Aug. 25 2010 12:00 AM

Picking a running mate: Much ado about nothing?

The Michigan Democratic Party Convention is Saturday and Sunday in Detroit, but there is only speculation about whom Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero will choose as a lieutenant governor nominee.

How important is the lieutenant governor choice? Not at all, says one political expert.

“It’s the most popular power game in Lansing that means nothing,” Democratic political consultant Joe DiSano said. He was referring to the fact that, once in office, the duties of lieutenant governor are fairly limited, sometimes nothing more than “waving a gavel,” he said.

Official duties include presiding over the state Senate and giving potential tie-breaking votes, serving on the State Administrative Board and making public appearances for the governor. The lieutenant governor also is appointed to various state boards and commissions.

“It’s the world’s greatest part-time job,” DiSano said. If the governor’s job opens, in the event of a death, for example, the lieutenant governor would take over. However, at this point DiSano said a lieutenant governor nomination wouldn’t hold much sway for voters on Election Day.

“If there’s a tight race going into Nov. 2, no one is going to base (his or her) vote on the lieutenant governor,” he said.

Nonetheless, Republican candidate Rick Snyder’s choice of Rep. Brian Calley from the 87th District grabbed headlines this week as well as theoretical predictions for Bernero.

DiSano goes against the popular belief behind Snyder’s choice that he needed someone with state legislature experience, of which Snyder himself has none. He thinks the gubernatorial candidates should choose someone who will “do no harm” to the campaign and who shares the governor’s message.

“Your running mate needs to echo who you are, not contradict it,” DiSano said. “Bernero will hopefully not fall into that trap.”

DiSano speculated two serious running mates for Bernero, both African Americans from southeast Michigan: Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence and Detroit City Councilman Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. Experts say Bernero nominating an African American for lieutenant governor will help attract an important constituency for Democrats.

Cockrel served as interim mayor of Detroit for about eight months following Kwame Kilpatrick’s descent from power. DiSano likes his position on anti-corruption issues after dealing with the Kilpatrick scandal.

Of the two, DiSano said Lawrence would be a “master stroke” for the Bernero campaign.

“There is something to be said for two mayors running together,” he said.

Lawrence is in her third term as Southfield’s mayor, serving since 2001, and is the city’s first woman and African American to hold the position.

The Detroit News reported today that three potential nominees turned down the opportunity to be considered for Bernero’s lieutenant governor. One is General Motors Vice President Rod Gillum and the other two are presidents of Detroit-based fundraising organizations.

(A committee of Democrats from various backgrounds screens potential candidates through a vetting process. The Detroit News reported that most of the candidates being considered are African American and from southeast Michigan.)