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In R.I., running for a 'waste' of a job

Robert Healey Jr. is running for Rhode Island lieutenant governor — not to excel in the position, but to eliminate it altogether.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Robert Healey Jr. is running for Rhode Island lieutenant governor — not to excel in the position, but to eliminate it altogether.

He lampoons the office as a $1 million waste of taxpayer money, a "useless appendage" of state government whose sole reason for existence is for its occupant to step forward if the governor dies or can't serve.

"We're cutting programs left and right, and yet we need an office for a million dollars a year to advise people," Healey said. "I'd rather spend the million dollars feeding people."

Healey founded his own political party and named it the Cool Moose. He has twice run unsuccessfully for the position but believes his message might hold extra resonance at a time of anti-incumbent fervor and resistance to big government.

A lawyer and former cheese shop owner, he cuts a distinct picture with a long-flowing beard and curly hair that falls below his shoulders. His campaign website shows a cartoonish image of him, modeled on the iconic photograph of John Lennon in a sleeveless "New York City" T-shirt, with the words, "Imagine No Lieutenant Governor ... It's Easy if You Try."

His improbable idea might be dismissed as just a clever conceit, but the state Republican Party has co-opted the message by running its own candidate on the same platform.

"There are no duties," said Heidi Rogers, 44, a small business owner and GOP candidate for the job. "I did my research on that and found that really there are no duties with that office except to wait for the governor to become incapacitated or die."

The current lieutenant governor, Elizabeth Roberts, a Democrat, disagrees. She says she's used the position to champion health insurance and create an initiative that encourages state residents to buy goods from independent, locally owned businesses.

"My office really functions outside of government gridlock," said Roberts, who faces a Sept. 14 primary challenge from Red Sox executive Jeremy Kapstein.

The office currently has six full-time employees, and though it's allotted nearly $1 million in the state budget, it routinely spends well under that, said Roberts' campaign manager, Dan Meuse.

Forty-three states have full-time elected lieutenant governors. In West Virginia and Tennessee, the position is assigned to the leader of the state Senate.

Some governors or legislators, including in Louisiana and Wisconsin, have proposed eliminating the office, but most states seem to recognize an inherent value in having a designated deputy at the ready in case of emergency, said Julia Hurst, executive director of the National Lieutenant Governors Association.