Introduction the the Study of Governors
A good introduction to the varying roles, powers and functions of the office of governor in the 50 states is provided by the opening two chapters of the book, The Executive Branch of State Government: People, Process and Politics edited by Margaret R. Ferguson. Both are written by Dr. Ferguson and the Center on the American Governor is grateful for the author and publisher’s permission to reproduce them here.
About the Book and Author
The Executive Branch of State Government: People, Process and Politics, edited by Margaret R. Ferguson. Copyright © (2006) by ABC-CLIO, Inc. Reproduced with permission of ABC-CLIO, LLC.
MARGARET FERGUSON is associate professor and chair of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. Her research interests include governorships, legislatures, and lawmaking in the states; executive branch politics; and leadership and personality; and she teaches courses on state politics, southern politics and the presidency. Her articles have been published in the Journal of Politics, Women and Politics, Publius, Political Psychology, Public Administration Review and State Politics and Policy Quarterly. She is the editor of The Executive Branch of State Government: People, Process, and Politics (2006).
Chapter 1: Introduction to State Executives
Introduction to State Executives
- 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
- The Problem of Gubernatorial Power: A Historical Overview
- Post-Revolutionary War Period
- The Nineteenth Century
- The Twentieth Century and Beyond
- The State Bureaucracy: A Historical Overview
- Executive Branch Officials
- Organization of the Bureaucracy
- Size of Bureaucracies
- The Significance of the Bureaucracy
- References and Further Reading
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.
Fundamentals of the Executive Branch
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.
THE PROBLEM OF GUBERNATORIAL POWER: A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
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.
THE STATE BUREAUCRACY: A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
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.
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.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Bowling, Cynthia J., and Deil S. Wright. 1998. Change and continuity in state administration: Administrative leadership across four decades. Public Administration Review 58 (5):429—445.
_______. 2004. American state administrators project. Unpublished data, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.
Bowman, Ann O’M., and Richard C. Kearney. 1986. The resurgence of the states. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
_______. 2002. State and local government. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Brown, Brent W., and Eric B. Hefzik. 1991. Gubernatorial leadership and state policy. New York: Greenwood.
Brudney, Jeffrey L., and Deil S. Wright. 2002. Revisiting administrative reform in the American states: Trends and emerging issues. Public Administration Review 62:353—361.
Buck, A. E. 1938. The reorganization of state governments in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press.
Durning, Dan. 1987. Change masters for states. State Government 60 (3):145—149.
_______. 1991. Education reform in Arkansas: The governor’s role in policymaking. In Gubernatorial leadership and state policy, ed. Eric B. Herzik and Brent W. Brown, 121—140. New York: Greenwood.
Gross, Donald. 1991. The policy role of governors. In Gubernatorial leadership and state policy, ed. Eric B. Herzjk and Brent W. Brown, 1—24. New York: Greenwood.
Herzik, Eric. 1991. Policy agendas and gubernatorial leadership. In Gubernatorial leadership and state policy, ed. Eric B. Herzjk and Brent W. Brown, 25—38. New York: Greenwood
Herzik, Eric, and Brent W. Brown. 1989. Introduction: Symposium on governor and public Policy. Policy Studies Journal 17 (4):841—862.
Jenks, Stephen, and Deil Wright. 1993. An agency level approach to change in the administrative functions of American state Government. State and Local Government Review 25:78—86.
Lipson, Leslie. 1939. The American governor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Muchmore Lynn R. 1983. The governor as manager. In Being governor, the view from the office, ed. Thad L. Beyle and Lynn R. Muchmore 78—84. Durham, NC: Duke Press Policy Studies.
Osborne, David, and Ted Gaebler 1992. Reinventing government. How the entrepreneurial spirit is transforming the public sector. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Press, Charles, and Kenneth VerBurg. 1991. State and community government in a dynamic federal system. New York: HarperCollins.
Ransone, Coleman B. 1956. The office of governor in the United States. University, AL: University of Alabama Press.
_______. 1982. The American governorship. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Sabato, Larry. 1983. Goodbye to good-time Charlie: The American governorship transformed. Washington, DC: Congress Quarterly Press.
Sanford, Terry. 1967. Storm over the states. New York: McGraw Hi1l.
Schlesinger Joseph A. 1965. The politics of the executive. In Politics in the American states. Henry Jacob and Kenneth N. Vines, eds. Boston: Little, Brown.
_______. 1966. Ambition and politics: Political careers in the United States. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Van Horn, Carl E. 1996. The state of the states. Washington, DC: Conessiona1 Quarterly Press.
Chapter 2: Roles, Functions, and Powers of the Governors
- Roles of the Governors
- Chief Legislator
- Chief Executive
- Chief of State
- Crisis Manager
- Chief Judge
- Chief of Party
- Intergovernmental Liaison
- Military Chief
- Powers of the Governors
- Formal Powers
- Other Formal Resources
- Informal Powers
- References and Further Reading
Modern governors can be true leaders in their states and the nation. The challenge to incumbents is to employ the many resources available to them in the proper combination in pursuit of the many responsibilities their office entails today.
Early governors suffered from the historical American aversion to executive power. Though some individual governors did manage to exert power by virtue of their personal strength, charisma, or, in a few cases, corruption, the office itself typically granted the occupant few tools. Due to Americans’ resentment of the overwhelming power of colonial governors appointed by the king, early state constitutions (much like the national one) created an executive of limited power. A delegate to the North Carolina Constitutional Convention approvingly described how much power had been given that state’s governor as “just enough power to sign the receipt for his salary” (Lipson 1939,14). Governors in other states did not fare much better.
Over time, states began to sense a need for change. Since 1985, all of the states have made statutory changes (acts of the legislatures) and/or constitutional changes to grant their governors more formal powers. Though this has been a slow process and has been more pronounced in some states than in others, most governors now have the formal tools necessary to perform the duties of a true executive. States have made other changes as well. Most have developed more extensive support structures for their governors. Staff support for the chief executives (sometimes referred to as enabling resources) is much more generous and professional than ever before. This support means the governors no longer work alone. They can draw on the help of others around them to accomplish their work.
New formal powers and institutional support are not, however, the full explanation for the current prominence of the governorship. In addition to legal changes, the modern office has been transformed by changes in society. Greater access to the public via new types of media offers governors a new and formidable power source that their predecessors could scarcely have imagined. It is worth noting here that the idea of an executive drawing power straight from the public was exactly the sort of thing the founders of the country hoped to avoid. They understood the potential danger of a particularly charismatic governor mobilizing the public for his own selfish purposes at the expense of others, especially minority groups.
Governors bring to the office other informal (or personal) powers. Informal powers are resources related to the person holding the office rather than the office itself. Though formal powers do not vary much from one governor in a state to the next, incumbents differ greatly in the informal powers they possess. Such informal powers are nearly limitless, but a sample of the important ones would include the governor’s skill, personality, and popularity. Each of these features can be employed by governors in their pursuit of leadership in their home states and abroad. However, it is up to the individual governor to mobilize these resources.
The challenge for modern governors, therefore, lies in exercising their formal, informal, and enabling powers effectively and in the appropriate combination, which is not a simple task. Not surprisingly, governors have taken on (or had forced on them) many new responsibilities. While they have more tools, much more is expected of them as well. Governors must wear many different hats. They must act as chief executive and chief legislator, head of state and intergovernmental liaison, chief judge and chief of party. The responsibilities are significant and growing. The challenge is great, but the office and the people who seek it are, on the whole, finally up to the job.
To understand the governors, it is important to place them into the larger political context. The growing prominence of the states and the increasing complexity of the state governments both empower and limit the governors. On the one hand, governors have more and better-qualified people and offices around them to help them carry out their responsibilities. On the other hand, the state government is far bigger, harder to manage, and more carefully scrutinized by national political actors. This chapter will examine the many roles that modern governors are expected to play and the array of tools they may employ as they carry out the various duties of their office.
