Circumstances shine big light on little job

Will Rogers once said the vice president had the best job in the country. “All he has to do is get up every day and say, ‘How is the president?’ ”

John Nance Gardner once derided the vice presidency as “not worth a bucket of warm piss,” and he should know, having served in the office from 1933 to 1941.

HBO currently airs a sitcom about the vice presidency, “Veep,” featuring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a conniving but hapless No. 2.

Now, picture what they might say about the equivalent job here in the state of Nevada: lieutenant governor.

It’s the only constitutional office considered to be part-time. Its primary duty is to preside over the state Senate for four months every two years. An assignment to oversee economic development has been largely moved to an office under the governor.

But next year, the lieutenant governor’s race will be one of the most watched, hardest fought races in the state.

Why? Because Gov. Brian Sandoval appears to be headed to an easy re-election in 2014, which positions him for higher office, either running for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s seat in 2016, running for even higher office (say, vice president of the United States) on a Republican ticket, or accepting a Cabinet appointment should a Republican win the White House. If Sandoval left before his second term expired, the lieutenant governor would replace him.

And Monday, the campaign kicked off, as state Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, announced he would seek the lieutenant governor’s post. Sandoval immediately endorsed Hutchison, signaling the Republican jockeying is over.

The Nevada GOP has the top two slots on its ticket filled.

With Hutchison safely in the No. 2 job, Sandoval would have no political fears about leaving the state in the hands of a Democrat who would inherit the governor’s mansion and instantly gain the advantage of incumbency. (That’s how the state’s last Democratic governor, Bob Miller, got his start in 1989.)

For his part, Hutchison says he hasn’t considered the long-term political implications. He and his family — vacationing in beautiful seaside Huntington Beach, Calif., over the July 4 holiday — just made the decision for him to run, he says.

Hutchison got high marks this year, his freshman session, for working across the aisle with an earnest, forthright style that engendered trust among colleagues both Democrat and Republican. He said he could bring those working relationships to the lieutenant governor’s office.

Although primary responsibility for economic development belongs to the governor’s office, Hutchison said he looked forward to helping in those efforts, as well as advising the governor on issues. And he’d continue to practice law at his Las Vegas firm, Hutchison & Steffen.

His entry into the race leaves the Democrats with a perplexing problem: Who will they run? Democrats enjoy a statewide voter registration advantage of 97,928 active voters, as of June 2013. That’s larger than the 60,108-voter advantage Democrats enjoyed in October 2010, when incumbent GOP Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki defeated former Reno Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza, 51 percent to 42 percent.

Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, said she’s considering the race. “I think I’m a pretty viable statewide candidate, but I haven’t made any final decisions,” she said. Unlike Hutchison, who is in the middle of a four-year term, Flores would have to surrender her Assembly seat to run for lieutenant governor. She said she’ll make her decision by the beginning of August.

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins, who is serving his final four-year term on the commission, said he’s also given some thought to running. He said the Democrats need a candidate with the ability to appeal to liberals, organized labor and more conservative rural residents. “Hutch is very beatable,” Collins said. He said he’ll decide in September whether to run.

Suddenly, an idle little office has become one of Nevada’s top races.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or