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Governor (United States)

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the United States

In the United States, the title governor refers to the chief executive of each state or insular territory, not directly subordinate to the federal authorities, but the political and ceremonial head of the state. A state governor in the United States is said to serve a gubernatorial administration.

State constitutions usually call for state governors to run for their offices, and serve their terms once elected, together with lieutenant governors. Lieutenant governors then succeed to gubernatorial offices vacated by the removals from office, the deaths, or the resignations of the previous governors or serve as unofficial acting state governors in case the incumbent governors are disabled, and they often serve as presiding officers of the upper houses of state legislatures. But in such cases, they cannot participate in political debates, and they have no vote whenever these houses are not equally divided. (See "Relationship with lieutenant governor," below.)


  • Role and powers 1
  • History 2
  • Demographics 3
    • Party 3.1
    • Tenure 3.2
    • Age 3.3
    • Gender 3.4
    • Race and ethnicity 3.5
    • Birthplace 3.6
    • Physical Disability 3.7
  • Salary 4
  • Gubernatorial election timeline schedule 5
    • Gubernatorial primaries 5.1
  • Term limits 6
  • Relationship with lieutenant governor 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Role and powers

The United States Constitution preserves the notion that the country is a federation of semi-sovereign states and that powers not specifically granted to the federal government are retained by the states. States, therefore, are not merely provinces or subdivisions of federal administration. State governments in the U.S. are relatively powerful; each state has its own independent criminal and civil law codes, and each state manages its internal government.

The governor thus heads the executive branch in each state or territory and, depending on the individual jurisdiction, may have considerable control over government budgeting, the power of appointment of many officials (including many judges), and a considerable role in legislation. The governor may also have additional roles, such as that of commander-in-chief of the state's National Guard (when not federalized), and in many states and territories the governor has partial or absolute power to commute or pardon a criminal sentence. All U.S. governors serve four-year terms except those in New Hampshire and Vermont, who serve two-year terms.

In all states, the governor is directly elected, and in most cases has considerable practical powers, though this may be moderated by the state legislature and in some cases by other elected executive officials. In the five extant U.S. territories, all governors are now directly elected as well, though in the past many territorial governors were historically appointed by the President of the United States. Governors can veto state bills, and in all but seven states they have the power of the line-item veto on appropriations bills (a power the President does not have). In some cases legislatures can override a gubernatorial veto by a two-thirds vote, in others by three-fifths. In Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the governor's veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote, making it virtually useless. In Arkansas, a gubernatorial veto may be overridden by an absolute majority. The Governor of North Carolina had no veto power until a 1996 referendum. In 47 of the 50 states, whenever there is a vacancy of one of the state's U.S. Senate seats, that state's governor has the power to appoint someone to fill the vacancy until a special election is held; the governors of Oregon, Alaska, and Wisconsin do not have this power.[1]

A state governor may give an annual State of the State address in order to satisfy a constitutional stipulation that a governor must report annually (or in older constitutions described as being "from time to time") on the state or condition of the state. Governors of states may also perform ceremonial roles, such as greeting dignitaries, conferring state decorations, issuing symbolic proclamations or attending the state fair. The governor may also have an official residence (see Governor's Mansion).

In a ranking of the power of the governorship in all 50 states, University of North Carolina political scientist Thad Beyle makes the distinction between "personal powers" of governors, which are factors that vary from person to person, season to season - and the "institutional powers" that are set in place by law. Examples of measurable personal factors are how large a governor's margin of victory was on election day, and where he stands in public opinion polls. Whether a governor has strong budget controls, appointment authority, and veto powers are examples of institutional powers.[2]


In colonial North America, governors were chosen in a variety of ways, depending on how the colony was organized. In the crown colonies of Great Britain, France, and Spain, the governor was chosen by the ruling monarch of the colonizing power, or his designees; in British colonies, the Board of Trade was often the primary decision maker. Colonies based on a corporate charter, such as the Connecticut Colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, elected their own governors based on rules spelled out in the charter or other colonial legislation. In proprietary colonies, such as the Province of Carolina before it became a crown colony (and was divided into North and South), governors were chosen by the Lords Proprietor who controlled the colony. In the early years of the American Revolutionary War, eleven of the Thirteen Colonies evicted (with varying levels of violence) royal and proprietary governors. The other two colonies (Connecticut and Rhode Island) had corporate charters; Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull was governor before and during the war period, while in Rhode Island, Governor Joseph Wanton was removed from office in 1775 for failing to support the rebel war effort.

