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SCOT LEHIGH

Spins on the lieutenant governor job

It’s a curiosity that men and women aspire to this thoroughly pointless post

Want to be transported on the magic carpet of imagination? To experience a Walter Mittyesque flight of fantasy? Read on, Macduff, for today we’re quizzing the four Democrats and one Republican who would be lieutenant governor about why they aspire to a thoroughly pointless post.

Call me a cynic, but as I see it, the principal reason people run for the job is that 1) it’s a possible stepping stone to higher office and 2) the forlorn position is within reach of lesser candidates because more accomplished figures aren’t interested. Alas, that doesn’t make for a particularly gripping campaign pitch, which means LG hopefuls must conjure up creative reasons for wanting to be second banana. That can be a challenge, as evidenced by some of the responses to my written questions.

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Democrat Steve Kerrigan, a former Lancaster selectman and long-time Democratic operative, says he’s laid out a “compelling vision” for the LG’s job. Beyond declaring he’d act as an ombudsman for those who need help navigating state government, he didn’t share that vision. Given his Rip Van Winkle I-snooze-through-the-news performance on WCVB’s “On the Record’’ pop quiz, let’s hope it doesn’t include keeping the governor briefed on topical issues.

Republican Karyn Polito, a former state rep, tried to put this shine on the sneaker: “The job of lieutenant governor — like any job — is what you make of it.”

Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung said he would use his expertise as an entrepreneur “to create jobs” all over the state. How, exactly? With mentors and high-speed Internet.

Mike Lake, president of Leading Cities, a cities-and-universities organization with a somewhat amorphous mission, says it’s a plus that the LG’s job has no mission at all. “I see this lack of definition as an opportunity . . . to be the Commonwealth’s chief marketing officer,” he wrote.

But the award for creative reconceptualization goes to James Arena-DeRosa, a former regional director of the Peace Corps and regional USDA official. “I don’t see the lieutenant governor’s role necessarily as ‘number two’ to the governor,” he replied, adding that as the state’s not-necessarily-number-two, he would “vigorously review the performance of state agencies and develop proposals to improve vital services.” Um, that’s sort of the auditor’s job — but it does hold the prospect of some diverting Evelyn Murphy-Mike Dukakis rogue-LG-vexes-the-boss stories.

Why do men and women aspire to this thoroughly pointless post?

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The Governor’s Council, which the LG chairs, is itself a nugatory entity. In past years, a constitutional amendment has been proposed to abolish the oft-clownish council and shift its few functions to the Legislature. So I asked the would-be LGs if they thought the council played a useful role. Think of this question as a pander/candor detector.

The council “works just fine,” averred Polito. Yes indeed, Kerrigan agreed. Lake said it has “a unique voice and role” in state government. Credit to Cheung for saying it’s worth examining whether the council is “still a useful part of the process.” But again, the winner is Arena-DeRosa, who says he’d conduct a comprehensive analysis to determine “what system might best fit the needs of . . . Massachusetts in a new era.”

Noting that the LG’s job is seen mostly as a stepping stone, I asked the candidates what office they really aspired to — and why they hadn’t simply run for that post this time around.

Being LG is the height of their ambition, if one is to believe Polito and Arena-DeRosa. Hmmmm. Lake and Cheung seem to be saying that it’s the role they really, really want right now.

On this one, Kerrigan wins for candor. Everyone who runs for LG wants to be governor someday, he said. So why didn’t he just run for the top job this time? “We have a field of experienced, accomplished candidates . . .” Translated: He’d have gotten his clock cleaned.

So where does this leave us? Right now, I think I’m an Arena-DeRosa fan — but I’d drop him in nanosecond for any candidate who promised to spend their time as LG trying to eliminate the job.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.
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