What should the lieutenant governor’s role be?
The official duties are clear: preside over the Pennsylvania State Senate, serve as a member of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council, chair the board of pardons and head the Local Government Advisory Committee.
But beyond those requirements, there is the question of how the state’s No. 2 elected official should interact with the governor. That has become a point of disagreement between the two Democratic front-runners in the most recent Harper Polling voter survey heading into the primary election on Tuesday.
The five Democratic candidates debated this week on Harrisburg radio station WITF-FM’s “Smart Talk.”
State Sen. Mike Stack of Philadelphia, who led the poll with 20 percent, said, “I think that a lieutenant governor should stand up for everything that they believe in, and I don’t really believe that your No. 1 mission is to carry out the agenda of the governor. I think you do that in a way that, as best you can, forms a meeting of the minds and beliefs.”
He later returned to the subject, saying, “I’ve always been someone who can be on the same page with other folks and find common ground, but I would say that if I really, strongly disagreed, I believe that people of Pennsylvania would want me to do that in a positive way, and yes, I would disagree publicly.”
Mark Critz, a former U.S. congressman from Johnstown, has emphasized a different approach during his campaign, describing the role of the lieutenant governor as somebody who should help champion a governor’s agenda while not betraying his own core beliefs.
“The whole job of the lieutenant governor is to carry the banner for the governor, so another lieutenant governor candidate saying that he could publicly oppose a governor’s policy, it flies in the face of what this job is,” said Critz, who received 18 percent in the Harper survey.
“This job is about supporting the governor, and the way I describe it is that when you walk out the door, it’s the governor’s name on the door – it’s not yours,” Critz said.
The other three candidates – state Rep. Brandon Neuman of Washington County, Harrisburg City Councilman Brad Koplinski and Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith – also discussed how they perceive the lieutenant governor position in recent days.
“It’s a team,” Neuman said Thursday during a meeting at The Tribune-Democrat. “For me, in the role, obviously, you have to do the things you’re constitutionally supposed to do. You have to oversee the Senate; you’re the head of PEMA, which is very serious; you’re the head of the board of pardons and the local government commission.
“But when it comes to the team effort, you need someone in there that can carry the governor’s message, not only to the Legislature, but to the public. I’m the best candidate to help carry that message and help deliver the message and deliver the vote in the Legislature.”
Neuman has been endorsed by more than 30 House members.
Smith told the WITF audience: “I think the lieutenant governor is an important office. It doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, but it is very important. Being the tie-breaking vote in the Senate can be very critical. ... I think it’s important that the lieutenant governor shares the values – the progressive values – of the governor and can get that message out.”
Koplinski emphasized the importance of the constitutional duties during the radio debate.
“It’s absolutely vital that you have a strong progressive as the president of the state Senate,” he said.
At least two of the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates – state Treasurer Rob McCord and former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty – have weighed in on the matter.
“This is about getting good work done,” McCord said during a Cambria County Democratic Party picnic at the Richland Township Volunteer Fire Department hall on Thursday.
“It’s not a debating society,” he said. “You can have private criticism, but public praise. That doesn’t mean you should ever falsely answer a question.”
At the same event, McGinty said, “I always think that when an issue is important you should have that broad diversity of perspectives, insights and experiences.
“I’ve always been a person who welcomes that kind of dynamic conversation, so if it’s all to the end of assuring that we’re doing the best we can for the people of Pennsylvania, I say bring it on.”
The primary nominees will be part of a Democratic ticket that face off against the Republican team of Gov. Tom Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, both unopposed in the GOP primary.
In the Harper poll, Koplinski was third with 9 percent. Smith and Neuman followed with 6 and 5 percent, respectively.
A large portion of respondents – 42 percent – still were not sure.
“It looks like a three-person race,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs, referring to Stack, Critz and Koplinski.
The candidates, for the most part, have been concentrating on getting strong turnout in their home areas during the low-profile election with very limited television presence.
“It all comes down to voter turnout,” said Brock McCleary, president of Harper Polling.
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.