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A word of advice for the governor's office

Here's an easy way Gov.-elect Larry Hogan Jr. can save money: Abolish the office of lieutenant governor.

It's a position without power. The sole reason for its existence is to have someone waiting in the wings if the governor dies.

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Yet Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown is paid $125,000 a year to sit around doing little constructive other than delivering canned speeches that mimic whatever the governor says.

Brown also has a staff of eight, plus state police protection and a state car.

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All told, the bill to taxpayers exceeds $1 million annually.

It gets worse. Starting in January, the new lieutenant governor, Boyd Rutherford, will earn $137,500. By the time his term ends, Rutherford's salary will be about $150,000 — the third highest in the country for a lieutenant governor.

All of this is an enormous waste of taxpayer dollars.

Here's an idea for Hogan: Merge the lieutenant governor's office with the secretary of state's. That's the way it works in many other states.

Maryland's secretary of state has real responsibilities dealing with certifications, elections and foreign dignitaries.

You could combine the two offices and sharply cut staff.

Of course, you would need approval from the General Assembly and voters to make this happen. The lieutenant governor is a constitutional office.

But it would make sense for Hogan to take such a symbolic action. It is practical and fiscally responsible.

Ever since the office was recreated in 1970 after a 102-year lull, Maryland's lieutenant governors have been wandering the halls of Annapolis looking for something useful to do.

Sometimes a governor will give his No. 2 budget responsibilities, as was the case with Blair Lee III under Gov. Marvin Mandel.

Sometimes the lieutenant governor works with lawyers and judges on criminal justice matters, which occurred in the cases of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend under Gov. Parris Glendening and J. Joseph Curran Jr. during Gov. Harry Hughes' second term.

Sometimes the lieutenant governor is asked to serve as an intermediary for local governments, as was the case with Michael Steele under Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Samuel W. Bogley III during Gov. Harry Hughes' first term.

Occasionally the lieutenant governor is asked to broker a compromise with House and Senate members on issues important to the administration like Mickey Steinberg did under Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

All of this work could just as easily be assigned to the secretary of state.

Steinberg's case is typical of what can happen to a Maryland lieutenant governor.

For decades, he was the most powerful politician in Northwest Baltimore County as the area's state senator. He chaired a major committee in the Senate, too.

Then Steinberg persuaded Schaefer to put him on the ticket as lieutenant governor.

For the first few years, Steinberg helped push Schaefer's agenda through the legislature. Eventually, he ran afoul of Schaefer's inner circle and failed to support Schaefer's tax reform legislation.

That led to Steinberg's isolation from Schaefer, who cut him off from all useful activities. He was left to wither on the vine.

The same thing happened to Bogley after he publically opposed Hughes on the abortion issue.

The office is cursed. Not one lieutenant governor has ever become Maryland governor over the past 44 years. It's a jinxed job.

Isn't it time to save money and stop the pretense that this office is important?

The secretary of state could be designated as the acting governor in case something dreadful occurs. Then a special election would be scheduled so voters could determine who would become Maryland's interim chief executive.

What a common-sense solution that would be. Is Hogan listening?

Barry Rascovar's blog is politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at brascovar@hotmail.com.

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