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Introduction to Governors: Chapter 1

   Introduction to State Executives

  1. Fundamentals of the Executive Branch
    • The Constancy of Change
    • Governors: Central Figures in the States
    • The State Bureaucracy
    • The Separation of Powers: Placing the Executive Branch in the American System=
  2. The Problem of Gubernatorial Power: A Historical Overview
    • Post-Revolutionary War Period
    • The Nineteenth Century
    • The Twentieth Century and Beyond
  3. The State Bureaucracy: A Historical Overview
    • Executive Branch Officials
    • Organization of the Bureaucracy
    • Size of Bureaucracies
    • The Significance of the Bureaucracy
  4. References and Further Reading


By Margaret R. Ferguson

The executive branch in the American states, like the states themselves, has undergone many dramatic changes in the course of the nation’s history. Governors have evolved from overbearing representatives of the British monarchy to mere figureheads with the power to do neither good nor bad for the states and then to vital policy leaders both within the states and in the country as a whole. In part, their fortunes are tied to the fortunes of the states. Simply put, governors in the twenty-first century are important in part because their states are important.

Yet governors are not the only leaders in the states. Consequently, understanding governors and their multiple functions requires understanding the broader political system in which they serve. The American system makes sure that a single actor can rarely get too much done on his or her own. Accordingly, governors must work with their state legislatures, with other executive branch officials, and even with actors outside their states to accomplish their goals. The governors’ role is often controversial, for Americans have always been uncomfortable with executive power. On the one hand, history tells us that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But on the other hand, history tells us that executive power is necessary if governments are to function with anything approaching efficiency and effectiveness. Because of this historical ambivalence, the official characteristics of the governorship have often prevented governors from rising to the challenges facing their states. This situation sometimes led to frustration and disillusionment among the citizenry, who asked why their governments could not solve their problems. In other instances, governors handicapped by limited legal powers exercised extralegal (or illegal) powers to attempt to meet the needs of the people (and sometimes to satisfy their own selfish desires). As American society has become more complicated and the expectations of the citizens for their governments have grown, states have moved to bring their governmental actors in line with citizen expectations. States have empowered their governments. Governors have surely benefited from these reforms and now can truly act as leaders in their states.

Parallel developments have occurred in other parts of the executive branch. Though governors are the most visible individuals in this branch, they are surely not the only important officials. Just as governors have gained greater powers, state bureaucracies have grown larger and more professional. While many state bureaucrats were once chosen by a political spoils system, most of the positions in the executive branch today are filled by a merit system. Bureaucrats now have greater knowledge and expertise regarding their areas of responsibility, and they are less hampered by the political expectations of the governors. This professionalization, which is necessary for the effective planning and carrying out of law, can also cause governors difficulty as they try to direct the work of state administrators, resulting in a core conflict in the executive branch. Other conflicts exist as well. In addition to the large portion of bureaucrats who are hired, many other top-level officials in the states are either appointed by the governor or elected by the public in their own right. Key examples of these important executive actors are the lieutenant governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state, and treasurers. Though the responsibilities of each of these officials vary somewhat from state to state, their underlying roles and duties are quite similar across the country. Due to the sharing of governmental responsibility, governors frequently need the help of these officials to achieve their goals. Such support may or may not be forthcoming, for many reasons that will be examined in this volume.

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While one could spend a career studying the ins and outs of the state executive branch, certain fundamentals clearly need to be appreciated by anyone seeking a general understanding of the topic. This section will identify and discuss four primary features of the governorship and the state bureaucracy. The first point is that the entire topic varies significantly over time. Second, governors today are central figures, and so, it is important to understand the powers and responsibilities of the governorship and the characteristics of the people seeking and serving in the office. Third, the rest of the state executive branch, the state bureaucracy, has undergone a transformation equivalent to that of the governor. These agencies also carry out vital tasks of state government. Fourth, the governor and the executive branch must share power with many other actors in the overall quest to implement the laws of the states.

The Constancy of Change
The first fundamental feature of the state executive branch is that it seems to be constantly evolving. In short, the story of the executive branch is a story of change in the role of the states in the American political system, the place of the executive branch in the states, the features of the various executive offices, and the characteristics of the people who pursue and serve in these offices. The tale will certainly continue, but as the story stands today, the states and the governors are central to the narrative.
The power of the states in American federalism has changed dramatically through the years. The national government has generally gained power over time. However, since the 1980s, states have also come to occupy a particularly significant place in American policymaking. Responsibilities once carried out by the national government have been handed over, or devolved, to the states. In turning these responsibilities over to the states, the national government sometimes sends the money to pay for the services they entail—but sometimes it does not. Under an assortment of labels, the shifting of the focus to the states has been ongoing for many years. Though efforts to increase state power have traditionally been associated with conservatives, the ideological divide between conservatives and liberals in this regard is no longer really relevant. Conservative Republican president Ronald Reagan was a main proponent of shifting responsibility to the states in the l980s, but the trend has continued under presidents in the 1990s and early 2000s—both Democrats and Republicans.

The current place of the states in the American federal system bolsters the position of the governors because they are such central figures in those states. The prominence of governors has grown due to the political climate since the l990s, in which state governments are assumed to be invigorated, capable, and willing to address the problems of their constituents. The argument goes like this. The state governments are closest to the people. They know their needs and their desires, and they can best serve them in welfare, health care, and a variety of other critical areas. It is clear that the so-called devolution revolution has given the states more work to do and increased the visibility of governors. What is somewhat less clear is whether these changes have actually altered the essential power structure. Some scholars assert that laws passed by the national government in recent years, such as the No Child Left Behind legislation and the Homeland Security Act, actually pull greater power to the central government. But whether or not the fundamental power relationships have changed, states are prominent features of the American political system.

Governors generally have embraced this new position of prominence. Though complaining loudly about “unfunded mandates” from the federal government (those laws passed by Congress that require the states to provide services but without federal funding), governors assert that the states can and will carry out the necessary work. They believe that they best know the needs and desires of “their people” and are most likely to do what it takes to care for them. They also believe that the citizens will hold them accountable for the state’s condition when they go to the polls to vote, and research about voting behavior tends to bear this out.

Governors: Central Figures in the States
The second fundamental feature of the state executive branch is that the governors are the key actors. Part of the explanation for their prominence lies in the changes that have been made in the office itself. The governorship has been granted new powers, and the people seeking and winning the office are different now as well. They are younger better educated, and more diverse than ever before. All of these changes produce more ambitious and active governors, which in turn leads to their current high profile.

