FDR’s first vice-president, John Nance Garner, is often quoted as saying the vice-presidency “wasn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit.” What he actually said was not “spit.”
But things have changed somewhat in Washington. Vice Presidents, who used to have nothing to do except preside over the senate in case of a tie, are now usually given more visibility and responsibility, and later often run for President themselves.
In Michigan, however, the job of lieutenant governor has changed little in modern times. Tell me - would you recognize our current lieutenant governor if you saw him in your grocery store?
Can you name John Engler’s first lieutenant governor?
If the answer to either of these questions is yes, your social life clearly needs improving. Frankly, regardless of what the governor at the time may tell you. Michigan lieutenant governors haven’t been much more than placeholders and standby equipment.
They are often chosen in order to appeal to a particular constituency, or to balance a ticket in some way. Jennifer Granholm, for example, took John Cherry because he had a lot of legislative experience and she had none. It‘s not clear, however that she ever took his advice much or used his skills to get bills passed.
This year, the Republicans ended up with a surprise dark horse as their candidate for governor: Rick Snyder, a venture capitalist who comes from outside the traditional political establishment.
Now, he’s making a choice for governor that is somewhat conventional and somewhat surprising: Brian Calley, a 33-year-old state representative and former banker from just west of Lansing.
Almost nobody has ever heard of Calley, but he brings about two and a half qualities to the ticket. He has been endorsed by Michigan Right to Life, something that may help with the large anti-abortion faction of the Republican Party. Many of them don’t believe Snyder is sufficiently anti-abortion, but since Democratic nominee Virg Bernero is enthusiastically pro-choice, they have nowhere else to go. Calley is a bit of a surprise in one way, however:
Some people thought Snyder, who hasn’t spent a day working in any branch of government, would take someone with legislative experience. This is where I give Calley half credit.
He has some, but not much. Calley’s spent less than four years as a member of an outnumbered minority caucus in the legislature. What people say he does have is good chemistry with Rick Snyder and a common way of looking at the world and solving problems.
That makes sense. However, as a citizen, I had been hoping Snyder would tap Ken Sikkema, the former Senate Majority Leader.
Sikkema is just as conservative, but experienced, capable, and wise in the ways of Lansing. Which brings us to a factor that troubles me. Not to be morbid, but any of us could die at any time.
That’s the real reason we have lieutenant governors and vice-presidents. I am not convinced that any 33-year-old is ready to be governor of this complex state, especially one with Calley’s relatively narrow geographical and professional experience.
But I am more than ready to be proven wrong.