We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected
Graphic of a person's hand placing a ballot in a ballot box decorated with the California state seal
(Dan Carino
/
LAist)
California Lieutenant Governor
The lieutenant governors serves as second in command. What else do they do? Sometimes even they aren't sure. Incumbent Eleni Kounalakis is running against Republican Angela Underwood Jacobs.
This story features Beeline Reader for enhanced readability. Click to turn the feature on or off. Learn more about this technology here.

What does the California Lieutenant Governor do?

Think of the lieutenant governor as the state version of the U.S. vice president. As laid out in the California Constitution, the lieutenant governor serves as second in command, ready to take on the role as acting governor if there’s a vacancy, or if the governor is impeached, absent from the state, or if a disability prevents them from carrying out their duties.

Lieutenant governors are also President of the Senate and cast a vote when there is a tie, though this is a rare occurrence that hasn’t happened since 1996.

More Voter Guides

City of Los Angeles

L.A. County

  • Sheriff: Compare the two candidates for L.A. County sheriff
  • Water Agencies: Learn what they do and what to look for in a candidate

How to evaluate judges

California propositions

  • Propositions 26 and 27: The difference between the sports betting ballot measures
  • Proposition 29: Why kidney dialysis is on your ballot for the third time
  • Proposition 30: Why Lyft is the biggest funder of this ballot measure

Head to the Voter Game Plan homepage for guides to the rest of your ballot.

The lieutenant governor position is often considered “a ceremonial role” or hidden position. When current Gov. Gavin Newsom served as Gov. Jerry Brown’s lieutenant governor, he struggled to make serious moves. When Brown left the country in April 2013 for a work trip, Newsom stepped in. His first official move? Declaring the artichoke as the state vegetable. According to the L.A. Times, Newsom chafed at the limitations, so much so that when a child asked him what a Lt. Gov. does, he replied: “I ask myself that every day.”

All kidding aside, the lieutenant governor is a voting member of the boards that govern the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems, and that’s a huge responsibility. They vote on crucial issues such as tuition increases, affordable student housing, and how the state can uphold diversity and inclusion efforts in higher education.

The lieutenant governor is also a member of the State Lands Commission and serves as the panel's chair every three years. The State Lands Commission handles the leasing of state-owned lands, including offshore drilling.

The point: while the lieutenant governor does do a fair amount of ceremonial tasks, likedesignating state vegetables, they also affect policy in some key areas. An effective lieutenant governor will see the position as more than a bully pulpit.

You might recognize their work from…

Lieutenant governors make headlines when they step in as acting governor during the governor’s absence. Current Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis became the first woman in California history to sign a bill into law back in March when Newsom was away on vacation. She also took over for Newsom last November by joining the United Nations climate change conference, speaking at two panels on his behalf.

Before you keep reading…
Dear voter, we're asking you to help us keep local election news widely available for all today. Your financial support allows our reporters to research candidates and provide you and your neighbors the tools you need to make informed decisions when casting your ballot. When reliable local election reporting is widely available, the entire community benefits. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.

As a member of the State Lands Commission, Kounalakis joined in a decision to terminate three offshore oil and gas leases. As a member of the UC system’s Board of Regents, she spoke out against their voteto hike tuition prices (albeit unsuccessfully).

What’s on the agenda for the next term?

Remember how the lieutenant governor serves as a voting member on the boards for both the UC and Cal State University systems? UC and CSU are facing student housing crises — 5% of UC and 10% of CSU students experienced homelessness during the academic school year. And the CSU board will also have to approve a new chancellor, because CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro was forced to resign following allegations that he mishandled sexual harassment claims.

Reduced state funding for the public higher education system has increased the number of student loan borrowers. As a voting member on the boards for both systems, the lieutenant governor will help decide how California responds to this challenge.

When it is the lieutenant governor’s turn to chair the State Lands Commission, they also serve as a member of the CA Ocean Protection Council and the CA Coastal Commission. Orange County experienced a huge oil spill last October due to a split in an offshore oil platform, devastating wetlands and sea life; it’s the Ocean Protection Council’s job to launch an investigation to determine the cause.

