Reliable lieutenant: Pa. needs a better way to ensure a strong No. 2

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It’s hard enough for the average political candidate to get attention on the campaign trail, given voter apathy, low turnout and other impediments. Imagine running for the office of lieutenant governor.

The candidate is seeking a job with a core function no one hopes will have to be performed — replacing a governor who becomes ill or dies. Although Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor has other duties — presiding over the Senate, chairing the Board of Pardons and sitting on the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council, no one runs on the skills for those tasks. Instead, the candidates appear to be running for junior governor, espousing plans they will have no power to enact.

This odd situation comes courtesy of state election law. Unlike the federal system in which the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees choose their No. 2, a person running for lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania must be selected by the party’s voters in the primary. The nominee then runs on a ticket with the candidate for governor in the fall election. This year five Democrats are seeking the nomination; the Republican, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, is unopposed.

The state’s process has led to some unanticipated pairings, including the late Catherine Baker Knoll of McKees Rocks as Gov. Ed Rendell’s lieutenant. Someday the unpredictable outcome of a splintered primary — nine Republicans sought the nomination in 2010 — could really harm Pennsylvania.

That’s why gubernatorial nominees should do the choosing, so that they have an effective partner in their administration and the state has a strong second-in-command should tragedy strike.

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