So, when David Paterson had to go to the hospital earlier this week, we thought "Oh wow, if something happens to him, that means Joe Bruno is governor." But then we thought, "Wait, what if something then happens to Joe Bruno? Then what?"
So we asked Bennett Liebman, the Executive Director of Albany Law School's Center for Government and Law to set us straight. Here's how it works...
If Governor Paterson couldn't fulfill his term as governor because of death or prostitution or whatever, then the temporary president of the Senate/majority leader (currently Joe Bruno) becomes acting governor. If that happened today, Bruno would serve until November of 2008. If it happened less than 90 days before election day 2008, then Bruno would serve until November 2009. That is, if Bruno remained temporary Senate president. The Senate could elect a new temporary president and that person would replace Bruno as acting governor.
Still with us?
OK. Now if Acting Governor Bruno could not fulfill the term, the job would go to the Assembly speaker, currently Sheldon Silver. But Silver shouldn't plan to redecorate the mansion or anything. He'd only be there long enough for the Senate to vote on a new temporary president, who would then become the acting governor until the next election.
Why is it this confusing? How come we just don't have a provision for selecting a new lieutenant governor? Liebman says it's partly just a historical quirk. He also says it's a statement about the job of lieutenant governor. "People considered it more of a ceremonial position," he says.
When he was lieutenant governor, David Paterson himself used to joke that his job was "to wake up very early in the morning and call the Governor's private line. If he answers you can go back to sleep."
Liebman says the question hasn't really been a topic of discussion for decades. The last time it came up in a formal way was the last couple of constitutional congresses. The last time we had one of those was 1967.
Robin Schimminger, an assemblyman from out near Buffalo, recently proposed a plan to set up a process so that the lieutenant governor could be replaced. Schimminger plan would also get rid of the state's "abscence" clause, which makes whoever's next in line for governor the acting governor if the actual governor physically leaves the state.
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