The most popular player on any National Football League team is the backup quarterback. He stands on the sideline with a baseball cap on and fans imagine how much better their teams would be if only that second-string guy got a shot at running the offense.
The world isn’t as kind to lieutenant governors. Most Oklahomans couldn’t name the current lieutenant governor in Oklahoma even though he has served in that position for eight years and spent millions on a failed gubernatorial campaign.
Across America, the second highest position in government faces uneven treatment. Five states don’t have a lieutenant governor. Two states allow their legislatures to select them. About half of the elected lieutenant governors run their own race while the other half are added to a ticket with the governor — much like the relationship between the president and vice president on the federal level.
Of those who run on a ticket with the governor, about half join the ticket before the primaries and the rest have separate primaries before a running mate is chosen.
The only thing they have in common is that most of the variances are regional.
Southern and western states tend to elect lieutenant governors separately. New Mexico, Wisconsin and Alaska are outliers, but the rest of the elections with a separate primary with a running mate occur in New England.
Those with running mates selected before primaries tend to be in the Midwest and across the northern United States.
Oklahomans currently elect their second in command separately, but a state question in November will give voters a chance to change that beginning in the 2026 election.
SQ798 would change the way Oklahoma elects its lieutenant governor. The state question would make sure the executive branch runs on one ticket, however, it doesn’t say which method voters would use to select their leaders. That would be determined by the legislature in upcoming years.
It is strange to pass an outline with the promise to fill in the details later. However, even with that anomaly in mind, I can’t understand why the state would waste the time and money on a lieutenant governor election when electing the entire executive branch in one vote has so many advantages.
The best reason to have gubernatorial candidates select a running mate is how instructive it is toward their mindset and character.
When Barack Obama decided not to select Hillary Clinton as a running mate it showed that he knew her baggage would be heavy to carry. Donald Trump beat her in 2016. It seems like Obama might have been right.
When Trump picked Mike Pence, it was an admission that he was not a member of the Religious Right but he would align himself with that voting bloc.
Kevin Stitt is a newcomer to the Oklahoma political landscape. Wouldn’t you like to see who he selected as a running mate? Would it be geography-based? He is strong in Tulsa. Would he select a running mate from Oklahoma City or maybe western Oklahoma? You would learn a lot about him and his decision-making processes.
The same is true for Mick Cornett. Would he pick a running mate from state government since he has been a city administrator? Would he select a Tulsan? I would love to know.
Lt. Governor Todd Lamb lost in part because he was seen as Mary Fallin’s third term and she was recently revealed to be the least popular governor in the nation. Even Lamb’s attempts to separate himself from her and her policies weren’t enough to get him into the runoff.
Having both candidates on one ticket removes the likelihood that the executive branch will split on policy issues.
The second position in state government — like the vice president — is pretty light on day-to-day responsibility right now. That office is supposedly over tourism. I guess in Florida that would be great. In Oklahoma, it isn’t exactly our primary driver of the economy.
Working for the governor, there could be key assignments on joint committees or negotiations where the lieutenant governor could have more value. As an independently elected position, there is a competition between them so the governor is less likely to use their lieutenant for any important assignments.
It seems obvious that electing the top two state officials on one ticket is the best option. I wish the legislature had fleshed out the skeletal outline of what that process would look like a little more before sending it to the voters, but any method is better than what we have now.
— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.