Formal Powers of the Governorship
The power of the governorship has varied dramatically since the office was created during colonial times. In fact, the governorship has undergone a metamorphosis on more than one occasion. Despite the controversy surrounding colonial governors and the weakness of the governors that followed, modern governors are the states’ central figures, the symbolic heads of the states. They are the chief executive officers (CEOs), to borrow a term from industry—the economic development managers and the legislative leaders. They are the primary focus of the state news media as well. The governors’ transformation has occurred simultaneously with the ascendance of the states in the U.S. federal system. So both governors and the states they lead have taken on a new importance. Modern governors have a direct connection to the voters. They are among a very few elected officials who can legitimately claim to serve all of the people in the state, since they are elected by the entire voting public, not just the voters in any one district. They capture the public’s attention more than any other government official at the state level, and they have greater access to the media than any other political actor. Though media attention sometimes has negative consequences (such as when governors become involved in scandals), coverage generally enhances the governors’ position in the states and the nation, highlighting their activities and reinforcing the public’s sense that they are in charge. And governors are surely a primary focal point of governmental action in the states. Former North Carolina governor Terry Sanford (1967, 185—188) summarized the chief executive’s significance in this way: “The governor, by his very office embodies his state. He stands alone at his inauguration as the spokesman for all the people.. . . Few major undertakings ever get off the ground without his support and leadership. The governor sets the agenda for public debate; frames the issues; decides on the timing; and can blanket the state with good ideas by using his access to the mass media. . . . The governor is the most potent political power in the state.” Governor Sanford wrote those words in 1967. The role of the governor has become even more prominent since that time.

The features of the governorship have undergone many changes over the years, and nearly all of these changes have served to make the office more significant. Joseph Schlesinger (1965) identified four categories of power: tenure potential (length of term and chances for reelection), the veto, budget power, and appointment power. He then classified each of the states as to how much power the governor had in each category. Political scientists have continued to employ Schlesinger’s index to examine and compare the formal power of governors. Each of these elements is believed to strengthen governors in some way. Longer tenure means governors are in office long enough to develop skills and expertise and build relationships they can draw on in the future. The veto and budget power both give the governor a direct influence on lawmaking. These powers assure that the legislature must work with the governor in crafting state law. Finally, the appointment power assists the governor in the administrative arena. It means the governor gets to choose who will hold the highest-level positions in the bureaucracy. Administrators who are appointed by the governor are more likely to follow his or her lead.

In each of these categories, most governors tended to be very weak in the early part of the nation’s history. But in the twenty-first century, governors are far more powerful as judged by these indicators. So the general national trend has been toward a strengthened governorship. However, governors across the country still vary significantly in the powers that the office provides to them. Later in this book, each of these powers—and the ways in which they differ both across states and over time—will be examined more closely. In addition, Chapter 6 provides detailed descriptions of the executive branch, including the governorship, on a state-by-state basis.

It is also important to remember that governors do not hold—or exercise—their powers in a vacuum. No matter how much the formal powers of governors have grown, other actors in the states continue to pursue their own goals as well, and these actors have powers, too. As it happens, state legislatures have also changed greatly during the period when governors have been granted enhanced formal powers. So at times, the powers of state legislatures may limit the ability of the governors to achieve their goals.

Because of the separation-of-powers system, governors and legislators have to work together to at least some degree, and they do so quite well on occasion, in pursuit of a shared goal. Yet people commonly discuss the governor as if he or she is in a constant battle with the legislature, and to be sure, they often do come into conflict. Their conflicts are sometimes driven by political party differences; sometimes they are caused by the fact that governors and legislators tend to view the world differently. Given the on going potential for conflict, people tend to think of a governor’s power as something that can be used in opposition to the legislature. Put another way, they ask what tools the governor possesses that he or she can use against the legislators.

Personal Characteristics of the Governors
The changing features of the institutions of the executive branch are surely a major part of the story. However, it is also important to understand that the people who seek the governor’s office today are, by and large, better qualified and more capable than ever before. Though the formal qualifications for office have not changed, governors today typically are better prepared than their predecessors were. They are more highly educated and professional. Thus, nearly all governors serving in 2004 had earned university degrees, and twenty-two held law degrees. Most governors also had served in other public offices prior to being elected to the governorship, and some had significant professional experience outside of government. (Members of Congress now sometimes leave Washington to run for the governorship of their home states.) Other governors held state legislative seats before seeking the governorship. Still others served in different statewide elected offices before becoming governor. Though individuals occasionally run for this position without having held a prior elective office, this is rather rare; only eleven of the current governors came to the governorship never having held office before.

Furthermore, governors today are younger on average than their predecessors—the current average age is five years lower than that in the 1940s—and younger governors are generally more energetic and more ambitious. The people holding the offices today are also more diverse than their predecessors. Like most governmental figures, governors were overwhelmingly white men throughout the nation’s history. While a majority of governors even now fit that characterization, significant changes have occurred in terms of the diversity of governors in recent years. Douglas Wilder, elected to the Virginia governor’s office in 1990, was the first (and, to date, the only) African American to be elected governor. Several Asian American governors have served in the office in Hawaii and Washington, and several Hispanics have attained the office as well. In addition, twenty seven women have held governorships, though early female governors were more often stand-ins for their husbands than leaders in their own right. This is certainly not the case in the modern period. In 2004, nine of the nation’s governors were women.

All of these changes indicate that the people who are elected governor today are more reflective of the diversity of their states’ citizenry. They are therefore arguably more aware of and better able to meet the needs of their states. They are also anxious to re ally do something with the office. They have policy goals and ideas about how they would like to see their states grow and change.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Governorship
Another reason for the centrality of the governorship is the many key responsibilities of the office. The office of governor carries with it various roles or sets of jobs and responsibilities. Though the governorship varies from state to state and different events facing a state bring particular roles to the forefront, each of these roles is undertaken to at least some degree by governors in all fifty states. Further, the formal powers granted to the governor are important for carrying out each of these roles. Informal powers (those not associated with the office) will also assist governors in fulfilling these roles. Some of these powers grow from the personal features of those holding the office. But though all powers are important, not all of the powers of the governor are useful in pursuing all of the roles he or she is assigned. For example, the appointment power is most useful for a governor working in the role of chief executive, whereas the veto power is especially important for a governor acting as chief legislator. The discussion that follows identifies the many roles governors play and points out the powers that they use most often in the pursuit of these roles.

Chief Legislator. One primary role of the governor in the modern period is that of the chief legislator. Most observers assert that governors have a great deal of influence in the legislative arena. They are perceived as the major policy initiators and the “change masters.” The media clearly view the governors as holding this important position. So, too, do state legislators.

The political system is set up to include the governor in lawmaking. Formal powers such as the veto and the executive budget, in addition to the presentation of the state of the state address that is required of all governors, assure that the governor is a legitimate player in the legislative arena. In fact, the constitutional system of separation of powers means that legislatures must depend on the governor to serve as their partner in the formulation of public policy.

While one might suspect that legislators would resent the governor intruding into lawmaking, that does not seem to be the case. In fact, to the extent there is concern on the part of the legislators about the policy role of the governor, it is often that the governor is not active enough. Legislators as a whole seem to follow the old adage “the governor proposes, the legislature disposes.”

State governments are set up in such a way that the governor and the legislature both have a great deal of power and responsibility for making the laws. In some cases, governors and legislators may work closely together almost like a team, each helping the other to achieve common goals. In other cases, though, the governor and some legislators may not agree on what policies would be best for the state. This situation is especially likely to occur under divided government (when the governor and a majority of legislators do not share a party attachment), but it can also happen under unified government.

Chief Executive. Another important role for the governor is that of the state’s chief executive. Governors are charged by their state constitutions with responsibility to “see that the laws are faithfully executed” by the many people and organizations that comprise the executive branch (the state bureaucracy). Needless to say, this job is quite complicated.

After laws are passed by the state legislature (and even sometimes by the U.S. Congress), they must be put into action by the state executive branch. Bureaucracies are large and complicated and notoriously difficult to manage. State bureaucracies are made up of individuals who come to their jobs by many different paths—some are simply hired, some are appointed by boards or commissions, some are elected, and some are appointed by the governor. Governors are expected to oversee these bureaucracies to make sure the laws are carried out in an effective and efficient manner. They also may want the laws to be carried out in a particular fashion, based on their opinions about good policy. While bureaucracies are insulated from political influences in many ways, governors certainly hope to influence their direction.

Typically, individuals working within the executive branch exercise at least some discretion as they write the rules and regulations that will put laws into effect. At times at least, governors attempt to influence how that discretion is used. The job of chief executive offers the governor some opportunity in this area, but as in the other arenas, the governor’s freedom to direct the administration of the state is limited by various factors.

The chief executive role is a critical part of the governor’s job, but it is not the subject of much public attention, and there are few political rewards for fulfilling this role well. Nevertheless, a governor ignores this role at his or her peril. The key to effective management for the governor seems to lie in concentrating on building other bases of support to free up resources for the necessary (but sometimes thankless) job of management.

Chief of State. The chief of state is a largely symbolic role played by the governor. In this capacity, he or she serves as a symbol of the state, embodying the state to those outside its boundaries. The governor is the most visible state governmental actor. At home, the citizenry most often looks to the governor as the designated leader to set the direction the state will go and to bring the state together in times of crisis or disaster.

The governor is the face of the state. This symbolic role as the embodiment of the state works to the benefit of both the governor and the citizenry. It keeps the governor connected to the public to some degree. As he or she travels the state holding town meetings or reaching out to citizens in various other ways, the governor is better able to stay in touch with the needs and desires of the public. This role also reinforces the idea that it is the governor who sits at the top of the state government, which further encourages the citizens to look to that individual for leadership.

Chief of Party. As the highest elected officials in the states, governors also typically serve as the heads of their party organizations, attending party functions and often helping to raise money for the party’s candidates. Governors may also serve an internal leadership role, working to iron out disputes among factions within the party that might weaken it if not addressed. While governors are not as dependent on their parties for support as they used to be, they must still pay attention to them and work to serve party needs in addition to their own. Cohesive support from one’s party is also the best predictor of success in the legislative arena, so attention to party building is often a key priority for governors.

Intergovernmental Liaison. Much of the work of the governor involves offering leadership within the home state. However, since the United States has a federal system, decisions that are made in Washington, D.C., will often have a significant impact on the state government. National government decisions may affect state government’s access to resources. Further, programs developed by the national government must often be administered at the state level, which may create new burdens on the state government, that it may or may not view as welcome changes. Because of the interwoven nature of the American federal system, every state government needs to have a presence in Washington, D.C. Given the multilayered but overlapping powers of governments in the American system, governors must be concerned with the issues, problems, and governmental activities that take place in Washington and even perhaps in state capitals across the country. If anything, the many layers of government are more interrelated than ever before, and governors must pay attention to this fact.

Military Chief. Though defense and security issues are most often associated with the president and the national government, governors do serve a military role within their states. Governors are the commanders and chief of the state militias, with the responsibility to protect the safety of the states’ citizens. The National Guard has served multiple roles in the history of the states. Since World War II, Guard units have often served in rescue and relief missions in the wake of tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods. The governors’ military role continues to evolve with the times. For example, governors have become key leaders on the issue of homeland security following the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

Chief Judge. Like the president of the United States, governors also have the ability to grant pardons to convicted offenders. This power was occasionally the subject of controversy in the past, as some corrupt governors were found to be selling pardons. Generally, this power was used to right egregious wrongs in the judicial system. Today, many states employ clemency boards to assist the governors in making decisions, especially in death penalty cases. Further governors typically participate in the decision to grant paroles for offenders in the state. This function has become increasingly important as many states’ prisons are critically overcrowded.

The State Bureaucracy
The previous sections have examined the growing power and current preeminence of the governors in the American states. However, governors are not the only important actors in the state executive branches. The transformation of the state bureaucracies is the third fundamental development regarding the executive branch in the modern period. The earliest state governments were poorly organized. They were filled with people who got their jobs because of who they knew rather than what they knew. The role of the states has surely changed. Revitalized states with great and growing responsibilities now require better governmental structures to carry out their responsibilities. State bureaucracies have grown in size and in the scope of their activities, and they have also professionalized.  They are now quite capable of doing the work of state government, and they play a very significant role in governing the United States.

One of the primary jobs of the governors is to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. However, governors cannot do the work of carrying out state laws on their own. Instead, in each of the states, thousands of officials—some elected, some hired, and others appointed, comprise the executive branch. It is the job of these public officials to assist the governors in implementing state law. The executive branch is typically referred to as the bureaucracy. Though the word bureaucracy is often associated with inefficiency and incompetence in the minds of outside observers, the reality is that state bureaucracies typically do a remarkable job of putting the laws passed by the legis1ature and governors into action. The general term bureaucracy signifies a method of organizing complex institutions. It has two features: a hierarchical organization and a division of labor. While many entities, both public and private, are bureaucratic in nature, the term bureaucracy typically refers to the branch of government in charge of implementing or executing the laws.