ROLES OF THE GOVERNORS
As noted, modern governors must step into myriad roles. Some of them are constantly expected of the governor, others arise sporadically. Some roles are highly important, others perhaps less so. Finally, all incumbents will prefer some roles while disliking others, and such preferences will surely affect the choices they make in how they use their limited time in office.
The primary roles of the governor are those of chief legislator and chief executive. This combination suggests the overlapping powers of the political systems in the states. In addition, the governor must also serve the largely symbolic role of chief of state on an ongoing basis. The remaining roles—crisis manager, chief judge, chief of party, inter governmental liaison, and military chief—while certainly significant features of governorship, are not as time consuming or as constant. When they do arise, however, they will likely take center stage until the task at hand is complete.
Probably the most important role of the governors in the modern period is that of chief legislator. Given their status and stature, governors take the lead in lawmaking endeavors. They typically involve themselves very directly in the laws considered and passed by the state legislative body. They are not members of the legislative branch, of course, but the tools of. The office of governor and the political environment in the states all encourage governors to assume an active role in lawmaking. State constitutions and laws offer governors some formal tools that they can use in their legislative leader roles, including the veto (package, line-item, and amendatory), the power to present a state of the state address, and the power to prepare and administer the budget. Informal and enabling resources are also important for the role of legislative leader. Informal resources such as their own popularity, their skill or charisma, and a popular mandate assist governors in legislative leadership, as do enabling resources such as having a strong professional staff.
The role of chief legislator is not a simple one to play. The environment in which the governor and the legislators function is sometimes marked by conflict. In fact, the media, the citizenry, and state officials themselves often characterize the relationship between the governor and the legislature as one of constant divisiveness. Yet there are other instances when the governor and legislators manage to work together in relative harmony.
The governor’s place as the highest elected official in his or her party may help to bring the governor and the legislature together, which is especially helpful when the governor’s party holds a majority of seats in the legislature. The role of the governor in the state party organization is also important, and some governors are more successful at uniting the party than others (Morehouse and Jewell 2003). When a party is divided into different camps (or factions), having a large number of seats in the legislature may not really help the governor’s goals in the legislative arena much. Though party strength is important, it does not assure that partisans will follow the governor’s lead.
Further conflict is not only or not necessarily a matter of disagreement among public officials. Governors and legislators may simply view the world of their states differently, perhaps because of the different constituencies they serve. Legislators are elected by and represent a district only a small part of a state, whereas the governor represents the entire state. Because of this, a legislator may believe that what is good for his or her district is good for the state, whereas a governor may try to convince the legislator that what is good for the state will ultimately be good for the legislator’s district.
Differences between legislators and the governors may also arise due to varying lengths of terms. Governors in most states serve a four-year term, while legislators often must seek reelection every two years. In addition, though governors are often limited to a maximum of eight years in office, legislators may serve multiple terms, sometimes spanning the administrations of multiple governors. As a consequence, governors and state legislators (even members of the same party) may form competing opinions about the correct answers to the problems facing the state.
On top of all of these sources of conflict, the making of law is a long and complicated process in every state. Each state except for Nebraska has a bicameral legislature, meaning that actors in two separate chambers must process proposed legislation before it can be delivered to the governor for signature or veto. A proposed law must pass through multiple phases in its journey toward adoption. In a simplified form, the policy process can be divided into four phases: agenda setting, policy formulation, adoption or legitimation, and evaluation. The chief legislator role of the governors encompasses the first two phases of the policy process. To fulfill this role successfully, governors must use their powers (formal, informal, and enabling) in the first phase, the agenda-setting phase, to raise topics to be considered by the legislature. Governors also work in the second phase, the policy formulation phase, to influence the types of solutions adopted to address those problems. They may be more successful at asking legislatures to look at a particular problem (agenda setting) than they are at convincing legislatures to adopt a particular solution (policy formulation). Agenda setting is perhaps easier for the governors, and it is in this phase that they have unique powers. But governors are not as uniquely qualified to lead in the policy formulation phase, though they still are significant actors during this second stage. These two phases of policy making are considered separately here. The contributions that the governors make to the final two phases of the policy process fall under the chief executive role, and these are considered elsewhere.
Agenda setting is the first step in the policymaking process. At this stage, problems requiring governmental action are identified. They are brought forward by multiple actors, including the governor, legislative leaders, interest groups, and the media. But the governor is better able than any of the other actors to place items on the agenda for governmental action. Major problems that affect the lives of large numbers of people are usually the issues that actually make it onto the public agenda to be considered for state government action. The governor’s role as agenda setter arises from several sources.
First, it grows partially from the formal powers and responsibilities laid out in the state constitution. Each governor possesses veto powers, which give him or her a legitimate place at the table of lawmaking in the states and helps to assure that legislators are willing to consider the agenda items that the governor has brought forward. The governor is also required by law to present state of the state addresses to lay out legislative priorities and to prepare and present to the legislature a budget plan. Legislators often look to these statements of the governor’s priorities to set the broad agenda that the legislature will follow that year. The governor’s agenda also tends to represent the major issues facing the state. For all of these reasons, the governor is the key agenda setter in the state.
Calling Special Sessions. One power that a governor can use to focus the legislature on key agenda items is the ability to call special sessions. Unlike the U.S. Congress, most state legislatures even in the twenty-first century do not meet year-round. In seven states, the legislatures do not even hold sessions every year. Instead, they meet biennially (every other year). Since regular legislative sessions are limited in most states, the power to call the legislature back into session is significant. In twenty states, only the governor can call a special session. The legislatures cannot call themselves back to session in these states. In the other thirty states, either the governor or the legislature by a majority vote (or a supermajority depending on the state) can call a special session. In some states, the legislature can only take up issues identified by the governor. In most states, legislators are free to add to the agenda once a special session is called. This power provides the governor the opportunity to focus attention on the specific policy questions that he or she believes are most important. The governor may use such sessions to make the public aware of pressing issues, in addition to getting the undivided attention of legislators. If he or she succeeds in convincing the public of the importance of the issues, the governor may be able to elicit their help in swaying the legislature. Such direct attention to particular topics may put a negative spotlight on legislators if they seem out of step with public opinion.
Even when the governor has the power to define the topic for the session, however, he or she lacks complete control over the work of the legislature. Legislators may refuse to support the governor’s wishes and may adopt a completely different proposal than the governor intended. Thus, calling a special session can be a risky strategy. In at least one instance (in Oklahoma in 1989), though the governor called a special session, no member of the legislature was willing to introduce the governor’s desired legislation. So calling for a special session is a useful power for the governor, but it is far from absolute. Further calling special sessions is often unpopular (with the public and with legislators), since the sessions represent added expense for the state and pull the legislators away from their other responsibilities.
Media Attention. Other, less formal factors also help governors influence the agendas pursued in their legislatures. Governors are visible actors, with ready access to the media. They hold press conferences, town hall meetings, and other public events that attract media coverage. Such events offer a platform from which to address key gubernatorial priorities. Governors are often able to reach lawmakers through media outlets (in addition to direct communication). when governors employ the media, they often hope to reach another audience as well—the public. Drawing favorable attention from the public of gubernatorial priorities often translates into legislators adding such issues to their agendas.
State of the State Address. Governors are required to report to the state legislature on the condition of their states. The state of the state speech is very useful for governors in their agenda-setting role. Most governors choose to offer this speech to the legislature at the beginning of a new legislative session. In the speech, they spend time commending themselves and the legislature for previous accomplishments and praising their states’ beauty, perseverance, and success. Once they put these niceties behind them, governors use the state of the state address to lay out their vision of the problems facing their states as well as their proposed solutions. They often also use this opportunity to request new funding from the legislature for existing programs. Given the limited amount of time available and the limited attention span of the audience, governors usually choose to focus on the items they believe most important for their states.
