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California tops states in protecting governor, lower-level officials

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Among all the states, only California provides bodyguards to all its statewide officials – right down to its superintendent of public instruction.

It will cost California taxpayers more than $31 million this year to protect those seven officials and others who work in protected state buildings.

All that security is provided even though Californians are notoriously indifferent to their governing class.

“There’s very low visibility for state officials, particularly once we get past the governor,” said Mark Baldassare, who conducted a visibility survey for the Public Policy Institute of California.

In fact, some officials are recognizable mainly for their security guards.

Cruz Bustamante, for example, was elected the state’s second-highest ranking official last year, yet 92 percent of Californians couldn’t name him as lieutenant governor.

Still, visitors to Sacramento’s airport recently had no problem picking Bustamante out of the crowd. He was the one met by an earpiece-wearing bodyguard driving a big black sedan.

The California Highway Patrol’s Protective Services division protects the governor while its Office of Dignitary Protection safeguards the lieutenant governor, treasurer, comptroller, secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction – as well as workers in protected buildings.

In addition, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is protected by special agents from the state Department of Justice.

“Lockyer gets a couple death threats a week,” said spokesman Nathan Barankin.

“Part of the price of being in the public eye is there are certain risks,” said Alfie Charles, spokesman for Secretary of State Bill Jones, who is third in the line of succession to be governor.

Nineteen states follow California’s practice of protecting the governor’s official and private residences as well as the governor himself, according to a December survey of 45 states by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

That cost those states an average of $1.8 million last year for about 21 security guards. The survey found one unidentified state devoted 43 bodyguards and $5.5 million to the task, while another got the job done with six guards and a budget of about $420,000.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura said his state spent about $1 million for 11 bodyguards, “and yet we have the highest-profile governor in the world.”

Fourteen other states guard only the governor and his official residence, and 10 guard only the governor himself.

Bodyguards for lower-level state officials are far less common outside California.

Among 33 lieutenant governors who responded to a National Conference of Lieutenant Governors survey last fall, 11 have bodyguards, six occasionally use bodyguards as drivers or when they are serving as acting governor, and 16 never use bodyguards.

Gail Manning, who heads the organization, said she knows of no lieutenant governor who has around-the-clock protection; most have bodyguards only on state business.

The Minnesota survey found only seven of the 45 responding states provide regular protection for any official below the level of lieutenant governor.

Aside from California, only Arizona, Maryland and Ohio protect their treasurer, said Pam Taylor, executive director National Association of State Treasurers.

Taylor said some treasurers “don’t even have a car. Some of them don’t even have parking places.”

Illinois, Maryland and New York mirror California in providing security for their comptroller.

“In those states that have it, the comptroller swings a lot of weight. Conversely, they’re also very political positions,” said Relmond Van Daniker, executive director of the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers.

California Controller Kathleen Connell has received “harsh and threatening letters” from irate taxpayers, said spokeswoman Susie Wong.

The California Senate and Assembly sergeants-at-arms provide security and drivers for state lawmakers and legislative leaders as needed.

Elsewhere, Kay Warnock of the National Conference of State Legislatures knew of no state legislators who have personal bodyguards unless there is a specific threat.

However, Tennessee routinely provides security to its House speaker and lieutenant governor, who heads the Senate. Tennessee police Capt. Denny King, who doubles as president of the National Governor’s Security Association, said other states are increasingly following suit.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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