California is besieged by wildfires. But Gov. Jerry Brown is out of town. He’s not officially in charge of the state. Nor is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, recently spotted at the Democratic National Convention by the Breitbart News crew.
Under the provisions of the Golden State’s Constitution, Brown won’t be considered governor until he returns onto California soil from his trip to the convention.
As of Monday, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has taken the role of governor, since all eight Democrats in the line of succession, based on rank, to take over Brown’s role ahead of him are also on the East Coast for the DNC.
“If he leaves the state, that’s the end of the line,” Alex Vassar, a state policy analyst who is well-versed in California’s legislative and constitutional history, told the Los Angeles Times.
That’s because Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Board of Equalization Chairwoman Fiona Ma, the next two officials in line after Torlakson should he leave the state, also are in Philadelphia. Torlakson allayed those fears, reportedly saying, “I’ll be in Sacramento. It’s a different job, a different title, but it’s still me.”
Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom is the next person after Gov. Brown, followed by Senate President Pro-Tem Kevin de León, following by 7 others leading up to Torlakson, according to succession.
According to the Times, the law requiring California’s governor be within the geographical confines of the state dates back to 1849; the state’s inception.
The Golden State is reportedly one of 20 that legally remove a traveling governor from power, although the Times points out that among that group, some only do so during a prolonged absence.
There were reportedly three different governors in California by the end of the day on Monday, day one of the DNC. First, the baton had been passed to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, whose afternoon flight to the DNC wound up leaving the post in Torlakson’s lap.
There have only been two hiccups by way of gubernatorial law in California’s recent history; both incidents took place under Gov. Brown and his father, Gov. Pat Brown. The Times notes that they took place in 1965 and 1979.
During the 1980 Brown v. Curb lawsuit, Gov. Brown had argued that the “Lieutenant Governor could assume gubernatorial powers upon a Governor’s absence from the state only if the Governor was unable to conduct urgent state business.”
However, California’s Supreme Court held that “the mere physical absence of the Governor from California confers full gubernatorial powers on the physically present Lieutenant Governor.”
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz