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Lieutenant Governor of California

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Lieutenant Governor of California
Eleni Kounalakis
since January 7, 2019
Government of California
StyleMadam Lieutenant Governor
The Honorable
Madam President
(When presiding over California Senate)
Member ofConstitutional
California State Senate
California Community Colleges Board of Governors
California State Lands Commission
California State University Board of Trustees
University of California Board of Regents
ResidenceNone official
SeatSacramento, California
California State Capitol
AppointerPopular vote
Term lengthFour years, renewable once
Constituting instrumentConstitution of California
Inaugural holderJohn McDougal
(gubernatorial line of succession)
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata

The lieutenant governor of California is the second highest executive officer of the government of the U.S. state of California. The lieutenant governor is elected to serve a four-year term and can serve a maximum of two terms. In addition to largely ministerial roles, serving as acting governor in the absence of the governor of California and as President of the California State Senate, the lieutenant governor either sits on (or appoints representatives to) many of California's regulatory commissions and executive agencies.

California is one of seventeen states where the governor and lieutenant governor do not run as running mates on the same ticket: in California the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately, although both are up for election in the same year every four years. As a result, California has frequently had a governor and a lieutenant governor of different parties.

California has had 41 lieutenant governors and five acting lieutenant governors since achieving statehood in 1850. The current lieutenant governor is Eleni Kounalakis, a Democrat who was sworn into office on January 7, 2019.[1] She is the first woman elected to the office in California history.


The lieutenant governor is, after the governor, the highest-ranking executive officer of the state of California. The responsibilities of this independently elected office are largely concerned with core constitutional duties, higher education, natural resources, economic development. In addition, the lieutenant governor carries out some miscellaneous functions.

Core constitutional duties[edit]

The California Constitution designates the lieutenant governor as president of the California State Senate and provides that all the powers of the governor fall to the lieutenant governor whenever the governor is not in the State of California, with the lieutenant governor often signing or vetoing legislation, or making political appointments, whenever the governor leaves the state.[2] In practice, the lieutenant governor only presides over the Senate when requested by the president pro tempore or in order to cast a tie-breaking vote. Moreover, there is a gentlemen's agreement for the lieutenant governor not to perform more than perfunctory duties while the governor is away from the state. This agreement was violated when Mike Curb was in office, as he signed several executive orders at odds with the administration of Jerry Brown and appointed Armand Arabian as presiding justice on the California Courts of Appeal when Brown was out of the state. Brown withdrew Arabian's appointment upon his return, appointing Bernard S. Jefferson in his place. In the 1979 case In re Governorship,[3] the California Supreme Court upheld the lieutenant governor's right to perform the duties and assume all of the prerogatives of governor while the governor is out of the state, but that the governor generally has the right to rescind those actions upon his or her return.[4]

Higher education[edit]

The lieutenant governor is the only elected official in California to have a comprehensive policymaking role over the entire higher education system. By virtue of office, he or she is a full voting member of the Board of Regents of the University of California, the Board of Trustees of California State University, the Board of Governors of the California Community College System, and the Calbright College Board of Trustees.[5]

Natural resources[edit]

Together with the state controller and director of finance, the lieutenant governor is a member of the California State Lands Commission. The State Lands Commission is an independent state agency which manages 450,000 acres of school trust lands and an additional 4,000,000 acres of public trust lands consisting of California's foreshore, nearshore, and the beds of natural navigable rivers, streams, lakes, bays, estuaries, inlets, and straits.[6][7] The position of commission chair alternates annually between the lieutenant governor and the state controller; in those years when the lieutenant governor is commission chair, the lieutenant governor is also a voting member of the Ocean Protection Council and a non-voting member of the California Coastal Commission.[8]

Economic development[edit]

The lieutenant governor chairs the Commission for Economic Development, which is responsible for fostering economic growth in California by developing and implementing strategies for attracting new business to the state, increasing state exports, creating new jobs, and stimulating industries statewide. The commission is composed of appointees from the legislature and the governor and currently does not have a quorum needed to meet.[9]

Miscellaneous functions[edit]

Many California projects created through gubernatorial executive orders, or through the initiative process, include a role for the lieutenant governor. For example, the lieutenant governor serves on the Agriculture-Water Transition Task Force (created by Governor Gray Davis), and five of the twenty-nine members of the oversight committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine are appointed by the lieutenant governor.