There are more than 16.7 million employees of states and localities. The vast majority of these people work in the executive branch. State bureaucracies have grown steadily in the last 100 years even while the size of the federal bureaucracy has remained rather stable. The size and rate of the growth of state bureaucracies roughly matches the growth in state government responsibility. As the states undertook greater and more varied responsibilities, capacity had to be built in the executive branch to carry the work forward and actually put into action the laws passed by the legislature and the governor.

The Separation of Powers: Placing the Executive Branch in the American System
While it is certainly true that the governor is a major actor today, the fourth fundamental factor to keep in mind is that the governor and the bureaucracy must share power with many other actors both within and outside the state. Since the United States has a federal system of government, the national government in Washington, D.C., has a continual impact on what state governments can and must do. Above all, the U.S. government is a government of divisions and limitations. First, the system has a separation of powers, which means that governmental responsibility is divided into three branches, each with its own set of responsibilities. The legislative branch principally makes the law, the executive branch has the main responsibility of carrying out or executing the law, and the judicial branch is charged with interpreting the law. Each of the branches possesses certain responsibilities, and each of these institutions must also share power with many other institutions. This sharing and overlapping of powers was the founders’ way of limiting the power of government and making sure that no particular element of government could overpower any other.

While governors are most often thought of as executives—meaning they are responsible for executing or carrying out the laws of the state—they also have legislative responsibilities. They have the power to sign or veto legislation and to participate in the budget-making process. Governors and legislatures therefore share the lawmaking power. Governors must work with or through their states’ legislatures to accomplish nearly all of their lawmaking goals. Such overlapping of powers exists outside the legislative arena, too.

Even within the executive arena, governors are rarely autonomous actors. While they theoretically sit at the top of the state bureaucracy, they share the job of executing the laws with hundreds of other executive officials in the state. Understanding American government in general and the states in particular therefore requires that we always keep in mind the limitations that accompany the office of governor in addition to the powers. The government of the United States is a federal system, made up of a central (or national) government in Washington, D.C., and multiple sub-national governments in the fifty states. Both the national government and the states have the power to make law. Federalism is further evidence that the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787 did not really trust those who would serve in government. The founders wanted to form a government that would have enough power to successfully run the country (especially to oversee interstate commerce), but they also wanted to ensure that this government could never have so much power that the rights of the people would be violated. The many divisions within the U.S. government have led to conflict over the years.

The relationship between the national government and the states and among the states themselves has shifted dramatically through history. At times, the states were clearly the dominant actors in the American government. At other times, the states seemed to recede into the background. Though the overall trend in recent history has been toward greater and broader power for the national government, even in the year 2005 the appropriate power of the states and the national government is still debated and discussed among citizens, political actors, and the courts. Governors have often been involved in working to gain autonomy for the states. Such autonomy leads to greater gubernatorial influence. Other times, governors have sought help from the national government to address challenges facing the states. This help often comes in the form of federal money, a welcome contribution during times of financial distress. But such funds are controlled by the national government, and governors often struggle to influence how the funds are distributed and for what purposes. Whether governors influence the shifts or not, the fact remains that their place in the American political system is intimately related to the position of the states in the federal system.

Modern governors are better situated than ever before to act as true leaders in the states. Their office provides them with more resources than in the past. The people who seek and win the office also bring with them better skills and experience. All of these things have led to the heightened prominence of governors in the states and the nation. In addition to this, the larger executive branch that the governor oversees is more professional and better able to implement the laws passed by the legislature. This positive scenario has not always prevailed. To understand the true significance of the role of the executive branch today, one must look to the very different situation found earlier in American history.

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At all levels of government, one of the primary concerns expressed has been what to do about the executive branch. Effective government requires at least a moderately powerful executive. But placing authority in the hands of a central figure such as a governor is potentially dangerous. For a host of reasons (some of which will be discussed later), Americans have always had love/hate relationship with executive power. In the twenty-first century, the American people are more likely than in the past to look to executives for leadership, yet even now, placing a lot of power in the hands of a single individual is controversial. A look at history will help to explain Americans’ ambivalence toward executive power.

The office of governor actually preceded the adoption of the Constitution. Though the American colonies had officials called governors, these individuals did not really represent the residents of the colonies. Placed in their offices by the British king, these colonial governors were often very powerful. The Crown granted them the authority to veto legislative acts and even dissolve the legislature completely if the governor felt the legislature was getting out of hand. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, as colonial legislatures were more and more critical of British control, colonial governors sometimes used their powers to quiet growing calls for independence among legislators. On occasion, they even exercised their powers to dissolve legislatures in order to silence critics of the Crown. Due to all of these experiences, the overall message that early American leaders took away from the colonial experience was that powerful government’s particularly powerful executives could not be trusted. American experience said that both the king and the colonial governors were more likely to stand in the way of proper representation than to provide it. This heritage meant that those who created the American government systems distrusted centralized authority and limited the powers of executives as much as possible. They tended to view legislatures as the only government actors that could be trusted.

The distrust of executives can be seen at the national level. The Articles of Confederation, the first American constitution, gave scant authority to the central (national) government. The state governments held nearly all the power, and the national government did not even have a president or any single executive figure.

Just a few years later, the U.S. Constitution was written to replace the Articles of Confederation. This new document did create the office of the president, a single executive, but vested it with limited power. The vast majority of the power of the national government was located in the Congress. Nevertheless, the national government remained very small, and the states held most of the power of the American system. State governmental dominance persisted into the late 1800s.

Early state governments looked a lot like that under the Articles of Confederation. When the states adopted their own constitutions in the period following the Revolutionary War, many established “plural executives.” Plural executives were basically committees in charge of carrying out state law, with the governor acting as the committee chair. The few states that did designate a single executive gave that individual only minimal power. They were mostly symbolic figureheads.

Post-Revolutionary War Period
Though the state constitutions drafted just after the Revolution varied, the typical constitution gave substantial power to the legislature and very little to the governor. Governors were extremely weak figures. For example, at that time, only two of the states, Massachusetts and New York, allowed their governors veto authority. Most states also created short terms for their governors: a typical governor was chosen for a one-year term and could serve a maximum of two terms. Thus, the governor in most states served two years in office at most. For even this short span in office, governors had little autonomy. Some were even chosen by the state legislatures rather than being elected by the people. Further, many of them lacked the other powers that are necessary to be a chief executive. They had no real authority over the budget (the allocation of money) and only a modest ability to appoint and remove key executive officials. Virginia offers a good example. The legislature elected the governor annually, and no person could serve more than three years in a row. The governor had no power to convene or dissolve the legislature, and he could neither recommend bills nor veto legislation. The governor even had to submit his administrative decisions to an eight-member council for approval. Though each state created its own government, the governors across these early states were by and large quite weak.

