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With Hochul's Rise, Lieutenant Governors Get Rare Moment In The Sun

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Hochul at the state's Democratic Convention in Melville, N.Y., in 2014.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Hochul at the state's Democratic Convention in Melville, N.Y., in 2014.

“There is actually an organization called the National Lieutenant Governors Association. And I went to one of the meetings. I only went to one and then I became governor. And they said this governor who had been governor from Iowa said, you never know your state could be next. And I said, eh, that's Iowa, Kansas, Wyoming. These things don't happen in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, California and Texas. And I found out that they do.”

– Former New York Gov. (and Lieutenant Gov.) David Paterson

States’ No. 2s are having a moment right now, as New York’s Kathy Hochul prepares to become the state’s first female governor. But other than standing ready to step in at a moment’s notice, what else do LGs do? We called up Julia Brossart, the Director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, to find out.

The National Lieutenant Governors Association is to serve and support all the lieutenant governors who are the second in command of all the 50 states and the U.S. territories. What they do on a day to day basis is very diverse across the many states. But we do what we can to support them in the exchange of information between the federal government and their state level lieutenant governors.

We hold meetings, we put out issue papers, research, papers, communications, we help them develop networks not only across their regions, but across the entire nation. We try to develop international opportunities where they can shake a hand, meet people, hear from an international perspective. And we do all of this to try to make them the best that they can be in the essential functions that they perform on a day to day basis, but also to assist them, as former Governor Paterson said, on that one moment that many of them will see, which is their succession to governor.

In that interview with us, Gov. Paterson joked that his main job as LG was to make sure the governor was still alive in the morning. But are lieutenant governors’ portfolios taking on more importance than they maybe did at one time nowadays?

Yes, lieutenant governors do have a diverse range of duties in their portfolios. And I have been with the LGA for almost 20 years now. And I can say a definite yes to that: their portfolios have grown in size and significance. Their duties are across the board from emergency management and business development, to housing, seaports, infrastructure aerospace. More than half of the lieutenant governors preside over their Senates across the nation. Others lead departments or entire divisions of government. They may lead task forces, they engage in personal initiatives. And all of them develop relationships at the local, state, federal and even international level and with their constituents across their states. And most of them do many of these tasks at the same time within their portfolio of work.

You know, here in the Northeast in Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, has been side by side with Karen Polito, his lieutenant governor, throughout the COVID crisis. It's rare for him to do a press conference without her. Over here in New York, Kathy Hochul said Governor Cuomo and she hadn't really talked in many, many months dating back to early this year when his troubles began mounting. And she really spent her job on the road. In general, among your membership, are lieutenant governors typically cheerleaders for the administration, or do they have their own kind of lane that they stay in?

I think the answer to that question begins with how they are elected. You know, I think we have 18 states now where the Office of Governor and the Office of Lieutenant Governor are actually elected separately.

New York being one.

Yes, New York being one. And so they can be of different parties. They can certainly have, I think, different priorities. We do typically see lieutenant governors and governors try to work together on the same page. But just as often we will see a lieutenant governor break with a governor regardless of whether or not they're the same party and plow a different field or hold a different position on an number of issues, which I think is, you know, what constituents, voters often expect of the number one and the number two people in their states.

Is it possible for a lieutenant governor to prepare to get ready in case that call does come, as it has in this specific case, to become governor, or are things about being governor that you just have to experience to learn how to do the job?

Every lieutenant governor and second in command in the states knows that their shared duty is to be ready for that call to become governor. And in my experience, they work every day to make sure they are ready for that call. It's the job that they ran for. In New York, specifically, Governor, Lieutenant Governor Hochul, her duties included presiding over the Senate, which helps her develop a wide and diverse legislative relationship building.

She's familiar with the current issues and debates in the state. She is up to date on policy, and is exposed in that role also to the budget process. She has chaired the Regional Economic Development Councils. And that position has taken her across the state into I think every corner of the state and every nook and cranny. In addition, she just personally made it a goal to visit every county every year. So she has been on the main streets, she has met with all sizes of business, local county city leaders. And she has also done some work that I would consider specific work. She co-chaired the heroin and opioid abuse task force. And that is unfortunately in most of the states a growing problem that's going to need to be prioritized again as we come out of the pandemic. So certainly, there are a number of ways in New York and in any state that a lieutenant governor can work to be ever ready to become governor should that call come. And my experience is that they work every day to do that.

You know, polling has shown this and also a lot of the news coverage after we learned that Kathy Hochul will become the governor — and that is, the average New Yorker might not know who the Lieutenant Governor is. Are lieutenant governors, in your view, under-heralded?

I believe that lieutenant governors are under-heralded. It's really incredible the number of things that lieutenant governors do not only through their own personal initiative, the duties that a governor may have devolved to them, that the legislature may have given to them. But they stay constantly prepared in a number of arenas.

I know one, for example, that we champion here at the LGA, is to be involved in emergency management, to know your emergency managers, to know where your centers are and how these processes work. Because if a governor is out of state or out of country or simply unavailable in any type of emergency, it would in fact, be the Lieutenant Governor that the constituents would most likely see at the podium. And that's one thing that I know most LGs work on and keep attuned to on a regular basis, which they get very little herald for. So amongst all of the many things that they do, I do think that they are under-heralded.

As we speak, Kathy Hochul hasn't made her selection for her lieutenant governor, which will be vacated once she ascends to the governorship. She said she wants to make that pick imminently. In your view, what type of person should she be looking for?

I think a governor who appoints a lieutenant governor, particularly in a scenario which includes a gubernatorial session, we'll be looking for a person that they trust, that they can have a good and solid relationship with. In this case, soon to be governor Kathy Hochul is leaving and is the person that is most recently been holding that office. So they know how essential it is, they know what types of things are done there on a daily basis, and which need to be done there on a daily basis. And so they look for a person who can do those things, who they can have a partnership with. And I think they look for a person who brings some balance to their own set of skills and experiences and relationships so that they have the widest point of view and the widest set of knowledge available in the administration.

So how does it work — are you ready yourself to become Executive Director of the National Governors Association?

If called on to serve I would do so, but no, right now I am extremely pleased and proud to be working for the nation's lieutenant governors.