SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Lieutenant governor of California is a low-visibility position with few official duties, and officeholders have historically struggled to define their role in the job.
Still, the incumbent and his challenger each insist the position can be influential beyond serving on the governing boards of the University of California and California State University systems, and filling in when the governor is out of state.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has tried to use the position as a bully pulpit over the past four years on a wide range of issues, including domestic violence in the NFL, gay marriage and California’s budget.
Newsom, 46, previously served eight years as San Francisco mayor and garnered national attention when he ordered the city clerk in 2004 to ignore state law at the time and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Newsom’s actions led directly to the legal cases that ultimately legalized gay marriage in California.
Republican challenger Ron Nehring, 44, served four years as the state Republican Party chairman and is now a political consultant based in San Diego.
He complains that Newsom is using the office for a taxpayer-funded campaign for governor and has not taken advantage of the lieutenant governor’s position as chair of California’s Commission for Economic Development to help bolster the economy.
Newsom launched a short-lived campaign in 2009 for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, dropping out amid overwhelming poll numbers in favor of eventual winner Gov. Jerry Brown. Newsom is widely expected to run for governor in 2018.
Nehring vows to use the lieutenant governor office to drum up support for the state economy if his admittedly long-shot campaign pays off with a victory.
“The office is what the holder makes of it,” Nehring said. “The incumbent has treated the post as one he doesn’t want.”
Nehring is working with little in the way of campaign contributions and name recognition. He has collected about $40,000 in campaign contributions compared to Newsom’s $1 million.
Even history is working against the San Diego resident who served on an area school board. Democrats have won the past eight elections for lieutenant governor dating back to 1978 when Republican Mike Curb was elected to the office.