The weakness of the governor’s office was often associated with poor performance of state governments. Reformers over the years have viewed weak governors as a problem for state government and have worked to give governors more authority to act as chief executives. These advocates have attempted to make governors more powerful in order to make state governments better able to rise to the challenges facing them. Various reform movements have tried to bring about changes in state governments. Some have tried to make state government more responsive to the citizenry. Others have been more concerned with the efficiency and effectiveness of state government activities.

The Nineteenth Century
Concerns about the quality of government and the need to empower the governors were first raised in the early 1800s, a turbulent time in American history. The very powerful legislatures in many states had become corrupt and overly responsive to special interests. Reformers believed the governors needed to be strengthened to counteract legislative power. The colonial idea that legislatures were to be trusted and executives feared began to fade away.

Appointments to jobs in the executive branch in the states were primarily made by the legislature or by the governor with legislative consent. This situation resulted in people seeking patronage jobs from government. In many states, these jobs were extremely numerous, and control of handing them out came to rest with party bosses in the major cities. These party bosses drew strength from having the “spoils” to distribute to former or prospective supporters.

The election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1828 marked a significant change. Jackson and his followers argued for the inherent worth of the common people (in contrast to the country’s history of government by aristocratic elites). Jackson’s presidency connected the chief executive to the public for the first time and encouraged a rethinking of the role of the executives in American government. The impact of Jacksonian democracy on the strength of the office of governor was mixed. Many states changed the method of choosing their governors, from election by the legislature to election by the people directly. This change was intended to give governors greater autonomy, establishing their independence from overbearing legislatures. To further enhance the independence of the executive, some states made it harder for legislatures to impeach governors. Veto powers were also enhanced in some states. Other developments, however, worked in the opposite direction. The ideals of Jacksonian democracy also weakened governors by dividing the executive power among many elected state officials and boards. States moved to elect multiple statewide executive officials. This so called long ballot gave the public a greater voice in choosing state officials (decreasing the patronage of the powerful party bosses), but it also meant the governor had to share power even in his own executive branch. As noted political scientist Leslie Lipson (1939, 23—24) wrote, “It was claimed that multiplying the number of elective officers made government more truly responsible to the people. In actual fact, the result was to cripple it. The chief executive was unable to harm the people. He was also unable to serve them.”

The states firmly remained the dominant governments in the American system leading into the Civil War. However, the Civil War and the Reconstruction period that followed it fundamentally changed the political system. The aftermath of this period ultimately strengthened the national government at the expense of the states. The years following the Civil War were a period of tremendous economic development. In the United States, the Industrial Revolution marked a shift from a largely agricultural society to an industrial nation. Such a vast shift in the economic structure of the nation, not surprisingly, challenged governmental structures to manage the change, but the states were not really prepared to do so. State legislatures adopted laws in attempts to grapple with the changing times. These laws required executive agencies to execute them—to put them into force. Rather than give existing executive branch agencies the power to execute these new, laws, legislatures often created new agencies to fulfill these new functions of state government. As a consequence, the number of state agencies grew significantly. For example, the state of New York had 10 agencies in 1800, 20 in 1850, 81 in 1900, and more than 170 by 1925. These new agencies were often outside the influence of the governor.

The governor’s power was severely limited by the long ballot because other executive branch officials elected by a statewide electorate felt a responsibility only to the public (not the governor) and were therefore both legally and philosophically independent of the governor. To complicate matters further, those who held these other statewide elected offices often had their eyes on the governor’s office and thus acted to set them selves apart from the governor at every opportunity.

The Twentieth Century and Beyond
So as the twentieth century approached, many governors had gained greater strength and independence due to the shift to popular election and the new access to the veto. Nevertheless, many of the offices involved with the execution of the law—presumably a primary job of the governor—remained beyond the reach of the governor’s power. The continued impotence of the governor left a power void. Political parties and especially party bosses moved in to fill that void in many states. Not only were these bosses in charge of handing out patronage jobs, they also often handpicked people who would run for state offices, including the governors. Since governors in most states still had short, limited terms, governors came and went from public life, but the party—that is, the boss—exercised continuous influence. No governor could really rise up to challenge the power of bosses. Though bosses occasionally did choose impressive men to seek the office, they usually installed weak men in the governorship to ensure that their own authority would not be challenged. As the American economy continued to develop and American cities experienced mass immigration, party bosses increasingly held sway. City governments were often corrupt and much more likely to serve large business interests than the citizenry. Citizens and activists became more and more concerned with the alliance between big business and government officials. Economic interests that dominated government decision making (charging extreme rates for shipping goods on railroads, for example) could not be controlled without the overthrow of the political system that supported their corrupt practices. Reformers turned to the governor’s office as a potential way of supplanting the party bosses. The governors became advocates for changing the laws surrounding government regulation, which required exerting influence over the making of law rather than simply over its execution. Reformers focused on legislative rather than executive power. And so, governors came to be important legislative leaders.

In part, governors came to occupy this chief legislator position because of their connection to the public. The governor was elected by the entire state, so, unlike members of the legislature who served only small segments of the state, he could claim to speak for the whole population. Though the formal powers of the governor remained relatively weak, a certain prestige was still attached to the office. Governors who chose to do so (and not all made this choice) could use their office to champion policy goals among the citizenry. In addition to the prestige of the office, most governors also had two important constitutional powers—the power to recommend and the power of the veto. Though they continued to lack control over the executive branch (despite their constitutional responsibility to see that the laws were faithfully executed), they at least exercised influence over lawmaking. The growing prominence of governors in the public and legislative arenas eventually led to attempts at reorganizing the executive branch to give the governors greater control in that arena as well.

A major drive for reform took hold in the states in the early l900s. Reform efforts focused on achieving greater efficiency in government and greater responsiveness. Lipson (1939, 72) summarized the challenge this way: “If the official is weak, he is incapable of doing harm; but he is equally incapable of doing good. The less checks there are, the more efficient he can be; but also, the less checks, the less control over him.”

