Herbert Weighing His Options with Selection of New Lt. Governor

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

One of the unique powers held by state governors is appointments to dozens, if not hundreds, of boards, commissions and state courts.

But perhaps there is no more personal decision than who the governor wants to be his No. 2.

 

In some respects, a governor wants a mini-me – someone who will stand by him, reflect his values and goals.

But there is also the old marriage adage – opposites attract.

And an expressive, hard-driving, sometimes even controversial lieutenant governor, could provide a nice contrast to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s cool management style.

Kind of like Joe Biden’s fire compared to Barack Obama’s ice.

No governor wants to be overshadowed by his second-in-command, as U.S. Sen. John McCain was by then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in his 2008 GOP presidential run.

When you are giving your concession speech you don’t want the crowd chanting “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.”

Herbert – who knows well what it is like to be play second fiddle, he did it for four years behind former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. – will soon announce who he would like to be his lieutenant governor for at least the next three years.

And if Herbert decides to run again in 2016, perhaps for another four years after that.

This vacancy comes after Lt. Gov. Greg Bell surprised Herbert and other Utahns when he announced several weeks ago that for financial reasons he needs to resign his office – to which Herbert appointed him when Herbert stepped up to the top job in the spring of 2009.

Last week, UtahPolicy Managing Editor Bryan Schott wrote a piece detailing that Herbert’s own chief of staff, Derek Miller, was a leading Lt. Gov. contender.

I’m hearing the same thing this week.

But other names are still in the mix, like veteran state legislator Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, and another top Herbert aide, Kristen Cox.

While an outside pick could be House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, who may have plans herself to run for governor in 2016.

I’m told that Herbert has called around to several GOP state senators, seeking their advice and bouncing some names off of them.

You may recall that Bell, a state senator from Layton, was a well liked, and a moderating voice, in the sometimes reactionary Utah Senate.

And Bell has proven to be a real advantage to Herbert, especially in getting along with the large – and thus somewhat unruly – Republican majorities in the Utah House and Senate.

When you single out a group of folks – in this case the Republican senators – in a previous prestigious appointment pool, it is natural for folks to think you will return to that pool if you need to refill that appointment.

There are some pretty big egos in the Utah Senate.

(House Republicans like to call their upper body colleagues the “House of Lords,” because some senators act like they inherited their offices instead of winning them.)

And so it is only politic for Herbert to solicit some GOP senators’ thoughts on Bell’s replacement.

And stroke a few egos at the same time – maybe saying he’s considering this or that senator for Lt. Gov. when in fact he really isn’t.

Herbert, who hasn’t had significant GOP opposition in his run in 2010 to fulfill the rest of Huntsman’s term, nor again in 2012 when Herbert sought his own four-year term, is well aware that there are members of the GOP establishment who don’t think he’s up to the job.

An interloper, who wouldn’t have been governor if Huntsman hadn’t picked him as his running mate and then gone off to be President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China; and allowed Herbert to get his own oil portrait in the Utah Capitol’s Hall of Governors.

Recently Herbert told members of the media “this is not a caretaker administration.”

Well, after four-and-a-half years in office who would think it was?

It was kind of an odd declaration to make.

Herbert has a huge decision to make on the horizon – whether to put Utah into the Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion program.

The conservative dogs on the right are yelping that he bypass the expansion – and refuse the hundreds of millions of federal dollars that comes with it.

But as large as that decision is, from a more personal basis – who Herbert wants to work with closely day-after-day – his pick for lieutenant governor may say more about the man and his future political decisions than any other he will make over the next year or two.

We’ll watch with interest who stands next to Herbert when he announces his new workplace mate.