A couple months ago, when news broke that Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann may leave the Pence Administration for Ivy Tech, I was thinking about Harry Potter.
That’s not all that unusual. I think about Harry Potter a lot (see chart below), but I don’t find a lot of commonalities between the Statehouse and Hogwarts. Except that State Rep. Donna Schaibley and Professor Sybill Trelawney may very well have been separated at birth.
But as I was considering the position of Lieutenant Governor, I didn’t have Divination on my mind. It was Defense Against the Dark Arts — the faculty position at Hogwarts that was very desirable but certainly cursed.
If you taught Defense Against the Dark Arts, you taught a required course and had a hand in training up the next generation of wizards and witches. But you were also likely to wind up with your mind erased (Lockhart), chained up in the bottom of a trunk (Mad Eye Moody), or with a parasitic Voldemort living under your turban (Quirrel).
As Lieutenant Governor in Indiana, you’ll wield influence and have a statewide platform. But your future might be cursed.
LG is a position with which I am intimately familiar. I had the honor of serving as Communications Director to Becky Skillman during her second term. Becky was and is one of the most respected political figures in the state. She would’ve cleared the field had she decided to run for U.S. Senate in 2010, and I believe she would be governor today had she decided to run against Mike Pence in 2012.
But she opted for retirement from politics instead, and in so doing, she joined nine of the last 11 Indiana LGs never to win another election after leaving Statehouse Room 333. Dating back to 1960, five LGs ran for governor and lost and four (including Ellspermann) didn’t run*. Also, I’m pretty sure Robert L. Rock was a werewolf.
There are a couple of positives here, though. The main one is that at least Indiana’s seconds-in-command aren’t embarrassing themselves like they are in other parts of the country. In May of 2014, the Washington Post declared “Lt. Governor is the worst job in politics” and pointed out that six LGs had resigned since 2012. There have been a few more since.
Some of those resignations have been the result of scandal, although some LGs have weathered their own idiocy and remain in office. Such scandals include the Lt. Governor of Missouri, who had a penchant for strip clubs. The LG in Massachusetts crashed a car at 100 miles per hour. Nebraska’s made a bunch of late night calls to ladies on his state cell phone. South Carolina’s plead guilty to seven counts of campaign finance violations.
It’s like, if Johnny Manziel were a politician, he’d probably end up as Lieutenant Governor.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Sue Ellspermann is no Johnny Manziel. I have no insider knowledge of why she’s eager to leave her position. Policy? Politics? Personality? You can read that speculation elsewhere, but it’s certainly not because she’s incompetent or a loose cannon.
In Indiana, our LG has actual responsibilities. During the Skillman era, the National Lieutenant Governors Association said Indiana’s LG had more duties than any other state’s, something like 50 duties were spelled out in the Constitution or Indiana Code.
So the position of Indiana Lieutenant Governor certainly holds a lot of weight, especially if the governor considers that person an equal partner as Mitch Daniels did. But whether the position translates into any kind of electoral success is a trickier question.
Eric Holcomb will be a phenomenal LG. He knows the state. He knows state government. He’s very politically savvy. And he’s just an unbelievably good guy. And having him in that position adds a new layer of intrigue in 2020 and beyond.
I guess we’ll just have to wait until then to see if the curse continues.
*Joe Kernan, of course, became governor when Frank O’Bannon died in office. But he wasn’t going to run from his position as LG, and when he did run as a sitting governor, he lost.