In addition to offering the governors a chance to communicate directly with the legislatures, the state of the state address helps them reach the public and the media to advertise their policy goals. Governors can be very significant actors in the formation of the public policy agendas in their states.
Policy formulation is the second phase of the policy process. After a policy question is placed on the agenda, the work of understanding state problems, gathering information, and researching and drafting potential solutions is done. While this phase is primarily the domain of legislators, governors have at least a secondary role to play in this stage as well.
In all states except for Nebraska, the legislature is composed of two chambers that are equally involved in making law. Legislative committees (or subgroups within the legislature) typically do much of the work on potential laws. Legislative leaders have a good deal of influence over which bills make it out of committee, which make it to the floor of the chamber for consideration, and which finally pass. The governor has no official place in this process. The governor often relies on others, such a party leaders and other legislative allies within the legislature, to act on his or her behalf. Governors may also mobilize department heads to present information to the legislature and lobby on behalf of the governor’s initiatives.
The governor is not a member of the legislature and only rarely participates in legislative hearings. Though legislative leaders or other legislators may choose to advocate for the governor’s position, they are not really required to do so. Members of the governor’s party are the most likely source of support, but even these members are not guaranteed to be much help. The governor must convince them—-and many other legislators—that they ought to follow his or her lead. A governor who chooses to dedicate time and resources to this process often can achieve notable success.
Coalition Building and the Power to Persuade. Executive power in the American system is often described as the power to persuade (Neustadt 1980). Though some legislators may start out agreeing with the governor, many do not. Some will be indifferent, and some will be opposed to the governor’s goals. The governor must bargain with legislators to try to persuade them to move toward his or her position.
To win adoption of a preferred piece of legislation, one must forge a coalition of supporters. This is where bargaining clearly comes into play. Bargaining requires having something of value to offer to someone else. The governor certainly has things of value to offer to legislators in negotiating for their support. Though the governor, like every one else who hopes to pass legislation, must engage in this time-consuming bargaining process, he or she (with the governor’s many tools) is especially well placed to win. In this way, the governor is an important actor in policy formulation.
Bargaining can take many forms. For example, the governor can offer support on a member’s pet legislation in exchange for that member’s support for the governor’s initiatives. This practice is sometimes called logrolling or reciprocity. A governor can offer to make a trade by indicating a willingness to withdraw opposition to another piece of legislation in exchange for a legislator’s support. Similarly, a governor may offer to really throw the support of the office behind a legislator’s pet legislation if that legislator will work with the governor.
Like the president, a governor also might benefit from the symbolic importance of the office he or she occupies (sometimes called the aura or trappings of office) in the bargaining with legislators. If a governor chooses to do so, he or she can invoke the symbolism of the office to convince certain legislators to change their minds. The governor is a well-known figure in the state, with a statewide electorate. No one else has the same high profile that the governor has. Some governors are able to translate respect and awe for the office into support among legislators. In short, if the governor calls a member in to the executive office, looks across the desk marked by the great seal of the state, and asks for his or her support, it may be hard for that member to say no.
Governors can build support in other more concrete ways. For example, they can per form “constituency service” for members, by helping their constituents with problems. The executive branch is a large and unwieldy mix of hundreds of offices. Constituents sometimes have problems with the bureaucracy that they cannot solve on their own. They often write or call their legislator’s office seeking help. A legislator may, in turn, look to the governor’s office for help. A legislator who has sought and received help from the governor’s office for a constituent may be more willing to cast a vote in favor of the governor’s legislative goals later on. It is smart, therefore, for governors to instruct their staffs to provide such support for legislators when they ask for it. Such positive interactions add to a store of good feelings that the governor can call upon when it is needed. Governors also have numerous jobs they must fill through appointment. Legislators sometimes want to win jobs for citizens in their districts, and these jobs might be used as bargaining chips as well.
Governors can offer a key appointment in exchange for a member’s support on proposed legislation. Finally, governors may offer legislators their political support. They frequently help to raise money for elections and often make campaign appearances on behalf of their supporters.
The Role of Chief Legislator in Perspective
This bargaining process by which governors attempt to influence lawmaking is not necessarily ideal. Governors would undoubtedly prefer their legislatures to automatically line up behind their legislative goals. After all, the governors believe that the goals they have laid out are right and necessary for the good of the state. It is surely frustrating for them but nevertheless a fact of life that legislators have their own ideas. It is not impossible for governors to convince the required numbers of legislators to support their plans. But it is not a simple task. It is definitely much more difficult than simply convincing the legislature to take up a particular agenda item for consideration. Influencing policy formulation is much more of a challenge for the governors than is agenda set ting. No matter the difficulty, due to the governors’ role in both agenda setting and policy formulation, the chief legislator role is among the most important jobs of modern governors. At the same time, this role is a reminder of the limitations of power in the American political system. Even officials as prominent and powerful as governors are not able to make law single-handedly. They must work with others through an established and complicated process to achieve their policy goals.
The second key role of the governor is that of chief executive, Most state constitutions contain language indicating that the governor must take care that the laws are “faithfully executed,” perhaps the most obvious of the governor’s jobs. The role of chief executive is an extremely difficult one that offers few political rewards. While the governor must actively pursue this job, he or she will no doubt find it more time consuming and often less successful than the other key role, that of chief legislator. No matter the inherent difficulties, governors must oversee the execution of the laws. Given the enormity of the challenge, they cannot do this job on their own. They must work with the state bureaucracy to carry out the laws. Consequently, governors are responsible for managing the bureaucracy. This managerial role is another truly massive undertaking. Governors may be tempted to ignore this job and focus instead on the more politically rewarding roles, but this is a critical job for the state. Bad administration of the laws equals bad laws.
Managing the Bureaucracy
Governors do have certain powers to help them do this job. Formal powers of appointment (naming people to the offices in the executive branch) and the ability to reorganize bureaucratic structures to make them more responsive to the governor are the most noteworthy. However, formal power is not always sufficient to overcome the fragmented nature of the executive branches in the states. Bureaucracies are notoriously difficult to manage. They are made up of hundreds or thousands of people and many departments, divisions, and independent boards and commissions. Though we talk of an executive branch, this entity is not nearly as compact and well defined as the name might imply. Members of the executive branch, quite separate from the governor, possess their own ideas about the appropriate policy direction to follow. This situation guarantees that administrators and governors will rarely operate as a close-knit unit. Governors must attempt to create a degree of coherence in order to pursue their policy goals. One way that governors can handle this challenge is to reorganize the executive branch to give them more direct control. However strong opposition will almost invariably meet gubernatorial attempts at reorganization, both from inside the government (the legislative and the executive branches) and from outside forces such as political interest though reorganization might strengthen the governor’s hand at leading the executive branch, the price of reorganization or dramatic government reinvention may be very high.
And in their chief legislator role, governors must interact with many other actors in pursuit of the chief executive role. Numerous important actors, both inside and outside government, must be recognized and sometimes attended to. Bureaucrats, legislators, and interest groups (or clientele groups) are all important at times in determining how the laws will be carried out.
Many different actors are keenly interested in how laws are carried out. The lawmakers themselves presumably have ideas about how the laws are implemented, since they are the ones who drafted and passed the legislation. The bureaucrats with the responsibility to carry them out have their own opinions, since they have skills and expertise in the policy area. Finally, the groups outside of government that will be affected by the new laws want to make their opinions heard as well. Sometimes, these actors form a sort of network among themselves. Since they are concerned about questions in a common policy area, they regularly work together and often accommodate one another’s needs. Sometimes, they form a rather exclusive group. The governors struggle to figure out how to fit in. If a single element of this powerful network opposes the governors’ ideas, they can be quickly sidetracked. Governors need an inside person, which is why the appointment power is critically important for governors serving in the chief executive role.
