New York’s Lieutenant Governor Flexes Twitter Muscles

By John Celock

When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is away, his new lieutenant will play.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who took office in January, used her long weekend as the Empire State’s acting governor to take three executive actions over the weekend. Hochul’s actions though were only on Twitter and in a humorous manner, showing her fun side and not an attempt to seize power during Cuomo’s Caribbean vacation. The trip marked Cuomo’s first extended trip outside of New York State since first taking office in 2011.

Hochul’s Twitter executive actions on Saturday centered on honoring her hometown of Buffalo, along with recognizing her children and her cat. The lieutenant governor’s tweets are below.

Under the New York State Constitution, the lieutenant governor immediately becomes the state’s acting governor – and obtains all of his authority – the minute the governor leaves the state. This is the first time Hochul, a former congresswoman and Erie County clerk, has served as acting governor.

Cuomo famously almost never left New York, except for a handful of day trips, during his first term. During that time, former Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy (D) had little chance to serve as acting governor.

Provisions handing temporary control to a lieutenant governor when the governor leaves the state are common in many state constitutions, a throwback to when communication was lacking. In the day and age of phone and email it is easier for a governor to run the show from any spot on the planet, leaving the lieutenant governor’s role primarily ceremonial.

There have been several experiences though of lieutenant governors doing far more than Hochul’s Twitter show of power. New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) has signed several pieces of legislation when Gov. Chris Christie (R) is out of state, while former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healy (R) regularly signed legislation during then Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) absences.

Guadagno and Healy though fall into the same category as Hochul, lieutenant governors who are picked by their governor to run and serve with them. They all have been loyal to the governor and would not be expected to go off the reservation. Not all lieutenant governors though have been.

Former California Lt. Gov. Mike Curb (R) was elected independent of Gov. Jerry Brown (D) during their shared service from 1979 to 1983, during Brown’s first governorship. During that time, Curb used Brown’s absences from the state to assume full executive authority, a power that was upheld by the state Supreme Court in the instance of Curb naming a judge to the California Court of Appeals.

On Curb’s website, he says that he held gubernatorial power for a year of his term. He says that as acting governor he signed 30 bills or proclamations, made 431 appointments, responded to 10 emergencies and created the California Agriculture Commission, the California Food and Nutrition Commission and the California Citizen Participation in Government Commission.

In New York in 1996, former Gov. George Pataki’s (R) staff claimed that then Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey (R) was not the acting governor when Pataki left the state. For most of their shared four years in office, Pataki and McCaughey feuded leading him to announce in 1997 that he was dropping her from his 1998 reelection ticket. McCaughey then became a Democrat and lost a bid for the 1998 Democratic nomination for governor.

(H/T The Buffalo News)