BY DAVID PERRYMAN
SQ 798 is likely the most straight-forward of the five state questions that will appear on the November 2018 ballot. It simply provides that if it passes, beginning in 2026 our governor and lieutenant governor will be elected as running mates.
Many Oklahomans don’t realize that it is possible for these two offices to be held by members of different parties, but that occurred in four of the 11 elections held between 1962 and 2006.
The state question does not resolve all issues however. The Legislature will work out the specifics if SQ 798 passes, but the most likely scenarios would be:
A. The winner of the primary in each party’s gubernatorial race will be paired on the general election ballot with the winner of that party’s lieutenant gubernatorial race;
B. The winner of the primary in each party’s gubernatorial race would choose a running mate; or
C. The candidates for governor and lieutenant governor would file for office as a team.
One issue that could arise and would need to be legislatively resolved prior to the initial election [in the event the winners of the governor and lieutenant governor primaries were paired] would be the scenario when a party does not field candidates in both the governor’s and the lieutenant governor’s races.
Another scenario that would need to be addressed is how independent candidates would be paired up.
What the proponents of the state question hope to avoid are circumstances similar to what has occurred in California. According to Louis Jacobson in a April 12, 2013 online article, in the late 1970s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown was running for president and Republican Lt. Governor Mike Curb used Brown’s frequent absences to appoint judges.
A few years later, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson tried to throw Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis’ office out of the Capitol and, even more recently, GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi’s office budget by two-thirds as a punishment for criticizing the governor’s cuts to state universities.
Of course, all stress between governors and lieutenant governors is not partisan. Online editor Patrick J. Kiger wrties that in the 1940s, when Republican future U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was governor of California, he reportedly disliked Republican Lt. Gov. Goodwin Knight so intensely that when Warren went on trips, he locked up legislation in his desk so that Knight couldn’t sign it.
Oklahomans have had direct elections of governor independent of lieutenant governor for 111 years and not yet experienced a constitutional crisis. Perhaps part of that is because no one in Oklahoma really knows what the lieutenant governor is supposed to do, including the lieutenant governor.
In fact, Oklahoma might be better served to instead vote on a state question to totally eliminate the $114,713 annual salaried [plus benefits] position. Five other states, Oregon, Arizona, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Maine have gotten along longer than 111 years without a lieutenant governor. We would also save hundreds of thousands by eliminating the need of the 24-hour OHP security detail and the shiny black Suburban.
If SQ 798 passes on Nov. 6, 2022 may be the last time that Oklahomans select a lieutenant governor as a stand-alone office. Good or bad? You be the judge.
– Chickasha’s David Perryman serves District 56 in the Oklahoma Houseand is House Democratic Floor Leader