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What does Massachusetts' lieutenant governor do? Former No. 2 Jane Swift weighs in

Since State Sen. Adam Hinds announced his run for lieutenant governor, some people are wondering what the position entails

Former acting Gov. Jane Swift speaks at MCLA

Elected as lieutenant governor in 1998 alongside Gov. Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift took over the governor’s duties after Cellucci resigned in 2001. Other than filling in when the governor travels out of state or vacates the office, Swift said, the main role of the lieutenant governor is to forge connections between the executive office and elected officials across the state.

PITTSFIELD — The last time a Berkshire County resident was elected lieutenant governor, she spent nearly half her term in the governor’s role.

Jane Swift won a four-year term as lieutenant governor on the 1998 Republican ticket, but then-Gov. Paul Cellucci resigned in April 2001, giving Swift the executive powers until January 2003. The lieutenant governor takes over whenever the governor travels out of state or, in the case of Cellucci, leaves the office entirely.

The state constitution outlines few duties for the second-in-command position beyond that, other than chairing meetings of the eight-member Governor’s Council.

'A different approach': State Sen. Adam Hinds launches bid for lieutenant governor

“It’s a huge job, but it’s a management, leadership and communications job, so, I think it actually makes sense to approach it that way,” Swift told The Eagle on Wednesday. “The role of lieutenant governor, in terms of issues and impact, includes very little statutory and constitutional authority.”

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, announced his campaign for lieutenant governor Wednesday. If Hinds were to win that office, he would become the first Berkshire County resident to serve in the role since Swift, a North Adams native who represented the Berkshires in the Senate from 1991 to 1997.

The lieutenant governor often is seen as a steppingstone to an eventual run for governor, although electoral success has been mixed.

Key to the role, Swift said, is maintaining communication with elected officials across the state and working with the governor to incorporate input from local and regional officials. As lieutenant governor, Swift held over 100 meetings with “education stakeholders across the state,” she said, to implement a major 1993 law.

Former North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright worked with two lieutenant governors from 2010 to 2017. He said he found Tim Murray, who served under former Gov. Deval Patrick, and Karyn Polito, the current lieutenant governor under Gov. Charlie Baker, to be accessible. The lieutenant governor acts as “the gatekeeper to the governor for cities and towns,” said Alcombright, who is supporting Hinds’ campaign.

“I told [Hinds], from my perspective, it’s hugely important that he keep that part of the job for the 351 cities and towns,” Alcombright said.

For most residents, however, lieutenant governors may have little visibility until they spend time in the governor’s role.

“If Gov. Baker goes on vacation, if he goes to New Hampshire for a meeting with Gov. [Chris] Sununu, if there’s a restaurant he really likes in Providence and he shoots down there for dinner, if he drives out to Pittsfield and decides to shoot up [Route] 22, technically in that period [Lt. Gov.] Karyn Polito is the governor,” Swift said. “Any power that the governor has, she has.”

When Swift served as acting governor from 2001 to 2003, she remained lieutenant governor and did not have a separate lieutenant governor serving alongside her. Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, a Democrat who many thought was planning to run for governor, became second in line. Whenever Swift left the state, Galvin would have had the governor’s powers, including the ability to sign or veto legislation passed by the Legislature.

“I seldom left the state, and when I did, we had to be very careful,” Swift said. “Usually, we would negotiate more with the Legislature about not having bills come to my desk [while out of the state].”

Cellucci is the only Massachusetts lieutenant governor to win an election for governor since Francis Sargent won a term in 1970. Cellucci, the lieutenant governor from 1991 to 1999, took over the governor’s duties after Gov. William Weld resigned in 1997. Cellucci won the 1998 election for governor.

Swift initially announced in October 2001 that she would pursue a full term as governor but called off the run six months before the 2002 election. Mitt Romney, who had outpolled Swift, eventually won the governor’s office.

Kerry Healey, Romney’s lieutenant governor, ran for governor in 2006 but lost to Patrick.

Serving as lieutenant governor, Swift said, provides valuable experience for those who take on the governor’s role, even if it does not necessarily mean an electoral advantage. Swift referenced New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was a little-known lieutenant governor before she took over the top office after Andrew Cuomo’s resignation. A recent poll shows an approval to disapproval ratio of 49 percent to 31 percent for Hochul. In another poll, she’s double digits ahead of the next-highest potential candidate for governor.

“It’s yet to be seen if she’ll be successful in running for a full term,” Swift said, “but I think many folks are assured she was prepared to do the job because she had spent a lot of time traveling across the state in the role of lieutenant governor, meeting with elected officials and understanding the issues.”

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.

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