By Lowman S. Henry (Lincoln Institute) – Pennsylvania’s relatively useless office of Lieutenant Governor has been in the news lately. Generally speaking when the Lieutenant Governor makes
headlines the reason is not good, and so it was with the latest kerfuffle.
Aside from waiting for the Governor to go to the great state house in the
sky the only actual duty of the Lieutenant Governor is to preside over the
state senate. Even that job is frequently delegated to the President Pro
Tempore of the senate as the Lieutenant Governor is off doing other things,
like making Pennsylvania safe for pot smokers.
The current second banana, Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, has
only been on the job for six months and hasn’t quite gotten the hang of how
to run the chamber in an orderly fashion. There are rules of procedure
which were unanimously agreed upon by all the senators at the beginning
of the session.
The Left, however, is fully bought into the old saying that rules are like pie
crusts, made to be broken. Such was the case in late June when senate
Democrats were on the cusp of losing a vote to lard on an additional layer
of welfare benefits. A dust-up ensued that degenerated into chaos on the
senate floor with Republican Leader Jake Corman red-faced and shouting
for order while Fetterman wondered about as befuddled as a liberal at a
Thus was the frustration of the Left on full display. Unable to win through
the regular process – with which they at first agreed – Democrat lawmakers
turned to protest and performance playing to the compliant news media in
an effort to advance their agenda.
That aside it was yet another embarrassing chapter in the history of
Pennsylvania’s woe-begotten office of Lieutenant Governor. That the
current occupant of the office could not even competently perform his one
and only constitutionally-proscribed duty speaks volumes about the
fecklessness of the office.
Then again, Lieutenant Governor Fetterman has not exactly immersed
himself in mastering the rules of the senate – something majority
Republicans have now directed him to do lest they strip him of his powers.
He has instead been gallivanting around Penn’s Woods on a so-called
“listening tour” in advance of efforts to legalize the recreational use of
This is curious in that Fetterman is a strong proponent of legalization. So
he might listen, but he will not hear. The 67-county tour had all the
hallmarks of a campaign swing which, truth be told, is the real reason for
Fetterman’s road trip.
Let us not forget that Fetterman’s first run for statewide office was for
United States Senator in 2016. He lost that primary to Katie McGinty who
went on to lose to Pat Toomey. That seat comes up again in 2022 – the
same year Fetterman’s term as Lieutenant Governor ends. It’s not hard to
connect the dots.
The office of Lieutenant Governor, however, has not historically been an
effective stepping stone into higher office. Setting aside the anomaly of
Lieutenant Governor Mark Schweiker becoming governor in 2001 upon the
resignation of Governor Tom Ridge, no Lieutenant Governor has moved
onto a higher office since 1966 when Raymond P. Shafer was elected to
succeed Governor William Scranton.
Other Lieutenant Governors, including Raymond Broderick, Ernest Kline
William W. Scranton, III and Mark Singel have run unsuccessfully for higher
office. Since John Latta became the first Lieutenant Governor of
Pennsylvania in 1875 only Schafer and Arthur H. James, who was
elected Lieutenant Governor in 1926 and Governor in 1938 have gone on
to win the top office. In another historical anomaly, Lieutenant Governor
John Cromwell Bell, Jr. became Governor for 19 days in 1947 after
Governor Edward Martin resigned to take a seat in the United States
Senate. Interestingly, no Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor has ever gone
on to serve in the United States Senate.
Controversies surrounding Mike Stack, the incumbent Fetterman ousted in
last year’s primary election, have resulted in calls to amend the
Pennsylvania state constitution to eliminate the office. Such proposals
would resolve the succession issue by placing the President of the Senate
next in line for the governorship and allow the body to operate on its own.
The time has come to end the spectacle – and cost to taxpayers – of an
office that is not only useless, but has proven to be a distraction to the
actual function of governing.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman abd CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of
the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is