Before achieving statehood, many of the 50 states were territories. Administered by the federal government, they had governors who were appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate rather than elected by the resident population. Election of territorial governors began in Puerto Rico in 1948. The last appointed territorial governor, Hyrum Rex Lee in American Samoa, left office in 1978.



State Governors by political party.


There are currently 28 Republicans, 21 Democrats, and one independent serving as state governors. Two Democrats (including one from the Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico), one Republican, and one independent also occupy territorial governorships. No other third parties hold a Governorship.


For each term, governors serve 4 years in office. The exceptions are Vermont and New Hampshire where tenures are two years long.

The longest-serving current governor is Terry Branstad of Iowa, who recently got elected to his sixth non-consecutive term. He previously served for four consecutive terms from 1983 to 1999. The second longest-serving current governor is Rick Perry of Texas, who was sworn in on December 21, 2000. The newest governor is David Ige of Hawaii, who was sworn in on December 1, 2014.

In the majority of states, Gubernatorial Term Limits cap a governor's tenure.


The oldest current governor is Jerry Brown of California, at age 76. The youngest current governor is Nikki Haley of South Carolina, at age 42.

The youngest person to ever serve as a governor in the United States was Stevens T. Mason of the Michigan Territory, elected in 1835 having just turned 24. Mason would later become the first governor of the state of Michigan when it was admitted to the Union in January 1837, when he was 25. Mason was re-elected in November 1837, then age 26.[3]

The second youngest governor ever elected was J. Neely Johnson of California, when he was elected in 1855 at the age of 30, and the third youngest governor was Harold Stassen of Minnesota, when he was elected in 1938 at age 31.[4] When future President Bill Clinton was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978 at age 32, he became the youngest governor since Stassen.

In 14 states, the minimum age requirement of the governor is 30, though in some it is 25 (7), 21 (1), or 18 (5). Oklahoma is the only state with an older age, 31. Some states require the governor to be a qualified elector/voter, implying a minimum age of 18. Kansas and Vermont do not have an explicit or implicit age requirement.

State Governors by religious preference.


There are currently 45 male state governors. There are 5 female governors: Jan Brewer of Arizona, Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Of those, Brewer, Fallin, Haley, and Martinez are Republicans, while Hassan is a Democrat.

All five territorial governors are men.

Thirty-one women have been or are currently serving as the governor, including two in an acting capacity.

The first female governor was Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming who was elected on November 4, 1924 and sworn in on January 5, 1925. She was preceded in office by her late husband William B. Ross. Also elected on November 4 was Miriam A. Ferguson of Texas, succeeding her impeached husband James Edward Ferguson, but she was not sworn in until January 21, 1925. The first female governor elected without being the wife or widow of a past state governor was Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut, elected in 1974 and sworn in on January 8, 1975.

Connecticut and Arizona are the only two states to have elected female governors from both major parties. New Hampshire has also had female governors from two parties, but Republican Vesta M. Roy served only in the acting capacity for a short time. Arizona was the first state where a woman followed another woman as governor (they were from different parties). Arizona also has had the most female governors with a total of four, and is the first state to have three women in a row serve as governor. Washington was the first state to have both a female governor and female U.S. Senators serving at the same time (Christine Gregoire; Patty Murray; Maria Cantwell, respectively). New Hampshire was the first and currently only state to have a female governor and entirely female Congressional delegation serving at the same time.

Previously, there were a record nine women serving as chief executive of their states on two different occasions: first, between December 6, 2006, when Sarah Palin was inaugurated as the first female governor of Alaska, and January 14, 2008, when Kathleen Blanco left office as governor of Louisiana; and second, between January 10, 2009, when Beverly Perdue was inaugurated as governor of North Carolina, and January 20, 2009, when Ruth Ann Minner retired as governor of Delaware.

Race and ethnicity

Among the 50 current governors, 45 are non-Hispanic whites of European American background. The other 5 governors include one African-American (Deval Patrick of Massachusetts), two Hispanic-Americans (Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada), and two Americans of Indian descent (Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Nikki Haley of South Carolina).

Among the five U.S. territories, one Hispanic (Alejandro Garcia Padilla of Puerto Rico), one black (John de Jongh of the U.S. Virgin Islands), and three Pacific Islander Americans (Eloy Inos of the Northern Mariana Islands, Eddie Calvo of Guam and Lolo Letalu Matalasi Moliga of American Samoa) currently serve as governor.


21 of the current state governors were born outside the state they are serving. State constitutions have varying requirements for the length of citizenship and residency of the governor but unlike the President, state governors do not need to be natural-born citizens. There is some ambiguity in some state constitutions if a governor must be a citizen or just a resident.

Physical Disability

Two legally blind governors have served: Bob C. Riley, who was acting governor of Arkansas for eleven days in January 1975, and David Paterson, who was governor of New York from 2008 until 2010. Governor of New York Franklin D. Roosevelt was paraplegic; he later went on to become the first wheelchair-bound president.


The average salary of a state governor in 2009 was $124,398. The highest salary currently being accepted is that of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett at $187,256. The lowest salary is that of Maine Governor Paul LePage at $70,000.[5] Only four states (New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Virginia) currently offer their governors a higher salary than the $174,000 paid to members of Congress. In many states, the governor is not the highest-paid state employee; most often, that distinction is held by the head football or men's basketball coach at a major state university. As of January 2013, five football coaches at public institutions were earning over $4 million annually, with Nick Saban of the University of Alabama being the highest-paid at slightly over $5.3 million;[6] in basketball, the University of Kentucky's John Calipari is the highest-paid at $5.2 million.[7]

Gubernatorial election timeline schedule

All states except Louisiana hold gubernatorial elections on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. The earliest possible date for the election is therefore November 2 (if that date falls on a Tuesday), and the latest possible date is November 8 (if November 1 falls on a Tuesday). Louisiana holds its gubernatorial elections on the third Saturday of November, but the gubernatorial elections may get cancelled if one candidate wins the election outright (see primary section below).

  • Two states hold their gubernatorial elections every even numbered year. Recent years are 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012.
New Hampshire and Vermont

The other 48 states hold gubernatorial elections every four years.

  • Thirty-four states and three territories hold their gubernatorial elections in even numbered years which are not divisible by four (i.e. concurrent with congressional, but not presidential elections). Recent years are 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2014.
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Island.
  • Nine states and two territories hold their gubernatorial elections in years divisible by four (i.e. concurrent with presidential elections, although Puerto Rico does not have an election for President). Recent years are 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and American Samoa, Puerto Rico.
  • Three states hold their gubernatorial elections in the year before a year divisible by four. Recent years are 2003, 2007, and 2011.
Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi
  • Two states hold their gubernatorial elections in the year following a year divisible by four. Recent years are 2005, 2009, and 2013.
New Jersey and Virginia

Gubernatorial primaries

All states, except for California and Louisiana, hold primaries in which each political party holds a primary election, and the winner of the primary election moves on to compete in a general election. In California and Louisiana, all the candidates run in a blanket primary against each other. Regardless of political party, the top two candidates move on to the general election. In Louisiana, the general election is cancelled if one of the candidates receives more than 50% of the votes cast. In California, the top two vote getters proceed to the general election regardless of how many votes the top vote getter received in the primary, and write-in candidates are prohibited from competing in the general election.

Term limits

Relationship with lieutenant governor

The type of relationship between the governor and the lieutenant governor greatly varies by state. In some states the governor and lieutenant governor are completely independent of each other, while in others the governor gets to choose (prior to the election) who would be his/her lieutenant governor.

  • Eighteen states have separate elections for the governor and the lieutenant governor, which may lead to the governor and the lieutenant governor being from different parties. Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
  • Two states have the State Senate appoint the lieutenant governor, which may mean that the governor and the lieutenant governor are from different parties. Those states are Tennessee and West Virginia.
  • Eight states have the governor and lieutenant governor run together on the same ticket, but the governor does not get to choose his/her running mate. In those states, the winners of the governor primaries and the winners of the lieutenant governor primaries run together as joint tickets in the general election. The governor and lieutenant governor would therefore be from the same party, but may not necessarily be political allies. Those states are Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Connecticut, and Wisconsin.
  • Seventeen states have the governor and lieutenant governor run together on the same ticket similar to the President and Vice President of the United States. In those states, the governor gets to pick (prior to the elections) who would be the lieutenant governor. Those states are Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Utah.

See also


  1. ^ [1] CRS Report for Congress, January 22, 2003
  2. ^ Swanson, Stevenson (September 2, 2001). "Governors' powers ranked".  
  3. ^ "Stevens Thomson Mason - Background Reading"
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^
  6. ^ Berkowitz, Steve (January 24, 2013). "LSU's Les Miles to be paid $4.3 million per year".  
  7. ^ Associated Press (2012-05-04). "Kentucky gives Calipari a raise following NCAA title".  

External links

  • Rutgers Program on the Governor
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