The state reorganization movement took a cue from the scientific management movement, which attempted to use organizational principles of managerial efficiency to organize industries for maximum profit. State government reformers similarly hoped to promote efficiency in government through a centralization of authority (concentrating power in the chief executive and loyal agency heads). Reform proposals associated with this movement included restructuring the executive branch into a departmental hierarchy, with the governor at the top and a director to head each department; merit employment instead of patronage; executive budgeting; and a shortened ballot (giving the governor appointment power in regard to officials who were formerly elected by the public). In 1917, the state of Illinois implemented an executive reorganization plan, and thirty seven more states reorganized at least some aspects of their executive branches over the next twenty-five years. The rate of reorganization picked up substantially after World War II. And the number of agencies was indeed reduced in many states. While the movement was less successful in its goal of electing fewer officials (shortening the ballots) in the states it did succeed to some degree in giving the governor the power to make more high-level executive appointments. The length of governors’ terms was increased in many states during this period. By 1955, nearly one-third of the governors had four-year (rather than one- or two-year) terms. More important, perhaps, governors were granted more power over the state budgets. The responsibility of preparing the budget for submission to the legislature was placed in the governor’s office in most states, as was the power to implement the budget once it was passed. The legislature retained the power to make any changes it chose to the governor’s budget, so the governor clearly had to share the budget-making power with the legislature. Nevertheless, this was a very significant development that gave the governor a much greater say in state government activities. Professionalization of state employees took place very slowly, lagging behind the federal bureaucracy.

The election of Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency and the dramatic expansion of the federal government during the Depression and World War II brought many changes to the country. The national government took on responsibilities that had previously been carried out by the states or by private institutions. President Roosevelt used national government spending to try to raise people up and lift the country out of the Depression. The national government was clearly in the lead, and the states were not well placed to offer much help. Poor apportionment of state legislatures meant that states continued to be more likely to serve rural interests while largely ignoring the growing urban areas. Apportionment is the process of drawing lines for districts; in this case, the term refers to distributing voters among state legislative districts. States historically drew these lines in ways that resulted in discrimination against African Americans and urban areas to the benefit of whites and rural areas. Cities increasingly looked to their U.S. House members, bypassing the state governments in search of solutions for their problems. As a result, federal money was funneled from the national government straight to the cities. The states receded into the background, and the national government was clearly dominant. Though the states and the country faced dramatic challenges in the mid-1900s, the governor still competed with multiple other statewide elected officials, and the legislatures often met only 120 days every two years. State governments had improved and empowered their institutions over the years, but they remained ill prepared to grapple with the challenges of modern society. The people who held the governorships during this time were a particularly unimpressive group. Since the office’s responsibilities had dwindled, it often did not attract very qualified individuals. The governorship truly hit a low point.

Dramatic changes occurred once again beginning in the 1960s. For one thing, states finally began to tackle the poor apportionment of their state legislatures. Due to decisions rendered in a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases, states were required to draw their state district lines in a way that distributed voters more equally across the state. Fairer apportionment resulted in greater attention to the growing urban centers of states, which in turn aided the policy goals of the governors. Since statewide electorates chose the governors, they were typically more sensitive to the needs of urban areas, and governors therefore benefited from better-apportioned legislatures. The improved relationships between legislators and governors also made the legislatures more sympathetic to calls for constitutional amendments to carry out some of the leftover goals of the state reform movement. Nearly all of the states that still had two-year terms for their governors expanded them to four years by 1990. Veto powers, particularly the item veto, and the governor’s role in overseeing the budget were also enhanced to a great degree in the mid-1990s. Some states even granted their governors a more potent veto — the amendatory veto. This veto allows a governor to revise the language and expenditure amounts in an appropriations bill before returning it to the legislature with his or her veto message.

Though most states still elect quite a few statewide offices, legislatures have tended to give governors the power to appoint the heads of new agencies as they are created. As a result, the newer agencies (which also have responsibility for some of the states’ most important activities) are headed by governor appointees.

And this brings us back full circle to the place of the states in the American federal system. Though the states declined in importance quite significantly in the early twentieth century, they (and their governors) were rising again to positions of great importance as the century drew to a close. The renewed emphasis on the role of the states, coupled with changes in the personal and political makeup of the governorships, have combined to make the states’ governors key actors in the American political system today.
As discussed in the previous section, history has brought myriad changes to the relationship among the many elements of American government. It has also brought numerous changes to the governmental actors themselves. The first few years of the twenty-first century have seen both governors and their states serving critical roles in the United States and even in the world.

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The development of the large bureaucratic structure required to manage the work of government has also spawned controversy. Moreover, creating such a structure and choosing people to fill it poses an ongoing challenge. Four historical trends define the development of the state bureaucracy, with major changes over time focusing on membership, organization, size, and the role and significance of the executive branch.

Executive Branch
Officials in the country’s first years, state governments typically hired well-educated workers from the wealthy upper class. They were presumably also hired on the basis of their fitness for office. However, with the presidency of Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), the nation and the states shifted toward opening public employment up to all segments of white male society (rather than just the wealthy elite).
As a result of this Jacksonian influence, most states moved toward the patronage system, a more political or partisan means of filling executive positions, in the early 1800s. The patronage system (sometimes referred to as the spoils system) allowed chief executives (both U.S. presidents and state governors) to choose political allies for government positions. Consequently, after the election of a new governor, many state workers would be fired, to be replaced by friends and political supporters of the newly elected governor. This situation became an important source of power for governors, who could use the promise of jobs (the spoils of office) to build support for their candidacies. However, it also often led to unqualified individuals being appointed to public jobs for purely political reasons. The quality of the executive branch suffered as a result.

By the late 1800s, the patronage system was falling into disrepute. Following the end of the Civil War, civil service reformers advocated for the end of political patronage and argued for the hiring and retention of public employees based on merit. They contended that effective administration required that employees have appropriate education and experience and that employees should be judged on their job performance. Another feature of the merit system protected political activities. Under these reformed systems, once employees were chosen, they typically could not be fired for purely political reasons. The U.S. Congress passed the Pendleton Act of 1883, which set up the independent, bipartisan Civil Service Commission to employ objective, merit-based standards for filling executive branch offices in the national government. At the same time, states began the slow process of instituting merit systems for their state bureaucracies. In the years immediately following the federal reforms, a few states quickly moved to make similar changes. States such as Illinois and New York, which had been key in other administrative reforms, and progressive reform states such as California and Wisconsin were among the first to do so. However, the pace soon slowed.

By 1930, only nine states had adopted this reform, and eight years later, less than one third of the states had a merit-based personnel system. In 1949, about half of the states had enacted merit-based civil service systems, and by 1960, roughly half of state employees were covered by some sort of civil service system. In 2004, nearly 70 percent of states (thirty-four) had developed comprehensive civil service systems that included almost all state employees. Though not all states have fully moved away from the earlier idea of using political considerations for filling government jobs, the general trend is clearly toward assuring that public employees are well qualified for their jobs and chosen based on an objective measurement of their skills and expertise.