Criticism of the office[edit]

Some academics and scholars such as Roger E. Noll and Bruce Cain in Constitutional Reform in California have criticized constitutional offices like the lieutenant governor because of their low visibility among the electorate that can make it difficult for the electorate to hold constitutional officers like the lieutenant governor responsible for their actions.[10] Although the lieutenant governor of California's powers and responsibilities are clearly lesser than those of the governor, the ability to make appointments to, and decisions on, the boards of executive agencies does allow the lieutenant governor to make policy decisions that, due to their separate election, might well conflict with the agenda of the governor. Thus, it is argued, California might benefit if the governor and the lieutenant governor ran on the same ticket. The lieutenant governor would then be more likely to help the governor – who is subject to a greater degree of voter scrutiny – to implement his or her policies, but that is unlikely.[11]

In 2003, although Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante and Governor Gray Davis were both Democrats, they reportedly had an icy relationship and had not spoken in months before the 2003 California recall election approached. Bustamante's decision to run in the recall election was controversial, as many supporters of Governor Davis had urged prominent Democrats not to run, in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the event.[12][13]

Despite being the second highest-ranking office in California, the lieutenant governor has no real responsibility or power to represent the governor on issues such as trade negotiations or a legislative agenda (i.e. in contrast to its powerful counterpart in Texas), so the job has been jokingly defined by political insiders as "get up, read the paper, see if the governor is dead, if not, go back to sleep."[14] Despite its prestige, it has not historically been a strong springboard to higher political office; Gray Davis and current Governor Gavin Newsom are the only Democrats in state history and the only state politicians in the last eight decades to be elected governor after holding the post. Furthermore, the lieutenant governor's office budget has suffered considerable cutbacks in recent times; the proposed annual budget for July 2011 will be slightly over $1 million and include three staffers, while from 1995 to 1999 the office had an $1.3 million annual budget with a staff of 17. By contrast the attorney general of California oversees 5,300 employees, including 1,110 state attorneys, and its 2010 budget was over $700 million.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coté, John (December 31, 2010). "Lt. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom to be sworn in by Jan. 10". SFGate.com. Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved January 3, 2010.
  2. ^ "About the Office of Lt. Governor". California Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Retrieved January 11, 2022.
  3. ^ In re Governorship, 26 Cal.3d 110 (1979).
  4. ^ David B. Lloyd, In Re Governorship: Curbing Mike Curb--Constitutionally, 7 Hastings Const. L.Q. 831 (1980).
  5. ^ "About the Office of Lt. Governor". California Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Retrieved January 11, 2022.
  6. ^ "About the California State Lands Commission". State of California. Retrieved January 11, 2022.
  7. ^ "Annual Staff Report on the Management of State School Lands, FY 2020-2021" (PDF). State of California. Retrieved January 11, 2022.
  8. ^ "About the Office of Lt. Governor". California Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Retrieved January 11, 2022.
  9. ^ "About the Office of Lt. Governor". California Office of the Lieutenant Governor. Retrieved January 11, 2022.
  10. ^ "The Race for Lieutenant Governor: Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Cathie Wright vie to serve a heartbeat away". Calvoter.org. Archived from the original on May 10, 2011. Retrieved March 24, 2010.
  11. ^ Ingrid Reed (January 31, 2005). "This State Needs a Lieutenant Governor". Eagleton Institute of Politics. Archived from the original on June 28, 2010. Retrieved March 24, 2010.
  12. ^ http://digilib.library.ucla.edu/campaign/web/2003_999_052/index.htm [dead link]
  13. ^ "Special Election - Candidate Statement". Archived from the original on June 11, 2007. Retrieved March 12, 2011.
  14. ^ Jennifer Chaussee. "Gavin Newsom's new position as statewide official" (February 3, 2011). Capitol Weekly.
  15. ^ Marinucci, Carla (January 22, 2011). "Gavin Newsom faces political challenges in new job". The San Francisco Chronicle.