Lieutenant Governor

Written By Dr. Troy L. Kickler

Under North Carolina’s 1776 Constitution, the state’s General Assembly elected the Governor–then North Carolina’s only elected executive–to one-year terms. The Constitution stipulated that if the Governor were to die while in office, the legislators would elect a replacement. In 1835, North Carolina’s voters ratified a bevy of constitutional amendments, among them provisions prolonging the governor’s term to two years and making his office a popularly elected one.

In 1868, North Carolina, at the urging of the U.S. Congress, adopted an entirely new constitution. The Constitution of 1868 created the office of Lieutenant Governor and provided for the popular election of both Governor and Lieutenant Governor, each to four-year terms. Since 1868, the two executive positions have been kept on separate ballots, making it possible for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to be members of different parties.

The Constitution of 1868 also stipulated that the Lieutenant Governor succeed the Governor in cases of the latter’s death, impeachment, or resignation. Since 1868, this has happened five times–most recently when Luther Hodges acceded to the higher office after Governor William B. Umstead died in 1954. Until 1970, the Lieutenant Governorship was a part-time position, with the main duty being to preside over the North Carolina Senate.

In 1970, the position became full-time and subsequently evolved into the only elected post with executive and legislative duties. Now the Lieutenant Governor not only presides over the Senate but also is part of the ten-member Council of State that includes the Governor, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Lieutenant Governor also serves on the state Board of Education, the Capital Planning Commission, and the Board of Community Colleges. The Governor is permitted to delegate additional responsibilities to the Lieutenant Governor.

Although most Lieutenant Governors have sought gubernatorial office, only nine of thirty-two have become the top executive, and of the nine, only a few, such as O. Max Gardner and Luther Hodges, have achieved national fame. Beverly Perdue (2001-present) is the first female to hold the office.