As a result of changes in how they are chosen, bureaucrats now constitute a more diverse group than ever before. Bureaucracies are no longer the white male bastions they once were. Many states have embraced the idea of “representative bureaucracy,” which asserts that major groups in society should participate proportionately in government work. Such diversity in the executive branch is believed to make state government more responsive to the needs of all people. In recent years, groups formerly unrepresented (or underrepresented) in state bureaucracy have experienced significant growth. The overall share of state government jobs held by women and minorities has increased. More specifically, from 1973 to 1989, the number of African Americans as a proportion of all full-time state employees grew from 10 to 18 percent, though other ethnic minorities experienced smaller growth (from 3 to 7 percent). In addition, the percentage of women grew from 43 to 49 percent. These changing numbers do not tell the entire story, however. For instance, significant changes also occurred in job stratification, which involves the types of jobs held by different groups. In this regard, women and minorities again have faired better than in the past. They now hold a larger share of higher-level (higher paying) jobs with more responsibility. The proportion of African American agency heads increased from I to 7 percent between 1964 and 1997, while the percent of women agency heads grew from 2 to 24 percent. Nonetheless, these figures still fall well below the proportions of women and minorities in the population as a whole.

Organization of Bureaucracy
The executive branch is a bureaucracy, meaning it is organized in a hierarchy and duties are divided among different officials (division of labor). The governor sits at the top of the pyramid, holding the responsibility of managing the entire bureaucracy. The bureaucracy in each state is divided into many units of differing size, composition, and title. The largest units are typically called departments. These departments are headed by individuals who often (but not always) carry the title of secretary. Unlike in the national government, where the president appoints all high-ranking officials in the executive branch, governors do not get to appoint all of their fellow executive branch officials. Instead, states have tended to choose the highest-ranking officials in the bureaucracy through elections.

As a result, and again unlike at the national level, the top level of bureaucrats in the states often do not owe any allegiance to the governor. The method of choosing executive branch officials through elections took hold during the mid- to late 1800s, the period of Jacksonian democracy. As noted earlier, Jacksonian democracy emphasized the worth of the common people and advocated frequent elections of many officials. The period produced the direct election of the governor (a move that empowered governors), but it also divided executive power among multiple elected state officials and boards and commissions. Throughout the nineteenth century, this philosophy persisted. New governmental activities were managed by new independent executive agencies beyond the control and influence of the governor. As the twentieth century approached, reformers sought to reverse the trend of creating so many separately elected and independent boards and commissions, because they had resulted in managerial inefficiency and sometimes corruption. Meanwhile, individuals associated with the scientific management movement advocated improving the governor’s legal powers. These reformers successfully sought to centralize administrative responsibility by creating fewer agencies and placing them under the control of the governor. They also emphasized the appointment power. Short-ballot reformers of the same time period encouraged the states to elect fewer public officials and put the power to appoint high-level executive branch Officials in the hands of the governor. The trend toward granting these appointments to the governor continues today, but the attachment to electing state executive officials remains. In just two states -Maine and New Jersey – is the governor the only statewide elected official. Elected officials, such as the governor, feel an allegiance to the voters who placed them into office. States continue to fall on the side of such public accountability, even though many observers worry it results in inefficiency by forcing the governors to share administrative responsibility with many other officials who have independent sources of power.

The most important statewide officers (aside from the governor) are the attorney general, the lieutenant governor, the treasurer, and the secretary of state. In the vast majority of the states, these officers are elected by the public at the same time that the governor is chosen. In some cases, these officials can actually serve in their offices longer than the governor, since they are not bound by term limits. Each of these officers is examined in greater detail in Chapter 3.

In most states, the office of lieutenant governor is similar to the vice-presidency. Thus, this official has two primary responsibilities: to become governor in the event the sitting governor leaves office and to serve as president of the state senate. In some states, the legislative role of the lieutenant governor has real power and influence. In other states, this role is more symbolic. Lieutenant governors are typically elected. Some are elected on a ticket with the governor, but others run for office separately. Attorneys general are the states’ legal counsels. They also provide formal legal opinions to the governor and other state officials, giving advice about the legality of actions these individuals may be considering. The secretary of state does not typically possess many formal responsibilities; they are the chief custodians of state records, and in several states, they are the keepers of the great seal of the state or commonwealth. The most visible jobs performed by the secretary of state’s office are storing state documents and supervising state elections. The state treasurers are custodians of state funds. They collect taxes, administer the investment of state funds, and make payments on behalf of the state to employees and those who have provided the state with goods and services.

A large majority of states choose each of these officials by statewide election. This system enhances accountability to the citizenry, but it sometimes hamstrings governors attempting to serve in their chief executive role. Even the lieutenant governor, who stands in line to the governorship, is elected separately from the governor in many states and may therefore not even share the governor’s party affiliation.

Size of Bureaucracies
The size of the bureaucracies has grown at a remarkable pace. This growth is reflected in the number of agencies instituted in the states and in the number of workers they employ.

The number of agencies has mounted steadily over the years (Jenks and wright 1993). This growing number of agencies represents a significant expansion in the areas of bureaucratic responsibility, which in turn is a direct result of changing state government responsibility. As new public problems arise or capture the people’s attention, state responsibilities increase. These added responsibilities lead to the creation of new bureaucratic entities to administer the new state programs. Though different states have different combinations of agencies, state bureaucracies have generally evolved along similar paths. Political scientists Stephen Jenks and Deil S. Wright (1993) characterize the process of new agency growth by “generations.” They count “four-plus” generations between 1959 and 1989 and define a generation as agencies present in at least thirty-eight states. The “first generation” included fifty-one agencies present in more than thirty-eight states in 1959. Many of these agencies had been in place for years, and they represented the core work of state government. A sample of these agencies included: corrections, education, health, higher education, highways, mental health care, tax collection, unemployment insurance, welfare, and worker’s compensation. Other first-generation agencies were agriculture, banking, fish and wildlife management, insurance regulation, parks and parole, in addition to the units headed by elected officials such as the secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer.

Changing policy concerns in the 1960s gave rise to a second generation of new agencies, covering issues of air quality, economic development, juvenile rehabilitation, and natural resources. Interestingly, to a large degree, the focus on these particular agencies came from initiatives of the federal government, which made federal money available, encouraging states to take certain actions in these areas.

The 1970s were a time when the states reasserted themselves following the policy making dominance by the national government in the 1960s. During this decade, twenty-nine new types of administrative entities (representing a third generation) were created in many states. Most notable were those concerned with alcohol and drug abuse, civil rights, consumer affairs/consumer protection, energy, the environment, mass transit, occupational health and safety, vocational rehabilitation, and women’s commissions.

