Greetings! I ran legislation last session proposing major reforms to the structure of Oklahoma’s executive branch of government. One of those bills resulted in State Question 798, which will be on the November 6th ballot. Very simply, voters will be asked to consider electing our governor and lieutenant governor as a “ticket”, instead of as individuals. People are very familiar with this concept as it mirrors our presidential elections, but the “why” is important, and recent news coverage has been incomplete.
Many people will say the most important reason to elect “running mates” is that they are on the same team, a partnership dedicated to effect the policies upon which the governor is elected. The lieutenant governor is to be an active, cooperative presence in the cabinet, and to help promote the governor’s legislative agenda. That is all true. But I think an often overlooked aspect is what business would call “succession planning”. We know the lt. governor will assume gubernatorial duties if something happens such that the governor is unable to perform them (and when the governor leaves the state). However, with a separately elected lt. governor, we could see the priorities of the office do a “complete 180” should something prevent the sitting governor from serving out his term… without an election. I think people want to see consistency and continuity throughout a term of election, and our governor, regardless of party affiliation, needs to have his team of executives in place who are all on the same page, reflecting the policies upon which he was elected.
Nothing in SQ798 changes the current duties of the lieutenant governor.
Our state constitution names the lieutenant governor as President of the Senate, who “shall only have a casting vote therein” (casting the deciding vote in case of a tie). The lt. governor presides over joint sessions of the House and Senate. Both houses jointly convene at the beginning of each regular session to hear the governor’s State of the State address, and also for other events, usually ceremonial. Together, these mean the leadership and heavy legislative lifting in the Senate are left to the Pro Tempore, unless a tie vote occurs. There are a few other duties for the lt. governor defined in the Constitution or state statute. For example, he serves as a Commissioner of the Land Office, sits on the Board of Equalization, and serves “as an ex officio voting member” of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission. Another section authorizes him “to participate in international activities associated with the economic development of the state, and to negotiate contracts related to those activities”. But, our lt. governors can have a lot of free time, and are not even required to be a member of the governor’s cabinet.
The office has evolved such that it is largely defined by the office holder himself. Candidates running for lt. governor today promote their visions for that office, and declare a willingness to work with the governor, whoever might be elected. It is easy to see how conflicts can arise.
Four former Oklahoma lt. governors have served with governors from a different party, and between them, hold mixed opinions about this proposal. Politicians can talk all they want about people coming together, but common-sense Oklahomans know that has limits. And frankly, those in the minority at the time, regardless of party affiliation, might like having someone there gumming up the works politically. But this problem exists even with office holders from the same party, and was on full display this past session. Governor Fallin had named Lt. Governor Lamb to her cabinet, but he resigned when he didn’t agree with the Governor’s legislative tax proposals, saying she deserved to have someone in her cabinet committed to her agenda. I think that was an honest thing to do and say. However, he didn’t have to resign as Lt. Governor. In other states, if a cabinet member departs over a policy difference, he departs all the way.
Twenty six other states have implemented the governor/lt. governor ticket, some setting their tickets before primary elections, and some afterwards. If SQ798 passes, as with most other state questions, more details will be defined in law by the legislature before 2026, the election cycle when it will take effect. That would include how to select a new lt. governor if one chooses to resign or is otherwise unable to serve.
A number of politicians don’t like this proposal. Many with designs on running for higher office like having eleven statewide positions available, and their campaign consultants certainly do. But did you know that we have almost twice the number of statewide elected officials than the national average? Between that, and the number of state agencies actually run by unelected boards and commissions, it is no wonder we see example after example of poor state performance. Those who want more efficiency and effectiveness in the executive branch of state government, should vote to elect our governor and lieutenant governor on a single ticket. It’s a great initial step towards a better use of state resources, and better results overall. Or, we can continue to fund poor performance because we refuse to reform.
Note: You can call my office at 405-557-7380, or write to me at Representative Mark Lepak, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd, Rm. 441, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105. I will get your message.
State Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.