The Lieutenant Governor Merry-Go-Round

What West Virginia has to look forward to.

Acting West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin may be right when he says West Virginia needs a lieutenant governor, as other states have, to succeed the governor in unforseen (or even forseen) circumstances.

But in most of those states...certainly in Ohio...that's about all the lieutenant governor does.  And that's made it a thankless, and often unforseen, job.

Consider the status of the men and women who have served in that post in the past 30-plus years.

Until 1978, Ohio elected its governor and lieutenant governor separately. That often meant the people who held the two elected offices were from different political parties.  In 1974, Republican James Rhodes was elected governor and Democrat Richard Celeste was elected lieutenant governor.  Celeste made it no secret he wanted to be governor someday, and that may have led to an absence of communication between the two men.  Perhaps because of that, it was decided the governor and lieutenant governor candidates run as a team, like the president and vice-president.

When Rhodes won re-election in 1978 (defeating Celeste), his running mate was George Voinovich. No sooner was Voinovich in office, however, then he began running for mayor of Cleveland, and he was elected to that office in 1979.  That left the lieutenant governor office vacant for three years.  When Celeste finally was elected governor in 1982, veteran state lawmaker Myrl Shoemaker became his lieutenant governor. Shoemaker did not live to see the end of his term; he died in 1985. Celeste chose Dayton, Ohio mayor Paul Leonard as his running mate when he was re-elected a year later.

Voinovich returned to the Ohio Statehouse when he was elected governor in 1990, with Congressman Mike DeWine as his running mate.  DeWine wasn't on the ticket, however, when Voinovich was re-elected in 1994; he was elected for the first of his two terms as a U.S. Senator. Voinovich chose former Marietta Mayor Nancy Hollister to be his lieutenant governor.  Hollister was actually the first of the people I've mentioned so far to succeed a sitting governor, if only briefly.  She replaced Voinovich when he left office early in 1999 to take office as Ohio's other U.S. Senator, which made her Ohio's first woman governor...for 11 days. Hollister, who had lost a bid for the U.S. House in 1998, was appointed to the Ohio Legislature, where she served until 2005.

The next governor, Bob Taft, was elected on the ticket with lieutenant governor candidate Maureen O'Connor. In 2002, however, O'Connor was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court (she was elected its chief justice in November, and is the first woman elected to that post).  Taft's running mate when he was re-elected was Columbus City Councilwoman Jeanette Bradley.  This is where it really gets interesting. In 2004, Taft appointed Bradley to replace State Treasurer Joseph Deters, who had been elected Hamilton County Prosecutor. Taft this time did choose a replacement for Bradley, State Senator Bruce Johnson, who actually functioned as the head of the Ohio Department of Development.  That meant Taft had three lieutenant governors during his administration. (Taft, by the way, was the running mate of James Rhodes in his last, unsuccessful, run for governor in 1986. Taft served two terms beginning in 1991 as Ohio Secretary of State.)

The concept of the lieutenant governor wearing more than one hat continued during Governor Ted Strickland's administration, when Lee Fisher also served as development chief. In what now probably was an expected turn of events, Fisher ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate (for the seat being vacated by Voinovich), and Yvette McGee-Brown was Strickland's running mate when he lost the election in November to John Kasich. Kasich's running mate, for the record, was Mary Taylor, who already has been Ohio's state auditor, and, if tradition continues, she no doubt will be running for another office in the next election.

The talk for years in West Virginia has been that the Secretary of State has been a stepping stone to higher office.  Judging by the way things have gone in Ohio the past three decades, that might change if the Mountain State gets a lieutenant governor.


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