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Lieutenant governor hopefuls vie for empty seat

August 29, 2014

BOSTON (AP) — The office of lieutenant governor has a limited budget, few prescribed responsibilities and has been vacant for the past 15 months without much notice or effect.

The relatively unknown candidates who are trying to fill it all say they can carve out an important role for themselves while serving as an invaluable partner to the next governor.

The three Democrats on the Sept. 9 primary ballot are Leland Cheung, a Cambridge city councilor and board member of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative; Stephen Kerrigan, a onetime aide to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and chief of staff to former Attorney General Thomas Reilly; and Mike Lake, head of the nonprofit organization Leading Cities and onetime aide to President Bill Clinton.

The sole Republican, former state Rep. Karyn Polito, is assured of being on the November ballot.

Candidates for lieutenant governor run independently in the primaries but team with their party’s gubernatorial nominee in the general election, meaning the governor and lieutenant governor will never represent different parties.

The Democratic hopefuls all said they hoped to serve as a liaison to municipal government, a role former Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray specialized in before he resigned in June 2013 to head the Worcester chamber of commerce.

The three also have other ambitions for the job.

Kerrigan said he sees the lieutenant governor as a problem-solving ombudsman, making the office a place where constituents “trying to maneuver through the morass of state government and regulations” can go for help.

Cheung, who if elected be the first Asian-American to hold statewide office, said he foresees his role as that of the state’s “chief operating officer,” to the CEO governor.

“The governor has to worry about a million things from fixing potholes on the turnpike to fixing deficiencies in agencies,” said Cheung. “The lieutenant governor has the ability to focus on issues of long-term importance to the Commonwealth.”

Lake envisions himself more as the state’s “chief marketing officer,” focusing primarily on economic development. He suggested the framers of the state constitution deliberately left the lieutenant governor without a job description, making the office “the only one with the flexibility to adjust to the needs of the time.”

The office does have one constitutionally prescribed responsibility — chairing the Governor’s Council, an eight-member elected body that votes on judicial nominations. The council has often faced criticism for letting politics get in the way of the process.

Cheung has proposed abolishing the council, which he calls an “antiquated vestige from a colonial time,” and giving judicial confirmation powers to the state Senate. His opponents disagree.

Lake said allowing legislators to review judges would likely make the system even more political, noting how the U.S. Senate often holds up judicial nominations by the president. Since governor’s councilors must stand for election every two years, Kerrigan said voters can easily make changes if they disapprove of how the council operates.

Perhaps the lieutenant governor’s most important responsibility is to simply be ready. Massachusetts governors have resigned from office three times in the past 50 years, requiring the lieutenant governor to step up.

All of the candidates say they’ve considered that possibility — and insist they’re qualified to serve as acting governor if needed.

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