Just six of the 43 states with stand-alone offices of lieutenant governor have yet to see a former or sitting lieutenant governor become governor at the ballot box

Utah’s next governor may make the history books.

Former governor Jon Huntsman is reportedly still seriously considering a run for the office he held from 2005 to 2009 – a campaign that, if successful, would make him the first governor from Utah to serve nonconsecutive terms. [Only four other states share Utah’s history: Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, and Wyoming].

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox (pictured) officially jumped into the state’s 2020 race on Tuesday in hopes of becoming Utah’s first sitting or ex-Lieutenant Governor to become governor via the ballot box.

The office of lieutenant governor did not exist in the Beehive State until 1975.

Republican Lieutenant Governors Olene Walker and Gary Hebert initially became governor via succession following the respective resignations of Michael Leavitt in 2003 and Huntsman in 2009.

Of the 43 states that currently have a stand-alone office of lieutenant governor, Utah is one of just six that has never seen a former or sitting lieutenant governor win a gubernatorial election, along with Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, and New Jersey.

[Note: Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming do not have lieutenant governors. In Tennessee and West Virginia, the lieutenant governor is the president of the state senate].

Most of these six states have had long stretches in history during which there was no lieutenant governor.

Arkansas’ constitution did not provide for a lieutenant governor from 1874-1927 with even longer gaps in Maryland (1868-1971) and Florida (1889-1969).

Lieutenant governors first took office in 1975 in Utah and in 2010 in New Jersey.

Alaska has had one former lieutenant governor become governor through succession – Republican Sean Parnell in 2009 after the resignation of Sarah Palin.

Arkansas has similarly had a pair of governors sworn into office via succession during the last quarter-century: Jim Guy Tucker in 1992 and Mike Huckabee in 1996 after the resignations of Bill Clinton and Tucker respectively.

Several states have seen sitting or ex-lieutenant governors win gubernatorial elections this century including California (Democrat Gavin Newsom, 2018), Delaware (Democrat John Carney, 2016), Idaho (Republican Brad Little, 2018), Louisiana (Democrat Kathleen Blanco, 2003), Mississippi (Republican Phil Bryant, 2011), Montana (Republican Judy Martz, 2000), North Carolina (Democrat Bev Perdue, 2008), Ohio (Republican Mike DeWine, 2018), Oklahoma (Republican Mary Fallin, 2010), South Dakota (Republican Dennis Daugaard, 2010), Vermont (Republican Phil Scott, 2016), and Virginia (Democrat Ralph Northam, 2017).

In some instances, the gap between winning elections for the two offices has been quite large.

For example, Mike DeWine won his election for lieutenant governor in 1990 and was not elected governor until 2018 (serving two terms in the U.S. Senate and two terms as state attorney general in the meantime).

Delaware Democrat John Carney (2004 and 2016) and Illinois Republican George Ryan (1982/86 and 1998) won elections 12 years apart to the two offices.

Additional sitting lieutenant governors who have announced or are seriously considering gubernatorial bids include Mississippi Republican Tate Reeves (2019) and North Carolina Republican Dan Forest (2020).

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  1. John Chessant on May 17, 2019 at 1:25 am

    This can be contrasted with the dearth of successful presidential bids by sitting or former vice-presidents (unfortunate wording; a vice-president like Lyndon B. Johnson or Gerald Ford who becomes president is technically still a “former vice-president”).

    In 1988, George H. W. Bush became the first sitting vice-president since Martin Van Buren in 1836 to be elected president. In 1968, Richard Nixon (who left office as vice-president in 1961 following his loss to John F. Kennedy) defeated sitting vice-president Hubert Humphrey.

    Besides Nixon and Humphrey, who despite his loss in the 1972 primaries (while narrowly winning the popular vote) had a decent chance at the 1976 nomination, there were multiple other unsuccessful candidacies by sitting or former vice-presidents. Walter Mondale (1984) and Al Gore (2000) each won the Democratic nomination and lost the general election. Alben W. Barkley (1952) and Dan Quayle (2000) each briefly sought his party’s nomination but quickly withdrew due to lack of support. One could even count Henry A. Wallace (1948), who ran as the Progressive Party nominee and won 2.37% of the popular vote, not breaking 10% in any state but nearly matching Strom Thurmond’s national total of 2.41%. The fate of Joe Biden (2020) is yet to be decided.

  2. John Chessant on May 17, 2019 at 1:44 am

    Comparatively few of New York’s governors were sitting or former lieutenant governors at the time of their elections. The two most recent were Mario Cuomo (father of the current governor Andrew Cuomo) and Herbert H. Lehman (son of the youngest “Lehman Brother”; lieutenant governor to Franklin D. Roosevelt; eventually one of the more progressive U.S. senators of his time).

    Of the 56 governors of New York, only five fit this criteria:

    *DeWitt Clinton (1817–1822, 1825–1828)
    *Hamilton Fish (1849–1850)
    *Frank W. Higgins (1905–1906)
    *Herbert H. Lehman (1933–1942)
    *Mario Cuomo (1983–1994)

    Ten more ascended to the governorship after their predecessors left office mid-term. Their predecessors were:

    *Daniel D. Tompkins (resigned to become Vice President of the United States, 1817)
    *the aforementioned DeWitt Clinton (died in office, 1828)
    *Martin Van Buren (resigned upon appointment as U.S. Secretary of State, 1829)
    *Grover Cleveland (resigned to become President of the United States, 1885)
    *Charles Evans Hughes (resigned upon appointment to the SCOTUS, 1910)
    *William Sulzer (impeached, 1913)
    *the aforementioned Herbert H. Lehman (resigned upon appointment as director of operations for foreign relief at the U.S. Department of State, 1942)
    *Nelson Rockefeller (resigned to work on the Commission on Critical Choices for Americans, 1973)
    *Eliot Spitzer (resigned in scandal, 2008)

  3. Nikoli Orr on May 17, 2019 at 2:14 am

    AK: Keith Harvey Miller also ascended to the governorship upon the resignation of “Wally” Hickel in 01 of 1969. He made 2 subsequent tries to be elected in his own right, losing the general to former (and inaugural) governor William Allen “Bill” Egan in ’70, and edged out in the R primary to Jay Sterner Hammond (who also defeated Hickel) in ’74.

  4. Dovie Eisner on July 11, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Sean Parnell won the 2010 election, though, so Alaska does not belong on this list.

    • Dr Eric Ostermeier on July 11, 2019 at 3:56 pm

      True – though Parnell was already sitting governor upon first being elected governor. I should have clarified this study was examining those who had not yet ascended to the governorship.

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