In the network described here, the bureaucrats at the relevant agency occupy the governor’s place at the table. The appointment power gives the governor the chance to decide who those persons will be. The ability to choose key bureaucrats (administrators) improves the chances that they will share the governor’s outlook and goals. This connection should help the governor be more successful in the administration of government. Appointment is certainly not a perfect solution, however, because the executive branch functions separately from the governor to a large extent. The bureaucracy is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.
Chief of State
The chief of state role is the third key role of the modern governor. Though this role is more symbolic than the chief legislator and chief executive roles, it is nevertheless a primary feature of the modern governorship. As chief of state, the governor represents and embodies the state. He or she is the focal point for internal and external observers of the state.
In many political systems, two different people exercise the roles of the chief of state and the chief executive. In the United Kingdom, for example, the queen serves as the symbolic chief of state, while the prime minister acts as the chief executive, laying out and pursuing the plan for the “queen’s government.” Lacking royalty, the American tradition is to require the chief executive to serve in both positions.
American chief executives (presidents and governors alike) therefore serve a symbolic role as the central figure of the government in addition to their more substantive responsibilities. In early American history, governors were actually not much more than symbolic leaders or figureheads though this is no longer the case, ceremonial and symbolic roles are still significant aspects of the modern governorship.
The governorship is surrounded by many symbols, both large and small. For example, most of the governors and their families live in stately mansions. These grand residences testify to both the prestige of the office and the civic pride of the state as a whole. Such residences are the location of formal state dinners and other official occasions.
Governors spend much of their time on ceremonial duties. They themselves report that after working with the legislature, performing ceremonial functions takes up the second largest amount of their time. Governors appear at state fairs, cut ribbons at opening of new businesses in the state, welcome foreign businesspeople, and even crown state pageant winners.
Though some of the governor’s other ceremonial activities are purely symbolic, they are nevertheless important because they keep him or her in the public eye and because the people expect such actions. Citizens seem to want their governor to be a frequent presence at public events in the state. Further, turning down groups that request the governor’s attendance is fraught with political difficulties, since this decision will surely lead to disappointment or irritation.
Though some governors attempt to limit these symbolic appearances, others seem to genuinely enjoy the opportunity to mingle with the people of the state in a more informal and less stressful environment than that created by other duties of the office. Further, the personalities of some governors lead them to thrive in these setting and perhaps even encourage these symbolic activities. Other governors find them uncomfortable and a waste of time. Such personal considerations undoubtedly affect how often governors pursue these functions and the enthusiasm that they bring to them.
While some governors worry that ceremonial duties take too much time away from more substantive duties, the chief of state role is nevertheless an important one for the governorship. This role brings with it prestige. It focuses the attention of the media and the public on the governor alone at key moments. This attention, especially when managed well by the governor, can be translated into the authority to lead, which may prove useful to the governor as he or she performs other duties.
The role of crisis manager is not a constant job for the governor, however, when this role is called for, it will most likely dominate his or her time and attention until the crisis at hand is settled.
At certain moments, governors are called on to protect the public or to work to heal their wounds. Governors must respond to crises, both natural and man-made. The governor as crisis manager is filling both a managerial and a symbolic role. A governor’s handling of a crisis in the state can surely make or break an administration. Ineffective or seemingly uncaring responses to problems experienced by the citizenry may raise doubts about a governor and create problems for him or her in other arenas.
Another reason that crisis response is a significant component of a governor’s job is that crises demand attention. The ability to plan a response to unknown crises is limited, and the advent of crisis events demands the governor’s attention no matter what else he or she had been hoping to focus on. Governors who fail to give adequate attention to such crises run the risk of seeming out of touch with or unsympathetic to the people. Neither of these perceptions is good for a governor’s role as chief of state (nor for his or her reelection aspirations).
Many other types of crises may strike a state. When a hurricane devastates a coastal community, for example, the governor often shows up to survey the damage and offer support and sympathy to victims of the storm. Droughts, gypsy moths, and forest fires have all at various times required governors to take action and make it clear that they were “doing something” to address the problem.
Other crisis events are the result of the actions of people rather than nature. Southern governors during the civil rights movement were most noteworthy for symbolic gestures meant to represent their continued opposition to changes in the racial status quo. Governors such as Orval Faubus of Arkansas and George Wallace of Alabama are two examples. Rather than offering leadership to move their states forward in the midst of crisis, these governors used the symbolic power of the office to divide the people of their states. They drew political power from these symbolic acts of defiance, though their actions did nothing to improve the conditions of their states.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, represent another example of governors placed in the position of responding to an unprecedented disaster. Though the entire country was, in a sense, attacked on that day, the reality is that the attacks themselves took place within the borders of three states, the World Trade Center (WTC) towers in New York, the Pentagon in northern Virginia, and a field in Pennsylvania where one plane crashed without reaching its target. Governors James Gilmore of Virginia, George Pataki of New York, and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania all faced enormous challenges as state, federal, and local officials attempted to grapple with the enormous destruction of property, loss of life, and uncertainty that the attacks and their aftermath created. Though the massive scale of the attacks focused much of the public attention on the national government for leadership, the governors of these states nevertheless bore a large responsibility to reassure the citizenry that their states were responding aggressively to the attacks.
Governors also serve a judicial role. Much like the president, American governors have traditionally possessed the power of executive clemency, which gives governors and pardon boards the ability to show leniency to criminals by granting pardons or commuting sentences. Pardons typically erase a criminal record and restore civil rights (such as the right to vote), while commutations make punishments less harsh. Some governors, for example, can commute death sentences, choosing instead to give a prisoner life imprisonment rather than execution. The idea of American chief executives possessing such power derives from the British monarch’s power. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, gubernatorial pardons were often the only way for prisoners to be released before the end of their sentences. Before states created pardon and parole systems, the governor pardoned nearly half of all prisoners before their sentences expired.
Though governors exercised this power fairly often in the past, the political climate since the late l990s has not encouraged them to exercise their clemency powers. Governors have recently shied away from using them due to fears of appearing too soft on crime and insensitive to the victims. Because of these political challenges, governors often employ the pardon mainly in the last days of their terms, and some governors simply avoid the process altogether. Advocates for executive clemency argue it is an essential safeguard against failures in the overworked court systems. Others argue that the governor should show mercy to offenders when the courts have been too harsh. Though the powers are used sparingly, they are widely available to governors.
Thirty-three states give governors the exclusive and Unconditional power to grant pardons or reduce prison sentences. Four states (Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, and Idaho have taken the pardoning power away from the governor and given it to clemency boards made up of members appointed by the governor. In nine states, the governor remains involved but can only consider clemency recommendations made by state clemency boards. These states are Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas. California law requires a recommendation by the state Supreme Court for the pardon of any person convicted of two felonies. Finally, governors in Nebraska, Nevada, and Utah sit as members of pardon boards and thus share the power to pardon with several other board members.
Some governors in the past abused the pardon power. Indeed, there are some spectacular examples of questionable behavior. Governor Jack Walton of Oklahoma freed nearly 700 prisoners in eleven months and was impeached and convicted for taking bribes in exchange for granting pardons. Similarly, Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson of Texas pardoned 3,700 prisoners in two years. Pardons were apparently available for purchase, with the price keyed to the severity of the offense. Perhaps not surprisingly, Texas is among the states that have removed this power from its governor. More recently, Governor Ray Blanton of Tennessee raised significant questions when he planned to pardon fifty-two prisoners on his way out of the governor’s office. His successor was sworn in three days early to undo these corrupt pardons. Such actions are, however, exceptions to the norm. Most governors seem to dislike holding responsibility for such life-and-death decisions.