States faced budget difficulties in the 1980s, so this decade was not a time of much agency growth. Nevertheless, fourth-generation agencies were added, such as those dealing with emergency medical services, equal employment opportunity, groundwater management, hazardous waste, and small and minority business. The end of the 1980s, however, also pointed to other trends that were still developing. New agencies involved with coastal zone management, lotteries, ombudsman functions, public broadcasting systems, public defender functions, and victim compensation were present in twenty-five states and poised to spread to others.

Not surprisingly, the growth in the number of agencies was accompanied by growth in state government employment. In 1995, the fifty state governments added together employed 3,971,000 workers. This number was up from 3,177,000 ten years earlier. In both of these time points, the number of state government employees was greater than the number of workers employed by the national government. State employment in creased by one-third between 1985 and 1995, though the growth was uneven across the States.

In addition to employment growth associated with the advent of new agencies, existing agencies also added to their workforces. This employment growth was uneven, however, across executive functions. In most functional areas, rates of employment remained relatively steady. But in some areas—notably corrections—employment exploded due to policy changes that resulted in a steep increase in the prisoner population and a need to build and staff more prison facilities. Another major employment growth area was higher education. Increasing numbers of instructors and other staff members at state colleges and universities resulted in a growth of nearly 50 percent from 1985 to 1995 in state higher education staff. The substantial growth seen in corrections and higher education is not the norm, though, as most agencies, once created, retain steady levels of employees or experience gradual increases and sometimes decreases in staffing.

Recently, attention has been focused on changing the way the bureaucracy does business. Various reforms have been advanced over the years. The earliest modern reform technique was reorganization, which involves consolidating the responsibilities of many separate agencies into a smaller number of broadly functional ones. Such reorganization is thought to reduce wasteful duplication and coordinate the delivery of services by state agencies. Reorganization also typically brings the heads of these consolidated agencies under the managerial authority of the governor.

Some observers dismiss such reorganization as too timid to have much real effect. A more aggressive approach was espoused by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler in Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector. This book influenced American government at the state and national level and became required reading for American leaders including President Bill Clinton. A major element of their call for reinvention is the idea of catalytic governments, defined as governments that “steer but do not row.” The idea here is that governments should determine what is needed, what services should be provided, and how they are to be funded but that the actual implementation of these services need not be done by government employees. A closely related idea is called competitive government. This concept advocates bringing competition into the arena of service delivery – using economic principles to assure that services are delivered efficiently and effectively. Many states have adopted the ideas of reinvention into their administration of services. Privatization is another common approach. Under this technique, states contract with private or non profit organizations for the provision of certain services. States have employed private contractors for services such as highway construction for a long time. Building maintenance services, food delivery, clerical services, and security services are other examples of service areas for which states often hire private contractors. In recent decades, the use of privatization has moved into other arenas, such as managing day care, adoption, and foster services; Medicaid claims management; and employee training and placement. A few states have even experimented with privately run correctional facilities (with some rather dire consequences in certain instances). The most common reason states offer for “contracting out” is that private providers can deliver services of equal or better quality at a lower cost than a government agency can. Privatizing also makes sense when the need for a particular service is short-lived hiring someone else to provide them rather than building a state apparatus would be a quicker and cheaper solution. Privatization has not been uniformly successful. In certain cases, costs have declined, but sometimes that is because services have declined in either quantity or quality. The fact that the outside contractors need to make a profit to stay in business may encourage them to cut corners, which may result in a poor-quality product. Another criticism of contracting out is that it lowers accountability to the public. Citizens who wish to complain about the provision of a service may have a difficult time knowing who is actually responsible, since there are so many levels of people involved.

Though none of the current reforms have been fully successful in achieving all they set out to do, states still experiment with these and other means of improving the work of government. Meanwhile, the state bureaucracies continue to be scrutinized and often unfavorably evaluated. As a result, there will always be an impetus to try to alter “business as usual” so that public officials especially governors claim to be addressing the concerns of the public.

The Significance of the Bureaucracy
The ongoing changes in the composition organization and size of the state bureaucracies have all contributed to the current significance of the executive branch. States administer the vast majority of government programs in this country, both those created by the national government and those instituted by the states. Governmental programs have an influence on the lives of the citizenry only to the extent that they are actually put into force. It is the executive branch that carries this administrative burden.

The executive branch executes the law by interpreting the laws passed by the state legislatures and governors and writing rules and regulations to carry the laws into practice. Some level of discretion is therefore built into the process of carrying out the law. Bureaucrats apply their knowledge, expertise, and judgment to the often vaguely written laws to fill in the details and implement the laws. This opportunity for discretion on the part of executive branch officials (a necessity in carrying out laws) also opens the possibility of outside (or inside) political influences over how laws are implemented. Outside groups that will be affected by the new laws (sometimes called clientele groups) attempt to influence how the laws are carried out. Elected officials (legislators and the governor) hope to exert influence as well. Further, there is an inherent difficulty in unelected bureaucrats exercising such discretion in a democratic society, as the public has no means of holding these bureaucrats accountable for their actions. For this reason, both legislators and governors assert a legitimate role in overseeing executive branch activities. The challenge lies in holding executive branch officials accountable to the public good while minimizing outside political influences that might get in the way of the laws being executed in a neutrally competent way. Such interference might corrupt the implementation process. A tension therefore persists in allowing bureaucrats the freedom to implement the law as they see fit and compelling them to respond to the desires of elected officials (and presumably the people who elected them).

Even in the modern period, therefore, the appropriate role of the bureaucracy in the states is not always clear. The shift from patronage to merit systems illustrates an essential philosophical question. Should the bureaucracy be responsive to politics, following the lead of the governor and other elected officials, or should it be insulated from political influences, making its decisions based strictly on the neutral expertise of the bureaucrats? This tension remains significant in the states today. Despite apparent attempts at insulating the executive branch from politics, politics routinely finds its way in. Outside actors persist in attempting to influence how laws are implemented. And bureaucrats often involve themselves in the formulation of laws.

Governors are expected to offer leadership in many different arenas. Though they might be viewed first and foremost as executive leaders, in reality they perform duties in lawmaking, overseeing the safety of the state citizens, and representing the state in Washington, D.C., and in other countries around the world. Much is expected of the modern governors, but are they up to the task? Does the office provide state chief executives the tools necessary for fulfilling all that is expected of them? Do the executive branch officials who surround the governor work with or against the governors as they pursue their responsibilities? Do these officials perform their duties effectively? And do the governors bring with them the personal and professional qualities that are likely to result in success? All of these questions and many more are significant for assessing the place of the American governorship in the early years of the twenty-first century and beyond.




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