California is entering another drought year, and communities of color continue to suffer disproportionately from pollution. Because the lieutenant governor was designated in 2019 to represent the governor in international affairs, the lieutenant governor can collaborate with other countries to develop solutions towards cleaner energy and climate change.

What should I consider in a candidate?

As Kendrick Lamar once said, “Be humble.” Or as Jaime Regalado, political science professor emeritus of CSU Los Angeles, says, “Take credit but don't crow about the victories you achieve.”

Since the lieutenant governor can have the most impact on issues concerning higher education and state land use, it’s important to check their campaign platforms on where they stand on these matters and how they will approach them given the opportunity.

“You want that person to make as much of a difference as possible and not just wait for the governor seat to go vacant,” said Regalado.

Where do lieutenant governors go from here?

California has a history of elevating lieutenant governors to the governorship — going all the way back to its first, John McDougal. Newsom and former Gov. Gray Davis are two recent examples. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who is running for reelection, sees her first four years in office as “a very good training ground for the bigger job.”


    The Candidates

    This section was republished from CalMatters' 2022 Voter Guide.

    This typically quiet race is even quieter than usual this year. Democrat Eleni Kounalakis won an intraparty battle in 2018, with millions of dollars in help from her father, Sacramento real estate developer Angelo Tsakopoulos. She’s made few headlines since, apart from becoming the first woman in California to sign a bill into law while Gov. Gavin Newsom was on spring break with his family.

    After winning nearly 53% of the vote in the June primary, Kounalakis has a clear path to victory over Republican Angela Underwood Jacobs for a second and final term. But she’ll need to make more noise over the next four years if she still has her eye on the governor’s office.


    Eleni Kounalakis

    Lieutenant Governor of California (Democratic)

    The first woman elected lieutenant governor of California (though the second to serve in the position), Eleni Kounalakis already has her eye on higher office. She has said she wants to ensure a female candidate wins the governorship in 2026 — and she hopes it's her.

    Kounalakis received some attention in March when she became the first woman to sign a bill into law in California, while Gov. Gavin Newsom was on spring break with his family. She also made news last fall when she stepped in to lead California’s delegation to the United Nations climate summit in Scotland after Newsom dropped out at the last minute. But otherwise, the spotlight has shined brightest on Kounalakis when she picked a date for last year’s gubernatorial recall election and back in 2019, when she solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, largely from labor unions, to renovate her state office.

    Campaign website: eleniforca.com
    Contributions: California Secretary of State Filings
    Endorsements: List of endorsements (Campaign website)

    More resources:


    Angela Underwood Jacobs

    Bank Manager (Republican)

    Angela Underwood Jacobs is a major underdog, running against a well-funded incumbent in a state that has not elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006. She hopes her experience in local government as a city councilmember in Lancaster, and her support for small businesses during her decades-long career in community banking, will broaden her appeal among the electorate.

    Underwood Jacobs would use the office as a platform to advocate for lowering taxes, getting tough on crime and reducing homelessness, though the job offers few opportunities to directly affect those issues.

    Campaign website: angelaforcalifornia.com
    Contributions: California Secretary of State Filings
    Endorsements: List of endorsements (Voter's Edge)

    More resources:

    More Voter Guides

    City of Los Angeles

    L.A. County

    • Sheriff: Compare the two candidates for L.A. County sheriff
    • Water Agencies: Learn what they do and what to look for in a candidate

    How to evaluate judges

    California propositions

    • Propositions 26 and 27: The difference between the sports betting ballot measures
    • Proposition 29: Why kidney dialysis is on your ballot for the third time
    • Proposition 30: Why Lyft is the biggest funder of this ballot measure

    Head to the Voter Game Plan homepage for guides to the rest of your ballot.

    Before you go, contribute to real impact
    Your donation today makes it possible for our reporters to keep delivering our well-researched Voter Game Plans. You won't hit a paywall at LAist and that's made possible by readers who support our non-profit newsroom. Thank you for your partnership, we can't do this without you.