Las Vegas Sun

January 17, 2022

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Why hasn’t a lieutenant governor been appointed in Nevada?

Kate Marshall

Christopher DeVargas

Nevada Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall, shown Oct. 20, 2018, left her post in August to accept a position in President Joe Biden’s administration.

The Nevada lieutenant governor’s office has been vacant for more than three months, but the absence has not been felt because “not much happens in that office,” UNLV political scientist David Damore said.

“You have potential to have a lot of clout, but you’re kind of an afterthought,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall left the post in August to take a job with President Joe Biden’s administration. Gov. Steve Sisolak can appoint Marshall’s replacement, but there is nothing in the state Constitution mandating a timeline to make a selection.

Meghin Delaney, Sisolak’s spokesperson, said in an email the governor planned to appoint someone soon. Delaney declined to comment further.

One of the lieutenant governor’s most notable responsibilities, Damore said, is serving as the president of the Nevada Senate and presiding over all state Senate floor proceedings. Barring another special legislative session, the Senate will not be in session until the next regular session in early 2023. By then, a new lieutenant governor will have been elected in November 2022.

In addition to duties at the statehouse during the session, the lieutenant governor is also the chairman of the Nevada Commission of Tourism, which is charged with establishing policies and directing funding for tourism. The lieutenant governor also serves on the Nevada Board of Transportation and on the Board of Economic Development.

And if something happens to the governor in which they are incapable of serving, such as death, a disability or an impeachment, the lieutenant governor would take over until the end of the governor’s term, according to the state Constitution.

Should there be no sitting lieutenant governor in that situation, the specified line of succession would mean the secretary of state, currently Republican Barbara Cegavske, would become governor.

Former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who was elected in 2014 during Gov. Brian Sandoval’s tenure, said the position can be more effective beyond the specified constitutional powers, but ultimately, it depends on the officeholder’s relationship with the governor.

The two Republicans got along well, and Sandoval appointed Hutchison to other positions and gave him more responsibilities. He was appointed to be a part of the Homeland Security Commission as well as chairman of the Committee on Energy Choice, tasked with studying how best to institute a 2018 ballot measure on whether to decentralize the power company within Nevada. (Voters chose not to adopt a retail competitive electric market.)

There have been some cases over the years when the governor and lieutenant governor did not share the same party, and their relationships got dicey. When Democratic Gov. Bob Miller was in office and Republican Lonnie Hammargren was lieutenant governor in the 1990s, Hutchison said, there was an instance when Hammargren filled Clark County commissioner vacancies while Miller was out of the state.

Hutchison in 2015 introduced a bill draft request to the Legislature that called for a constitutional amendment to allow the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a ticket, similar to how presidents and vice presidents run on one ticket. If they shared similar philosophies, they would be able to get more done, Hutchinson reasoned.

“It’s so important that the governor and lieutenant governor have a good working and trusting relationship,” Hutchison said.

The lieutenant governor has limited resources to spread his or her message, and because of that the officeholder is lesser known or understood, Hutchison had said in his statement to the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections. But the proposal never moved forward, he said.

While the lieutenant governor is an important position, Hutchison said, there are other members and vice chairs in the commissions and boards that the lieutenant governor is a part of who can move the processes forward.

“I would not think that the governor would have to be in a hurry (to appoint a replacement), especially when the Senate isn’t in session,” he said.

When Sisolak called lawmakers into the special legislative session on redistricting in November, Senate President Pro Tempore Mo Denis led the sessions.

“When you start to get close to an election cycle, it’s prudent to let the voters weigh in on who should be the next lieutenant governor,” Hutchison said. “It’s an important position and one that the voters should weigh in. … I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the position to be vacant right now, especially with an election coming up.”

Democrats Kimi Cole and Henderson Mayor Debra March have announced their intentions to run for the office in the 2022 elections, as have Republicans Stavros Anthony, a Las Vegas city councilman, and John Miller, founding CEO of Lexicon Bank. It’s a full-time position paying a salary of $63,648 annually.