The Lieutenant Governor of California is a statewide constitutional officer and vice-executive of the 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 basically ceremonial roles, serving as acting governor in the absence of the Governor, 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 eighteen 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. California has had a governor and a lieutenant governor of different parties 26 of the past 31 years.
California has had 41 lieutenant governors and five acting lieutenant governors since achieving statehood in 1850. The current lieutenant governor is Gavin Newsom, who was sworn into office on January 10, 2011.
The California Constitution 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.
In practice, 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, when Brown was out of the state. Court rulings have 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.
The lieutenant governor is also the President of the California State Senate.
The Lieutenant Governor sits on the Board of Regents of the University of California, California State University Board of Trustees, Ocean Protection Council, California Emergency Council, and State Lands Commission. The Lieutenant Governor of California 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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." Despite its prestige, it has not been a strong springboard to higher political office; Gray Davis was the only Democrat in state history and the only state politician 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.