When Hoosier voters go to the polls in November, they won’t be voting for either Sue Ellspermann or Vi Simpson to just be the next lieutenant governor. They’ll be voting for a secretary of agriculture, a president of the state senate, a head of the office of tourism and chair of the state’s counterterrorism and security council–all roles of the lieutenant governor.
Official and Unofficial Roles As Lieutenant Governor
The National Lieutenant Governors Association reports that Indiana’s lieutenant governor has more constitutional and statutory duties than any other in the country.
- Lt. Governor
Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman oversees five state agencies in addition to her positions in the senate and the state security council, and each lieutenant governor has non-official roles in their administration.
“Governor Mitch calls me the quarterback,” Skillman says, adding that she and Governor Mitch Daniels were in agreement on her role from the start. “From day one in 2005, he has expected me to help form our legislative agenda.”
Early on in the Daniels administration, before he and Skillman added more policy directors and staff to help craft legislation, Skillman says she did about 85 percent of the work herself.
“From the morning after the election, truly the morning after the election, I started working on our legislative agenda: writing the legislation, securing the authors,” she says.
Skillman says she took on that role primarily because of her background – she spent 12 years in the state senate prior to serving with Daniels.
The Changing Role Of the Lieutenant Governor
Political scientist Brian Vargus says those unofficial roles will change in each administration.
“It depends a little bit on the governor and how much powers they give to that person and how much visibility,” Vargus says. ” Some lieutenant governors are just simply more active than others in part because of the confidence the governor has in them.”
State representative Sue Ellspermann, who is running on the GOP ticket, says she has only started discussing her role with running mate Mike Pence. Those discussions have centered around what Ellspermann says she brings to the table.
“One is economic development, which was really the platform on which I ran for the state representative role three years ago,” she says.
Ellspermann says preparing for a role with as many duties – and in such a wide variety – as the lieutenant governor is a challenge.
“I don’t think you ever bring every requisite knowledge piece that you need to the table but you go in there with an attitude of learning, of really digging in,” she says.
State Senator Vi Simpson, John Gregg’s running mate on the Democratic ticket, views it differently.
“I don’t think you can go out and actually prepare,” Simpson says. “You need to know about those issues and certainly after 28 years in the legislature and four years in local government, I have some concepts about those issues.”
Simpson says she and Gregg discussed her potential role before she signed on to run with him. She says it was important to understand what Gregg envisioned.
“He told me that he really saw this whole idea of administering state government as a team concept and that I bring different strengths to the table than he brings,” Simpson says.
Because they come from similar backgrounds (Gregg served 16 years in the Indiana House, seven of them as speaker), Simpson says she might not necessarily take the lead in the legislative agenda the same way Skillman has.
“We do have different subject areas, different topical areas where we have developed expertise and so it may not be quite as delineated or defined as you might think with this team because we both have the legislative experience,” Simpson says.
Prepared To Lead
Skillman says maybe the most vital role a lieutenant governor plays is as the first in line to replace the governor.
“I believe there’s a great comfort level among Hoosiers that a lieutenant governor is prepared and ready to step in should the worst happen,” Skillman says.
Ellspermann says while the possibility of taking over for the governor was not the reason she agreed to run with Pence, it was part of her decision.
“We are well staffed with the expertise around the table that will help to make that a reality, but yes, I think we all – the current lieutenant governor and both of us as candidates – take that responsibility should it happen very seriously,” she says.
Whether the Republican or the Democrat wins, Indiana will see another female lieutenant governor, and she will be the third to ever hold the post. But Skillman, Ellspermann and Simpson all agree – gender plays no role in running for or doing the job.