With Few Explicit Job Duties, Lt. Gov. Candidates Campaign On Job Creation

Oct 27, 2014

Arkansas's lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, casts tie-breaking votes and stands ready to serve as governor should the need arise.
Credit Arkansas.gov

The future of Arkansas’s lieutenant governor’s office is unclear. After Mark Darr resigned the post amid charges of ethics violations earlier this year some called to abolish the office altogether.

Despite talk of its demise, three men are running to fill the seat. U.S. Congressman Tim Griffin, a former federal prosecutor and republican national committee staffer, is the Republican candidate. 

According to Griffin, Arkansas is ranked 47th in the country for job creation. If elected, he said he would focus on job creation for the state. His platform includes tax cuts to the middle class.

“While in the congress, my focus has been on job related policies. That’s why I wanted to get on ways and means, it deals with tax policy and it deals with trade policy and policies that deal with job creation. That’s been my focus in this campaign too for lieutenant governor," said Griffin.

Businessman John Burkhalter is the Democratic candidate for the job. A former chairman of the Arkansas State Highway Commission, Burkhalter argues he knows how to make deals and how to bring industry to the state. He wants to reform what he considers to be an out of date tax code in the state.

“It’s extremely important we focus on job creation. Everywhere I go people are talking about a trained skilled workforce. We’ve got to make sure we get our people trained and we’ve got to make sure we balance the jobs that are coming into the state,” he said.

While the Democratic and Republican front runners have parallel platforms that include job creation, early job training programs and tax reform, Libertarian Candidate Christopher Olson says his first choice is that the office be abolished altogether. While his opponents propose to work full time as lieutenant governor, he would work just part-time.

“If we are to keep that position, it needs to be focused on doing what it’s supposed to do. I do understand why my opponents are focused on talking about job creation and those other things. Yeah, I can do that, I can vote a tie, I can mind the store if the governor leaves the state. They talk about job creation and other things that aren’t really germane to what they are running for,” said Olson.

In Arkansas, the lieutenant governor can break a tie vote in the state Senate, serve as acting governor if the governor leaves the state and take over if the governor leaves office.

University of Arkansas at Little Rock Political Scientist, Joseph Giammo, says the lieutenant governorship, due to its limited duties, is often seen as a stepping stone in a political career.

“It certainly is a way to build name recognition – you have won a statewide race. Other statewide elections might be thinking about in long term. Having won a majority among voters in past. It also does provide a platform to push for different issues you care about,” said Giammo.

On the campaign trail, Griffin has been explaining to voters why he thinks the office is so important.

“Twice in the last 22 years, the lieutenant governor has become the governor. I ask people when they go to vote for lieutenant governor they take it as seriously as the vote for governor. A person could become governor based on history. Is this person someone who has the experience and temperament to be governor if called upon?”

According to Griffin, Burkhalter will be a liberal in a Republican dominated House and Senate. Griffin is a Washington insider according to Burkhalter.

“The guy I’m running against has spent basically the past two decades in Washington playing politics. The people in Arkansas are tired of career politicians. That’s not what I’ve ever done. I’ve always helped others and I want to make sure others get the chance to live the same dreams I’ve lived,” he said.

According to Giammo, the race for lieutenant governor has been overshadowed by other midterm races this year, like those for US Senate and Arkansas Governor.

“In some ways in lieutenant governor’s race doesn’t make a big difference, not a lot of money, not a lot of ads, going around the state giving speeches most Arkansans are not watching, really much less about personal charisma, any information about issues, and then for lower ballot issues it comes down to party identification. Most voters, if they don’t recognize names, going to vote based on whatever party they prefer” he said.

Leading up to next year’s legislative session, Republican state Senator Jimmy Hickey of Texarkana and Democratic state Senator Keith Ingram of West Memphis have said they will propose a ballot measure to amend the state constitution and abolish the office of lieutenant governor.

According to the online political encyclopedia, Ballotpedia, all but five states have lieutenant governors.