The examples provided here have often generated a great deal of publicity, but clemency requests and the governors’ responses are typically more mundane. However, as DNA testing is increasingly effective and available for convicted criminals, governors may have to weigh such evidence in more petitions in the future.
Chief of Party
Another primary role of governors is that of chief of party. This role is not an official job of the office; it grows naturally from the governor’s position as the state’s (and the party’s) highest elective officer.
Particularly in states where the two parties are competitive with one another (rather than one party dominating), this role is very significant for both the power of the governor and the role of the party in the state. Governors who are strong party leaders can be more successful than those who lack strong party support. However, merely carrying the party label does not guarantee a governor strong support from the party. Party leadership is developed over time, the result of working to build coalitions of supporters.
In nearly every case, the major candidates for governor in all fifty states are running under the label of either the Democratic or Republican Party. Consequently, in addition to the personal organization that they build, gubernatorial candidates also inherit state party organizations. Some of these organizations are very helpful to the candidate while seeking the office, and they continue to be important for providing an organization to assist in governing the state after the election.
In many states, the governor plays a significant role in choosing the state party chair. Governors may also participate in fund-raising for the party in order to preserve party strength in the state. When the party organization is strong, the governor can draw on its help in the reelection campaign and in pursuing legislative goals. Researchers have found that governors who head strong state parties (which they define as parties that have greater control over the choice of nominees for the office) are able to draw on party support for their legislative goals. Governors who head weak party organizations can not count on partisan loyalty from their legislators (Morehouse and Jewell 2003).
Certain governors pay very little attention to the state party. Some have been elected without the help of party leaders and may even have been chosen despite the opposition of party organizational leaders. Such governors may view working with party leaders or trying to reorganize the party as wasted energy.
Nevertheless, there is a significant connection between the role of the party in the election process and the role in governing. As Morehouse and Jewell (2003, 167) as asserted: “If their parties were united behind them in the nominating and election process, they would be behind them in the governing process. A united party can provide the votes the governor needs when he or she proposes measures to the legislature for passage. A governor hamstrung by factions cannot hope to govern effectively.”
Governors normally benefit from their parties’ strength in the state legislature. When the governor’s party has the majority in the legislature, legislative leaders may work for the governor: sharing the governor’s party attachment, they may also share the governor’s goals. When the party in the legislature gets very large, it is possible that the party will be divided into factions. If that happens, the governor may have a harder time depending on the party for support.
Some of the responsibilities of the governorship are exercised outside the state. Since the United States has a federal system, multiple governments have the power to make decisions. The decisions made by one level of government often have a substantial impact on the other levels, which means it is vital to pay attention to what other levels of government (especially the national government) are doing. Thus, in addition to being key leaders within their states, governors are important actors outside their states as well. They represent the interests of the state to the national government in Washington, D.C., and, sometimes enter into agreements with other states to address common problems. Governors are obviously not the only actors in Washington speaking for their home states. Members of Congress also view their job (at least in part) as serving the needs of their states and districts. But governors and members of Congress may not always see eye to eye. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives typically serve a district made up of only a portion of a state, so they tend to view their job as principally serving their local district. Senators are elected to serve the entire state, but as members of the national legislature, they must act in the interest of the entire Country as well. Governors serve only the state. As a result, they do not depend exclusively on the state’s congressional delegations to speak on behalf of the home state.
Sometimes, governors (and their staffs) work independently, lobbying to convince the national government of the positions they feel are best for their states. To facilitate this effort, many states have established offices in Washington, D.C. Other support structures have been created as well to help make sure the governors are able to protect their states’ interests in Washington. Many governors have hired coordinators to gather information for them about what other governments are doing, to provide a central coordinating point for activities, and to introduce their perspectives into federal and state agency discussions. Each of these examples involves individual states and their governors taking steps to protect their own interests in Washington.
In other cases, governors may join together to make their voices heard in Washington. For example, the National Governors Association (NGA) is a professional organization of the nation’s governors that advises them on policy concerns and brings them together to identify needs that cross state boundaries. This organization offers a way for the governors to speak together on issues that affect many states. The NGA lobbies Congress, arguing on behalf of the interests of the chief executives in the fifty states. There are also regional organizations of governors, such as the Western Governors’ Association, and partisan groups.
Given all of these developments, the governors have become significant leaders on the national level. The solution to the 1995—1996 budget standoff between President Bill Clinton and the Republican controlled Congress is illustrative. In that instance, governors worked out a budget deal that both the President and Congress could accept. This deal avoided a third federal government shutdown and sent federal employees back to their jobs. Since many governors have thoughts of running for the White House, their profile as national actors is likely to continue to rise. Such positive contributions are good publicity for individual governors and for the governors as a group.
Governors also serve a military role. As chief executives, they are responsible for the health and safety of the citizens of their states. Further, they are designated the commanders-in-chief of their state National Guards. Under certain circumstances, such as during a declared emergency, some states’ governors can exert extraordinary powers to suspend authority, seize personal property, direct evacuations, and authorize the release of emergency funds. Governors are also critically important as the voice of the states in communicating with the public, requesting federal disaster assistance, and assisting residents in coping with the disaster.
The National Guard is often called out to keep peace and order during natural disasters and civil disturbances. Guard members work as emergency relief providers and assist with search-and-rescue operations at the will of the governor. Events requiring the governor to call out the Guard are obviously rather sporadic. However, Guard units have moved into other responsibilities as well. For example, since the late 1980s, they have sometimes engaged in missions outside their own states, such as patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border. Though there has been a traditional separation between military and law enforcement activities, National Guard troops are increasingly putting their skills and equipment to use in nontraditional ways. While on these missions, even outside its own state borders, the Guard remains under the control of the governor.
Since the attacks on the United States in 2001 and the heightened concerns about terrorism, much of the governors’ commander-in-chief activities has been directed toward protecting against future terrorist attacks. National Guard troops have served many roles in the post-9/l1 United States under the authority of both the governors and the president. State and local law enforcement and health workers will be the first to respond to any future attack on the United States. It is up to the governors, in coordination with other local, state, and national officials, to make sure that the systems are in place to respond quickly and effectively. After September 2001, Guard troops (under authority of the president) provided security at the nation’s airports for a period of time until regular security forces could be put into place.
Since the control over the Guard is shared between the states and the national government, the relative power of each has often generated conflict between the governors and the national government. In the l980s, several governors who opposed President Ronald Reagan’s policies in Central America threatened to prevent their Guard units from participating in training there. The Pentagon asserted that it had the power to send National Guard units abroad for training as well as for fighting in conflicts. Some governors argued that the U.S. Constitution, which grants states “the authority of training the militia,” gives the governors control over where National Guard units are trained. The question was ultimately pursued in federal court, where the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed with the governors and upheld the president’s power to send Guard troops abroad for training without federalizing them. Questions of presidential authority arose in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks as well. It is clear that the president has the authority to take charge of the National Guard when it is called to duty to deal with war and national crises. But the governors assert that when the Guard is performing domestic missions, it should do so under the authority of the governor. Various laws of the U.S. Congress support the governors’ assertion. The National Governors Association issued a position statement attempting to clarify the governors’ position on the roles of the National Guard in the post-9/l1 landscape:
The National Guard, historically a critical resource in emergencies, can be an effective force multiplier to civil authorities in responding to terrorism at the state, local, and federal levels. In the wake of the September ii, 2001, attacks, the National Guard has expanded its traditional role in homeland defense and security. National Guard activities include securing strategic facilities, such as airports, pharmaceutical labs, nuclear Power plants, communications towers, and border crossings, and have been a cornerstone in protecting our citizens from domestic terrorism. Source: National Governors Association, Policy Position, February 27, 2004, http://www.nga.org
The U.S. military increasingly depends on National Guard units to augment the active forces. Thousands of these “citizen-soldiers have been called up for service in the Persian Gulf, for example, during both Gulf Wars. In May 2004, the national government undertook the largest National Guard deployment in U.S. history (144,000 troops, or 42 percent of the states’ combined Army National Guard troops). The activation of so many Guard troops by the national government leaves states struggling to decide how to respond to challenges at home. In some states, more than 50 percent of Guard troops were deployed. In one state, the figure was as high as 85 percent. Governors must figure out ways to adjust to the temporary absence of Guard members in preparation for challenges that may arise with in their states. The role of the National Guard and of the governors as commanders in chief will surely continue to evolve as the country faces flew and unpredictable challenges.
