Jack Ohman

The ghost office of California Lt. Governor

For a while, it was looking like there would be no Republicans running to challenge Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. The man who has announced for this peculiar office is Ron Nehring, who was chairman of the California Republican Party from 2007 until 2011.

In his announcement, Nehring essentially created a fairly strong case for ending the office entirely, which is a curious early campaign decision. He noted that the office served as a “taxpayer-funded gubernatorial campaign committee.”

He’s right.

This isn’t a fun little dig at Gavin Newsom, or how, precisely, he occupies his time. Because it is pretty clear by now how he occupies his time. He’s just kind of going on television, radio, writing books about social networks and government, punching a few clocks at various state boards he’s constitutionally entitled to attend, and generally waiting around for someone his senior to retire from the job immediately above him.

That would be 2019, apparently. So that leaves the two U.S. Senate seats, which are currently held by quite peppy incumbents who haven’t mentioned any intention to retire … yet. It’s certainly a possibility, but not a slam dunk.

So Gavin Newsom bides his time, even though he’s forfeited his state salary ($123,965), with a staff of three and a $1 million office budget, and thinks of ways to be perceived as Lt. Gubernatorial.

So, too, have the previous incumbents who have held the seat. It’s not just Gavin Newsom. There’s Abel Maldonado, who just concluded a catastrophic gubernatorial bid (oddly, assisted by Nehring). There’s Cruz Bustamante, who also wound up Not Governor. And John Garamendi. And and and and and ... with the exception of Gray Davis, the office hasn’t produced a governor in eight decades, which is a long time to form exploratory committees.

All the other statewide offices are very demanding jobs. For example, I wouldn’t want to be state insurance commissioner. Why California’s insurance commissioner isn’t selected by the governor is beyond me, but I can assure you that anyone who wants to be state insurance commissioner has my full blessing. I can’t even fill out a car insurance renewal form without passing out.

State treasurer: lots of numbers. State controller: Lots of numbers, ibid. Attorney general: lots of laws and footnotes. State superintendent of public instruction: lots of schools and teachers. Supreme Court justices: Lots of laws and footnotes, along with what appear to be very uncomfortable robes for California weather. Lt. Governor?

Lots of waiting.

So, Ron Nehring wants to be Lt. Governor. He will “make the office a positive platform to develop and advocate for bold reform of state government to modernize it and make the state more economically competitive: comprehensive tax reform, pension reform, regulatory reform, education reform, reining in frivolous lawsuits, and more.”

You know, with all those powers vested in the office of Lt. Governor.

Which, in fact, actually are vested in another office. That would be the one currently held by Gov. Jerry Brown.

I come from the comparatively unpopulated state of Oregon, which has about 3.8 million citizens, less than twice the size of the Sacramento area. Oregon, I like to say, is California’s northernmost county. Oregon is by no means perfect. For example, their Affordable Care Act rollout is perhaps the worst in the nation. Really. There are a lot of cool things there that Californians really like, such as rain. But there is one thing in Oregon they don’t have:

A Lt. Governor.

If something should befall the governor of Oregon, the secretary of state becomes governor. She has some real responsibilities up there, and her last name is Brown, so you know she’d be ready to be governor.

So, Ron Nehring, maybe you shouldn’t run for Lt. Governor. And neither should Gavin Newsom.

Maybe you guys could get jobs instead.