Gov. Terry Branstad has succeeded in his quest to reduce the size of state government. With fewer than 18,000 workers, the administrative branch is the smallest it has been in at least two decades. There are hundreds fewer workers in agencies responsible for inspecting nursing homes, investigating child abuse and guarding state prisoners. It seems the public workforce can never be too small for this governor.

In that spirit, Branstad should look in the mirror. Standing right next to him — as the public well knows — is an individual holding a position that serves no immediate, essential function: The lieutenant governor. The fiscally conservative governor should be leading the charge for a constitutional amendment to eliminate that job.

Iowa’s original constitution did not provide for the position of lieutenant governor. The secretary of state was to assume the responsibilities of the governor’s office in the event of a death, incapacitation or resignation. The present constitution, drafted in 1857, created the position. According to a 1988 amendment, the individual “shall have the duties provided by law and those duties of the governor assigned to the lieutenant governor by the governor.”

But the role of this individual is not defined in Iowa Code. He or she basically exists to do whatever the governor says, and to wait in the wings in case the governor dies. (Only one Iowa governor, William Beardsley, died while in office and the lieutenant governor served as governor for about two months until the already elected Leo Hoegh was inaugurated).

Why not amend the Iowa Constitution again and abolish the job? Let the secretary of state or someone else succeed to the governor’s office in the unlikely event a governor can’t serve. Save the taxpayers the salary of a lieutenant governor. Kim Reynolds, who currently holds the position, is paid $103,000 plus travel expenses annually.

Those dollars, plus any money spent on staff dedicated to the office, could instead be used to pay for state troopers, prison guards, ombudsmen or other workers whose duties extend beyond the ceremonial and political.

Even some “co-governors” around the country have mocked or challenged the position.

The former lieutenant governor of Arkansas, Win Rockefeller, is perhaps best known for describing his job as state government’s spare tire: pumped up and hoped it’s never used. Although Bob Crosby successfully ran for lieutenant governor of Nebraska in the 1940s, he argued the position should be abolished. A bill now being considered by the Illinois Legislature would further an effort to dissolve the office, a move the current lieutenant governor said she supports.

Seven states — Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming — do not elect a lieutenant governor, according to Governing Magazine. A few of those simply give the title to whoever is presiding in the Senate.

Iowa could do the same by amending the state constitution. Considering Branstad’s reluctance to fund necessary public workers, he should be leading the charge to eliminate unnecessary ones.

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