When Gov. Gina Raimondo heads to Washington in the next few weeks – or less – to become President Biden’s Commerce Secretary, she’ll leave a state struggling to find adequate vaccine supplies to bring COVID-19 under control, the state’s economy ravaged by the virus, and a state budget with a projected deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Probably not the conditions for which Lt. Gov. Dan McKee had hoped. He was gearing up for a gubernatorial run in 2022, joining a growing field of Democrats looking to replace Gov. Raimondo.
He, like all but the Attorney General, is term limited, meaning that in 2022 he could not run for reelection as lieutenant governor.
But things certainly have changed, as Gov. Raimondo prepares to leave the governorship with two years remaining on her term.
By virtue of the state Constitution, the lieutenant governor fills the governor vacancy.
In many states, the transition is easier, given that the governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket, with a full understanding that the key role of the lieutenant governor is to be prepared to fill the governor’s position if that position becomes vacant.
Rhode Island is not among those states, with all general officers running independently, and therefore no guarantees that the governor and lieutenant governor are compatible.
McKee acknowledges that his relationship with Raimondo has been chilly, with the exception perhaps the last few weeks as Raimondo prepares to relocate to Washington. And it’s been no secret that McKee has been critical of how funds were allocated to small businesses from federal COVID dollars that were made available to the state.
McKee has said he would favor a referendum that would result in the governor and lieutenant governor running as a team, as it is done in 26 other states. In 17 states, including Rhode Island, the governor and lieutenant governor are elected independently.
Of the 26 states in which the governor and lieutenant governor are elected as a team, eight hold separate primary elections and the winning lieutenant governor candidate in the primary then runs with the governor as part of the ticket. In the remaining 18 states, the gubernatorial candidate selects his or her lieutenant governor running mate.
In two states – Tennessee and West Virginia – the lieutenant governor is a member of the legislature. The lieutenant governors’ position does not exist in Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming.
Meanwhile, McKee will still have to choose his successor now, although some in the legislature would like the General Assembly to make that appointment. McKee says he’s planning on making the appointment, which then will need Senate approval.
There’s no shortage of individuals interested in the position, including Sen. Lou DiPalma, D-Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton.