Then-Republican Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum had met with aides in his office and was ready to leave the Capitol for that day’s public appearances.
But, his security officer said, there was a problem:
Something McCallum had done or said, or an appearance he had made without first clearing it with the governor’s office, had prompted then-Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson’s top deputy to take away McCallum’s official state car.
It’s an old story, but it says a lot about the job of being a Wisconsin lieutenant governor. There’s no manual on how to be a lieutenant governor and no specific responsibilities, other than being ready to become governor in the event of a resignation or death.
But there’s a few unwritten political rules in the relationships between governor and lieutenant governor.
First, lieutenant governors can’t seem too interested in someday being governor.
Second, lieutenant governors can’t upstage the governor, make public appearances not cleared with the governor’s office, or make comments that can be interpreted as the official position of the governor. (Remember, Vice President Joe Biden endorsed same-sex marriages before President Barack Obama had officially done so.)
Third, if the lieutenant governor can give a better fire-up-the-crowd speech than the governor, make sure other speakers separate them. Or, if you’re an aide to the governor, how about making sure the lieutenant governor isn’t at that event?
Governors can also have lieutenant governors float controversial trial-balloon ideas on new policies, which—if the backlash is too strong—the governor can quickly disavow.
Relationships between governors and lieutenant governors can also be strained.
Thompson and McCallum—a team from 1987 until February 2001, when Thompson resigned for a Washington cabinet job with President George Bush—were not close, for example.
And, when he ran for governor in 2002, then-Democratic Attorney General Jim Doyle preferred then-Democratic state Sen. Kevin Shibilski, of Stevens Point, as his running mate. But Barbara Lawton, who ended up serving eight years as Doyle’s lieutenant governor, defeated Shibilski in the Democratic primary.
Two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch had a much better working relationship. No matter what they were asked, both Walker and Kleefisch stayed on message.
When Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes beat the Walker/Kleefisch team last November, Wisconsin got its first African American lieutenant governor and an enthusiastic 32-year-old champion of Milwaukee. Barnes served two terms in the Assembly before running for lieutenant governor last year.
Evers likes and respects Barnes, who has gone out of his way to defer to the governor on major policy issues and vigorously champion the governor’s priorities.
At the state Democratic Party convention, Barnes championed an Evers priority—legalizing the recreational use of marijuana—with language condemned by an Assembly Republican leader.
“You don’t seen families being torn apart by a marijuana epidemic,” Barnes said. “Think about how much more enjoying your Thanksgiving dinner could be in a state with recreational marijuana.”
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, a Republican, said Barnes should apologize.
“This is ridiculous for anyone to say, let alone an elected official. Pathetic that anyone would push drug use as a way to spend time together as a family,” Steineke said in a tweet. “Doesn’t comprehend how drug use in general has ripped families apart? I’m at a loss. He owes the [people] he serves an apology.”
Republican Party leaders also criticized Barnes for the cost of his security detail, after wispolitics.com reported that it cost $36,622 in January and February alone to protect him—several times what it cost to protect Kleefisch last year.
Republican Party leaders also criticized $108 in fines for unpaid parking tickets that Barnes had been issued.
Lawton said the relationship between a governor and lieutenant governor is “rewritten” whenever new officials assume those offices.
For example, Lawton said she had to rely on student interns to drive her around the state for her first four years in office; for “safety” reasons, she demanded—and was assigned—a Capitol Police officer to drive her to public appearances outside Madison.
Lawton said she wrote Barnes a note with this advice: “It’s a huge responsibility. It’s an opportunity to have a tremendous impact on the course of events in our state. It will be the most creative job you will ever have.”