By A. G. SULZBERGER
Published: December 3, 2010
OMAHA — They have been disparaged as spare-tire politicians, kept in the dark and used only in emergencies. They have been dismissed as ribbon-cutting versions of the appendix, prominently situated but without any discernible function. And the office itself has been likened to a form of political purgatory, with occupants passing time hoping for some outside force to elevate them.
If the only safe jokes in politics are the ones at your own expense, lieutenant governors have been blessed with a wealth of comic material.
How does a lieutenant governor shake hands with the governor? He clasps firmly and extends two fingers up the governor’s sleeve to check for a pulse. “We teach that here,” said Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy of Nebraska, displaying the proper form. “I check the pulse of my governor every day. But my governor was a lieutenant governor, so he says stop.”
The three-day meeting of the National Lieutenant Governors Association, a low-key gathering of two dozen No. 2’s that ended here Friday, easily could have been mistaken for a small life insurance salesmen’s convention, were it not for the handful of security details. The event drew lieutenant governors from Alaska to Florida — and even the Virgin Islands — who conducted association business, listened to speeches, cracked self-deprecating jokes, traded tips about staying relevant and discussed the importance of preparing for a promotion in the event that, heaven forbid, the governor was no longer able to serve.
These have been unusually good times for the ambitions of the nation’s seconds in command. In the past few years they have ascended to the governor’s office for reasons ranging from the mundane to the scandalous.