July | August 2017

Lieutenant Governors and the Roles They Play

Lieutenant governors—those who are first in line to succession to governors—have varied roles across the 50 states and five U.S. territories.
Many preside over state senates, while most pursue legislative initiatives. Many testify on issues either in their state capital and/or Washington, D.C. Some serve in governors’ cabinets, while others maintain varied portfolios of duties. Each state and the individual officeholder has the opportunity to utilize the office to most effectively meet the state’s needs.
The National Lieutenant Governors Association, organized in 1962, and an affiliate of CSG, serves these state officials who are first in line of succession. This official holds the title of lieutenant governor in 45 states and four U.S. territories, while the secretary of state fills this role in three states and one territory. In two states—West Virginia and Tennessee—the senate president is first in line of succession.
Lieutenant governors are the only officials with specific duties and powers in two branches of state government—the executive and legislative branches.
In recognition of the nation’s lieutenant governors and the Golden Anniversary of NLGA, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy, the 2012 NLGA chair, and Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts discuss the roles they play in their respective states.

Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts

My statutory duties as lieutenant governor of Rhode Island include serving as the chair of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council, the Small Business Advocacy Council and the Emergency Management Advisory Council. Among my goals are to make health care reform a priority to benefit all Rhode Islanders; to help create a state in which new entrepreneurs easily can start new ventures, while Main Street businesses have access to opportunities for growth and prosperity; and to ensure that Rhode Island is well prepared for any emergency or natural event that might bring disaster our way.
Other responsibilities of this office tend to be project-focused and often accomplish important work. One example of this is the Healthy RI Task Force that I created in spring 2010 to determine how best to implement national health care reform in Rhode Island, especially the health benefits exchange that is required to launch by Jan. 1, 2014. Projects such as the task force are not designated by the role itself, but are up to the elected official to define during his or her time in office.
In January 2011, Gov. Lincoln Chafee transformed the task force into the Rhode Island Healthcare Reform Commission. I am now serving as chair to oversee the coordination of efforts of several state agencies and more than 150 dedicated professionals across the health care industry, including consumer advocates, business leaders, physicians, nurses and other health care providers, labor leaders, insurers, legislators and policymakers.
Over the past year, Rhode Island has been recognized nationally for how quickly we’ve been able to make significant progress in our implementation efforts. The key to our success has been how closely the Healthcare Reform Commission has worked with the community outside of government, especially those in the health care field, while gaining the cooperation and collaboration of various departments inside state government.
This robust participation has been beneficial in propelling us forward, and our progress is testimony to just how productive government can be when we all work together toward a common goal.

Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy

The practice of states having a clear line in the gubernatorial succession plan has been in place for more than 200 years, and the position of lieutenant governor has played a significant role and continues to evolve in many states.
I have had the opportunity to serve as lieutenant governor in Nebraska since being appointed in January 2005. Managing the business of the state has become very complex, and it has been recognized that the lieutenant governor’s office can be a strong partner to help manage the state’s issues. The role of the lieutenant governor in many states has evolved into a very integral position.
In states, many lieutenant governors have the constitutional responsibilities as the presiding officer of the legislative body and are also the first in the line of succession to the office of governor if the office is vacated. That is where the commonalities end.
The areas that are my primary focus in Nebraska are serving as the director of homeland security, working with our Department of Economic Development on business development and recruitment and the Nebraska Information Technology Commission.
My responsibilities as director of homeland security include the coordination of efforts by local, state and federal agencies that are involved in public safety and public health. Being an emergency responder as a paramedic for more than 20 years has proved to be very helpful.
As a chief executive in the state, I have a responsibility to create an environment for businesses to be successful and grow. Working with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, I have the opportunity to work with education and our business sector on the necessary strategies for success. We are competing in a global environment and there is a need for significant cooperation.
Nebraska is geographically a very large state. We have embraced the utilization of technology for interaction with our citizenry to do business with the state. The information technology system also establishes policies and protocols for how the state government and university system utilize technology. Some of the successful projects I have worked on include telehealth network, health information technology, electronic health records, distance education, a statewide interoperable communications system for our emergency responders, and the adoption of several hundred ways citizens can get access to information or have the capabilities to do business with the state.
As with any job, there is the old employment saying, “and other duties as assigned.”
The office of lieutenant governor in the state of Nebraska has become more efficient and effective over the years and now is viewed as an integral piece in the delivery of service to our citizens.
NLGA 50th Anniversary
As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the NLGA has partnered with the Kenton County, Ky., Public Library—with support from The Council of State Governments—to make available the first national collection of documents on the work of the nation’s lieutenant governors. To learn more about NLGA, visit www.nlga.us.