lieutenant governor.
Keefer's legislation proposes to bypass the lieutenant governor in such a scenario and make the president pro tempore of the state Senate next in line for succession.
Party crisis: JP Kurish, spokesman for current Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, said this switch could create a constitutional crisis where an elected governor from one party is replaced by a senator from another party.
This would describe the current situation with Republican Sen. Joseph Scarnati III and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, said such a scenario is something that should be discussed as Keefer's bill moves through committees, but she feels now is a good time to have a meaningful conversation about whether the state needs the lieutenant governor's office.
Phillips-Hill, a cosponsor of the legislation, said discussion about the office is an important financial conversation, adding that she also is in favor of reducing the size of the Legislature.
"Is this position adding value to the people of (Pennsylvania) or is it largely ceremonial?" she said in reference to questions that need to be answered.
Kurish said the job of lieutenant governor is "what you make of it," and Stack feels he's done a good job. Kurish pointed to major efficiency improvements made to the Board of Pardons under Stack.
Under Keefer's legislation, the state attorney general would take over control of the board.
Phillips-Hill said part of the reason for her support of Keefer's bill is the perception that Wolf and Stack haven't been partners since taking office.
Earlier this year, Wolf stripped Stack and his wife of state police protection following complaints about the Stacks’ treatment of troopers and other state employees who tended to their taxpayer-funded residence.
“I do not delight in this decision, but I believe it is a necessary step to protect Commonwealth employees,” Wolf wrote to Stack, a former state senator from Philadelphia.
2018 election: In Pennsylvania, gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidates run independently during the primary election before being placed on the ballot together during the general election.
Wolf and Stack are both running for re-election in 2018, but a host of other Democratic lieutenant governor hopefuls have announced campaigns, including Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, a York County native.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Sen. Scott Wagner, of Spring Garden Township, is actively campaigning with lieutenant governor candidate Jeff Bartos, though the two will still have be elected separately during the primaries.
Sen. David Argall, R-Berks and Schuykill counties, has proposed a separate bill to allow gubernatorial candidates to select their running mates — as it is done in many other states — but that bill has yet to receive any consideration since being referred to committee in June.
— Reach David Weissman at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.