POWERS OF THE GOVERNORS
The preceding sections examined the pivotal roles that governors must play when occupying the office today. To fulfill these many roles, governors must have a variety of tools, resources, and powers at their disposal. These assets come in a variety of forms. Some powers come from the office of the governorship itself. These are called formal, or institutional, powers. Enabling powers also derive from the office. Enabling powers are the staff and other support that the state provides to work for and with the governor. Other powers come from the situation at the time of the governor’s term. Still other powers are inherent in the person who holds the office. These powers related to the particular incumbent are called informal powers. Of course, many different powers may come into play as governors pursue all of their varied roles. Some powers are important in only one of the roles; others are significant across multiple roles. The powers of the governors are discussed in the next sections.
Reformers and researchers have directed quite a good deal of attention to the formal powers of the governor’s office, perhaps because such powers are the easiest to identify and define. When the office provides few formal powers, a governor has to turn to other resources to have a chance at success in his or her official endeavors. These other powers are less concrete and more variable from one governor to the next and are decidedly hard for researchers to systematically measure. Over time, states have made significant changes in the powers bestowed on the governors. Joseph Schlesinger (1965) first developed an index of gubernatorial powers that rated the states’ governors in terms of types of powers, allowing observers to compare the powers possessed by governors across the states.
This index measured four aspects of formal powers of the governor: tenure potential (length of terms eligible to serve and successive terms allowed); budget power (degree of gubernatorial control in preparing the budget); appointment power (degree of gubernatorial control over appointment of key state administrators); and finally, veto power (determined by the item veto power of the governor combined with the size of legislative majority required for override). This index has been widely employed (and criticized) in the literature. Studies have used it to examine the relationship between formal powers and a variety of other conditions in the states. These studies have examined the association of formal powers with many areas, including: gubernatorial support of agency budget requests (Sharkansky 1968), managing the bureaucracy (Hebert, Brudney, and Wright 1983; Brudney and Hebert 1987), and legislative leadership (Dilger, Krause, and Moffett 1995; Ferguson 2003).
Though the index is widely used by researchers, some have complained that it does not accurately reflect the full range of resources governors have. This complaint has greater relevance today, as the governorships now possess resources that were not initially included in Schlesinger’s design. These new resources include, for example, the joint election of governors and lieutenant governors, the amendatory veto, and the development of gubernatorial staffs (Dometrius 1987). Formal powers of the governors and the four features of the formal power index described here should not be viewed as the full explanation of the power of the governor: as noted throughout this discussion formal powers are only one component of the resources governors can use. But even if they are not the whole story, they are a good place to begin because they provide a systematic means to look at power across the governor’s offices in the fifty states.
The veto is the governors’ power to say no to legislation that they oppose. It is the single most important power governors have for affecting the making of law in the states. Again, this power varies from state to state. There are several types of vetoes: the package veto, item veto, amendatory veto, and pocket veto. Each state offers its governor some combination of these. Some governors have strong vetoes; other governors have weaker vetoes. The strength of the veto arises from several variables. For instance, states vary in the length of time allowed for the governor to sign or veto a bill. States also require different numbers of votes for legis1ative override of a veto. When the governor only has a few days to veto a bill before it becomes law, the veto is weaker. Similarly, in states where only a simple majority of the legislature is required to override the governor’s veto, the veto has little force. Since it took a majority of legislators to pass the bill in the first place, it would typically be rather easy for the bill’s advocates to come up with a majority again to override the veto.
The package veto is the most basic veto. It gives the governor (and the President) the power to reject entire pieces of legislation that have reached his or her desk. All fifty governors have this type of veto. Though this is an important tool, it is also limited. When a governor chooses to veto a bill, the whole bill is rejected, even if he or she took issue with only a portion.
An item veto goes a step further. This veto allows the governor to accept the parts of a bill he or she supports and veto other parts deemed objectionable. Governors in forty three states have access to this type of veto. Item vetoes offer governors more flexibility for dealing with legislation once it reaches their desks.
The specific features of these vetoes vary from state to state. In some states, the item veto can only be used on appropriations bills; in others, it can be employed on all types of bills. In some states, the item veto can only be used to remove or reduce expenditure items; in others, it can be used to change language. Even in states where the item veto applies only to appropriations bills, language can at times be affected by the governor because state legis1atures often place narrative language in appropriations bills, defining how the funds are to be spent. In some states, the item veto allows the governor to veto this narrative language, and such a veto would amount to a change in policy. As with the package veto, state legislatures can override item vetoes if they can garner enough votes. Thirty-seven states require an extraordinary vote (depending on the state, two-thirds or three-fifths of legislators elected, or two-thirds of those present) to override an item veto.
In theory, having the item veto encourages a governor to remove unnecessary spending from legislation and thereby hold down state spending. In practice, it seems that the item veto is used most often in the same way as the package veto is: as a bargaining tool to encourage the legislature to add or remove items from proposed legislation (Wiggins 1980). When a governor has only a package veto, legislators can purposefully combine elements of bills they know the governor dislikes with bills the governor supports. Such a practice sometimes forces the governor to accept the objectionable parts of a bill in order to enact into law the desired elements. The item veto helps the governor to counteract such tactics.
Fifteen states allow their governors the executive amendment, also known as the amendatory veto. This device gives the governor the power to veto a bill and send it back to the legislature with recommended amendments. If the legislature agrees to the changes, the governor signs the bill into law. Governors sometimes use this veto to bring together different parts of multiple bills and formulate a single, unified law. If the legislature accepts the governor’s proposed amendments, then the governor has effectively shaped the legislation after the legislature had completed the lawmaking process. Though not much research has been conducted on the use of these vetoes, there is some evidence that these are useful tools for governors attempting to influence the actions of the legislature. Critics of such strong vetoes worry that they may result in a blurring of the lines of the separation between the branches. They may also encourage conflict between the legislative and executive offices. Governors might use this veto to make policy on their own, bypassing legislative intent altogether. This tact would appear to violate the spirit of shared powers set out in state constitutions, though the behavior has been upheld in some state courts.
The pocket veto is a passive way of vetoing bills. This power, allowed in fifteen states in 2002, permits the governor to reject a bill by refusing to sign it after the legislature has adjourned. In all but three states (Hawaii, Utah, and Virginia), the state legislatures lack the opportunity to reconvene to vote on a pocket veto. In the vast majority of states that allow the pocket veto, then, it cannot be overridden, which makes the pocket veto a particularly powerful tool. But it can only be used effectively at the end of the legislative term.
