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Who will be the next David Paterson?

by Pamela M. Prah, Stateline.org Staff Writer

The dramatic downfall of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) that catapulted David Paterson to the governor’s mansion shined a spotlight on the succession of the state’s second-in-command — the lieutenant governor — a position that eight states don’t even have.

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This year’s statewide elections provide a snapshot of the quirky arrangements that determine who is next in line after the governor.

Eleven states elect governors this year, but only nine also select the No. 2 position. West Virginia and New Hampshire are the only two states this election cycle to have governors, but not lieutenant governors, on their ballots, because the position doesn’t exist in those states.

Experts say it’s too early to tell whether voters will pay more attention to lieutenant governors following the drama in New York that saw Spitzer resign in disgrace after a sex scandal, and replaced by fellow Democrat Paterson, who has shocked Albany with his disclosures of marital infidelity and illegal drug use in college.

“I think people will think twice who they are voting for,” said David Winder, political science professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia, although he said the impact will be felt more acutely in states close to New York. He also predicted “some pressure” in those states without the position to look into creating it.

That couldn’t come soon enough for the Republican Party chairman of West Virginia, one of eight states that rely either on their secretary of state or the Senate president to also wear the lieutenant governors’ hat. (The others are Arizona, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Tennessee and Wyoming, although New Jersey voters will elect their first one in 2009.)

“I’m probably the only guy in the state concerned about it,” said Dr. Doug McKinney, a physician in Clarksburg, W.Va., and GOP party chairman. The president of the 34-member West Virginia Senate serves as lieutenant governor and is selected by a majority, plus one. “That means 18 people elect the lieutenant governor, the guy who is a heartbeat away from being the governor,” McKinney said. “That’s really frightening.”

While McKinney would like to see voters elect the lieutenant governor, he says there are no efforts in the state to change it.

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