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The perfect lieutenant governor: me

In these tough times, one writer thinks he has what it takes to do a do-nothing job.

November 06, 2009|Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews, a contributing editor to Opinion, is a fellow at the New America Foundation.

Dear Gov. Schwarzenegger, I hear you're searching for a new lieutenant governor. If I may be so bold, I can think of one Californian who is the right fit for the job.

Me.

Now that Lt. Gov. John Garamendi is vacating the office to take a seat in Congress, I know you're considering smart politicians of both parties. But selecting a proven leader would be a terrible mistake. Someone with real experience in government would be frustrated by the utter powerlessness and insignificance of the lieutenant governor's office.

I, on the other hand, would be untroubled by that, since I've never worked in government and have no real interest in doing so. The lieutenant governor doesn't run much of anything, and neither have I. He does preside over our state Senate sometimes and breaks ties; my experience presiding over a Little League baseball team is a natural qualification for that work.

And while some lieutenant governors have compromised the sanctity of their office by using it to raise money and run for other things, I have no campaigns in my future. Heck, I don't even vote very often, though I do vote a bit more than Meg Whitman (which, I guess, proves that I'm not gubernatorial material).

Best of all, my skill set dovetails with the only real duty of the lieutenant governor: to wake up each morning, check that the governor is still alive and go on about my business. Perfect! As a journalist who has written about you since you first ran for office back in 2003, I've been doing that professionally for six years. There'd be no need for on-the-job training.

Now, you might ask, why do I want the job? Well, as you may have heard, these are tough times, especially for journalists. Since staff jobs at newspapers and magazines are drying up, most of us have become free agents. Freelancing doesn't pay that well, so almost every journalist I know is looking for a day job that pays the bills, provides benefits and leaves plenty of time to write. Put simply, the lieutenant governorship, which now pays $159,000 a year, is a writer's dream gig. My current day job, as a think tank fellow, is scheduled to end early next year, so the timing is right.

As lieutenant governor, I would continue to maintain my blog, write freelance pieces like this one and work on two different books about California. If I could get even one of the books done by the time my term ends in January 2011, I'd go down as the most productive lieutenant governor in the history of the state.

Your other question probably is this: Why is it in your political interest to pick me? Here are four reasons:

I'll never upstage you. Remember how, during your first term, Cruz Bustamante made his own speeches right before your State of the State address each January? I'll never do that. I'll show up -- if I must -- wearing my usual writing attire: shorts, T-shirt and Angels cap. I will introduce you ("And now, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger"), and then I'll retire to a quiet corner of the Capitol where I can open up my laptop and get some writing done.

I'll behave myself when you're out of state. The lieutenant governor is acting governor when the governor leaves California. Over the decades, the occasional lieutenant has tried to sign a bill or appoint someone. Now, I can't promise loyalty per se -- as a journalist, I reserve the right to rip you in print -- but my writing schedule doesn't leave me time to do anything while you're gone, though I might, just once and just for fun, issue a veto with a coded message in it. I'm sure you'd understand.

I'm budget friendly. Yes, I intend to accept the salary and benefits. But, since I intend to perform no government duties (the lieutenant governor serves on some commissions, but I'd skip those meetings), I would require no staff and no office.

I give you much-needed leverage. As an unpopular lame duck, you currently have very few ways to get the Legislature and interest groups to do what you want. But with someone as irresponsible as me as lieutenant governor, you could scare people into action simply by threatening to quit and leave the state in my hands.

So, governor, that leaves only one question: When do I start?

Sincerely,

Joe Mathews

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