Like most powers of the office, the veto power has been fortified in the majority of states in recent history. In the earliest years, only two states provided the package veto to their governors. By 1812, nearly half of the states had adopted it. As more states joined the Union, they typically gave their governors veto powers from the outset. By 1860, the veto power was firmly established, with twenty-five of the thirty-three states’ governors having the veto. The item veto was first established by Georgia and Texas in 1868, and it quickly spread to other states. In 1889, forty-two of the forty-five states gave their governor some of the veto. By 1949, all but one of the forty-nine states granted at least some veto power to the governor. North Carolina, the single holdout state, did not grant its governor any veto Power until 1995.
Strong versus Weak Vetoes
Once the governor wields a veto (of any type except the pocket veto), the legislature may try to override it. The percent of votes required in the legislature to override ranges from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the legislature. The number of votes required to override is important because it affects how frequently overrides take place and how useful the veto really is for the governor. If merely a simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) is required to override the veto (as is the case in six states), the veto carries minimal weight. If a supermajority is required to override the governor’s veto (as is the case in forty-four states), the veto is much more powerful, and the override attempt is more likely to fail. Among the forty-four states that require a supermajority to override, the votes required range from three- fifths of the legislators present to two-thirds of the total number of legislators in the chamber. In the absence of an override, the veto is sustained meaning the legislation does not become law.
The force of the veto powers held by each governor varies. To fully understand how weak or strong a governor’s veto powers are, scholars examine a combination of factors. The strongest veto power, for example, would give the governor the greatest power in all categories. It would require a supermajority to override, would provide the governor with the item veto, and would also allow the governor the pocket veto. Such strong veto powers were initially the exception in the states. By 1899, nineteen of the forty-two states that had the veto gave their governors the strongest veto power. By 1949, that number had grown to twenty-nine of the forty-seven states with the veto. It has climbed steadily since then. In 2002, thirty-nine of the states’ governors had very strong veto powers by this definition.
The veto is important for two reasons. First, it offers the governors a legitimate place at the legislative table. It means they have a role in making the laws of the state. Second, since vetoes are rarely overridden, the veto generally means the vetoed bill will die. This near guarantee that governors will have the “final word” on legislation gives them leverage as they bargain to achieve their goals.
While the veto is typically viewed as a negative power – a way to keep something from happening rather than causing something to happen – governors can employ this “threat” to entice legislators to their Positions. Legislators do not wish to go to the immense work of formulating legislation only to have it end up dead on arrival at the governor’s desk. Legislators also do not wish the embarrassment of having their ideas met with the public disdain of the governor. The threat of the veto is often enough to change legislative behavior toward the governor’s desired goals.
Governors are wise to use the veto sparingly. A governor who vetoes a great deal of legislature is one who did not prevail earlier in the process. The frequent use of the veto might be interpreted by potential opponents of the governor as evidence of weakness rather than strength.
Governors rarely employ the veto power. Between 1945 and 1973, the average percent of measures vetoed across the states was around 5 percent. In the most recent year for which data are available (2002), governors vetoed somewhat fewer bills. The nation wide average was only 4 percent. Governors vetoed just over 1,000 bills and resolutions of the nearly 19,000 passed across the states in that year.
These national averages, however, mask quite a lot of state variation in 1973, for example, New York’s governor vetoed nearly 30 percent of the bills passed by the legislature, whereas neither Vermont’s nor Wyoming’s governors used the veto at all. In 2002, California’s governor Gray Davis used the veto more than any other governor. He vetoed 17 percent of measures passed by the legislature (432 vetoes). By contrast, five governors did not use the veto at all in 2002. Eight more governors vetoed less than 1 per cent of the bills presented by their legislatures. Governors of some states consistently cast more than an average number of vetoes. New York and California governors, for instance, have regularly vetoed a lot of bills. The largest number of vetoes is typically used in states with divided party control (sometimes called divided government), which means that the governor and a majority of the legislature do not share the same party (Wiggins 1980).
Overrides are even rarer than vetoes. In the middle of the twentieth century, it was very uncommon for a governor’s veto to be overridden by the legislature. Less than 2 percent of vetoes were overridden in 1945 and 1947. Before that, overrides were almost nonexistent: a veto by the governor was nearly always the final word on a bill. However, legislatures seem to have become somewhat more aggressive and more willing to go against their governors. In the 1970s, the percent of veto overrides rose to 6 percent. Override numbers fluctuated in the 1980s and 1990s between 2 and 8 percent. The per cent of vetoes overridden across the states was approximately 5 percent in 2002.
The executive branch is charged with administering the laws of the states, and as chief executive, the governor has the responsibility to oversee this process. As a political actor, the governor also hopes for the laws to be carried out in a certain way, in a direction that coincides with his or her policy positions. If the governors are going to be able to influence how the laws are administered, they need to have a say in appointing officers who are in charge of administering the laws.
Today, as the state bureaucracies have grown so large, the vast majority of the offices in the executive branch are held by people who are simply hired for their jobs through a merit hiring process. They are chosen due to their credentials rather than their political loyalty, and they often hold their jobs through the administrations of multiple governors. Consequently, career bureaucrats may not be particularly responsive to the political goals of the governor. The jobs of career bureaucrats, however, typically do not have much discretion associated with them, and their actions have little Political significance. These offices are appropriately relegated to the status of career bureaucrat rather than political appointee.
There are, however many officials in the state bureaucracy who do have policy-relevant authority. These officials also possess a significant amount of discretion, which makes their political beliefs relevant to the outcomes of state government. They are in charge of writing the rules and regulation that carry out the laws passed by the legislatures. These are the sorts of officials that advocates for executive authority believe the governor should have the power to appoint.
The appointment power is a vital tool for governors research shows that administrators who are appointed by the governor are more likely to respond to his or her political preferences. When agency heads are appointed by the governor they are more likely to share the goals and ideals of the chief executive. Since many actors (both inside and out side of government) are able to influence the choices made by the executive branch and many of these have their own motivations and policy goals, it is necessary for the governor to have the chance to make sure his or her people will be part of the process.
The presence of state officials who are not dependent on the governor for their jobs limits the ability of the governor to perform the chief executive role. Though reformers continually try to shorten the long ballot (and thus give the governor the power to appoint more high-level state positions), states still elect a good number of executive officials. In 2000, the fifty states combined still elected over 300 officials to their executive branches (in addition to the 50 governors).
The number of gubernatorial appointees is different from state to state, but in general, states have given the governors the chance to appoint more of the people they will be working with in the executive branch. One way to examine the appointment power of the governor is to count the number of key officials he or she is allowed to choose. These officials can be defined as those in charge of the six major functions of the states: corrections kindergarten through twelfth grade education, health, highways, public utilities and welfare. By this reckoning governors are moderately powerful. In most states, someone other than the governor appoints these officials but with the approval of the governor the legislature or both. Another way of assessing the importance of the governor’s appointment power is to look at how many executive officials besides the governor are elected. The best-case scenario for the governor would be election for only the governor and the lieutenant governor but this arrangement exists in only five states. The average number of executive branch elected officials across the states is about eight. North Dakota has the highest number—twelve.
Without the appointment power the governor’s goals for the bureaucracy might essentially be ignored despite the chief executive role. Nevertheless, unlike the national government, no state gives its governor the power to appoint an entire executive team. Instead governors must work with (and perhaps sometimes compete with) a host of elected, appointed, and hired individuals who also have their own goals and sources of power in the state. Again, this lack of unanimity in the executive branch has both positive and negative features. It hampers the governor’s unilateral power, but it may ultimately be beneficial to the public because elected officials are not as indebted to the governor. Officials such as the attorney general and the auditor probably should be elected (as they are in most states) so that they can have the independence necessary to perform their jobs effectively.
As governors make choices regarding executive branch appointments, they may feel pulled by two competing goals. They may be torn between placing the best-qualified people in the position and choosing people on whose loyalty they can depend— people that they believe that they can control. This tension may create a dilemma for the governor. As Governor Dan Walker of Illinois observed, “The better the people you get, the more distance they place between themselves and you. They tend to adopt much more of that ‘we/them’ syndrome that can be disaster to government” (Dalton 1983, 94). This governor seems to assume that members of the executive branch do not share the goals of the governor, even when the governor placed them there. Such a situation makes for difficulty in working together and in simply communicating the needs of government, though information flow to the governor is of crucial importance.
This sentiment illustrates that simply appointing an official may not guarantee loyalty to a governor’s goals. The power to remove officials is an important resource that facilitates the positive effects of the appointment power. However, in most states, the governor’s power of removal is quite limited, unless the appointee in question has committed serious legal or ethical violations. Interested outside actors such as clientele groups who are supporters of agencies, legislators, and other bureaucrats often protest when governors attempt to remove key administrators. Further difficulties in the removal of officials derive from court decisions that protect public employees from being removed for “political reasons.” While the courts have provided governors leeway by allowing a balance between governmental effectiveness and individual rights (of employees), this lack of total control over the appointment of public administrators can dilute support of the governor’s ideals in the executive branch. It also illustrates a key difference between governors and the American president. The president has nearly total control over the removal of executive branch officials.
Another element that has historically been an important power of the governor and which is included in Schlesinger’s index of formal powers is called tenure potential. Tenure potential is not a power in the traditional sense—it is not a tool the governor can directly employ. However, Schlesinger’s idea was that power grows from the length of time the governor can hold the office. Governors who must leave office quickly will not fare as well in the legislature because legislators who disagree with the chief executive need not really take the governor seriously. They can just wait two years for a new governor with new ideas to come along.
Governors vary in how long their terms are and in how many times they are allowed (by law) to run for reelection. In the early years of the country, ten of the original thirteen states allowed their governors terms of only a single year (Beyle 1990), one state allowed a two-year term, and the other two set the term at three years. The constitutions often allowed these governors to seek reelection a number of times. As time passed, the length of time a governor might be allowed to serve in the office grew. Nevertheless, states have not completely relaxed their concerns about executives staying in office for too long. There was a general trend toward longer terms and greater opportunity to seek reelection for governors, but that trend seems to have hit a high point in the 1970s (see Table 2.1). Some states had actually shortened the potential years that governors could serve by the 1990s.
By the end of the 1980s, only three governors were limited to two-year terms. All of these governors could seek an unlimited number of future terms. However, a new change began to occur in a few states. In 1989, eighteen states allowed their governors a four-year term with no restraint on reelection (down one state from 1974). Twenty-six states set their governors’ tenure at two four-year terms, and three states set theirs at one four-year term with no consecutive reelection. Over the next few years, a significant shift toward somewhat shorter tenure continued.
This change occurred not because the states shortened the length of the term but be cause some states placed new limits on the number of terms a governor could serve. In 2003, the number of states allowing their governors to serve an unlimited number of four-year terms had declined again, down to only eight states. The largest group of states (thirty-eight) allowed two consecutive four-year terms. One allowed three consecutive four-year terms (Utah). One state continues to limit its governor to a single four-year term (Virginia). The New England states of Vermont and New Hampshire continue to restrict their governors to two-year terms but allow them the unlimited opportunity to seek reelection.
Unlike the U.S. president, governors in some states are allowed to serve additional terms after being out of office for a designated period of time. Various governors have taken advantage of this option, sitting out for the required time and running for the office again. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the governors who have returned to office after leaving due to term limits are controversial figures with very strong personalities. Big Jim Folsom of Alabama (1947—1951; 1955—1959), Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi (1916—1920; 1928—1932), and Earl Long of Louisiana (1939—1940; 1948—1952; 1956—1960) surely fit this description.
Tenure potential is most important for the governor’s role as chief legislator. The possibility of holding the office for a longer period strengthens the governors in various ways. Being in office longer makes governors more knowledgeable and better able to exercise the power of persuasion. It frees them up from the “perpetual campaign,” meaning that if the terms are longer, they can spend more time doing the job and less time seeking reelection. It also allows governors the opportunity to spend time gaining expertise while still having time left in office to put this expertise to work. Longer tenure should also increase the governors’ bargaining power by strengthening their position relative to state legislatures and their leaders, who are not so limited in their tenure potential in most states.
The power to craft the budget is critically important for the role of chief legislator. Influence over the budget can translate into significant influence over the policy direction of the state, since spending priorities ultimately equal policy priorities.
The budget is the spending plan for a state. Like most things in state government, it requires the governor and the legislature to work together. Governors in most states are in charge of preparing the budget and submitting it to the legislature. This “executive budget” gives governors the chance to identify where they would like to see increases or decreases in spending. It also centralizes all agency requests for funds under the governor’s control, which helps the governor because without the executive budget, agencies might go straight to the legislature to ask for funds and thereby circumvent the governor’s input as to state priorities. It is certainly possible that such end runs will occur even with the executive budget, but this would most certainly result in the absence of an executive budget.
Having an executive budget definitely gives the governor a significant opportunity to influence state spending. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that legislatures typically have unlimited power to change the budget the governor proposes. So while this power is very important for governors, it does not at all guarantee that their policy goals will be achieved or pursued at the level they desired. Research indicates that the budget remains an area in which both the governors and the legislatures exert a great deal of influence when they choose to do so. Once the budget is adopted, governors can wield unique influence. They have considerable authority for administering the budget. They are in charge of spending the money that puts the legislative programs into force, and this gives them additional influence even when the budgetary process did not go their way.
Other Formal Resources
In addition to the four powers identified by Schlesinger and included in his formal powers index, the modern governor’s office provides other tools to the chief executive. These other formal tools are the state of the state address and the power to reorganize the executive branch. They are important instruments for governors as they carry out their chief legislator and chief executive roles.
State of the State Addresses
State of the state addresses are most helpful to governors as chief legislators, especially in agenda setting. All governors are required to report on the state of their states. These speeches have come to be valued platforms for the governors, who use them to lay out their legislative goals.
Some issues are on the agenda of the states (and the governors) all of the time. Among these permanent agenda items are education, highways, health care, welfare, and law enforcement. In fact, these five issue areas account for nearly three-quarters of the budget of an average state. It is no surprise, then, that governors must always pay attention to problems in these areas. Other issues come and go from the agenda, almost in a cycle (Herzik 1991). For instance, tax reform seems to arise as a key issue in the states periodically, and then it recedes from public view. Finally, sometimes completely new problems arise. They burst onto the state scene and demand attention. Some will come along and remain on the agenda for years afterward, while others arise, are addressed, and then disappear. Newly discovered communicable diseases affecting the health of a state’s citizens might fit this category. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) are two examples. While concern about SARS seems to ebb and flow, AIDS has unfortunately been on the agenda of the states since the early 1980s. Advances in treatments for AIDS may cause the disease to receive somewhat less attention for a time. However, if the rates of infection begin to rise again, governors, especially in certain states, will again turn their attention to placing the control and eradication of AIDS on the state agendas.
In some ways, governors’ state of the state addresses are very individualized. In them, the governors often recognize family members and public officials to publicly express their gratitude. They reflect on and describe the positive accomplishments of their time as governor. They describe the state of the state, that is, the condition of its economy and industry. They also honor individuals who have made important contributions to the state. In addition to such reflection on the current conditions of the state, governors typically identify remaining problems and outline proposed solutions in hopes the legislatures will take them on. Governors normally limit their agendas to a few key items. But some governors do not follow this pattern. They instead offer a laundry list of issues for the legislature to consider. Usually, it seems that governors are better off to limit the number of items on their wish list because the attention span of legislatures is rather short and because legislators also have their own priorities to pursue (Ferguson and Barth 2002).
Topics addressed by governors are also predictable in certain regards. For example, states with common regional attachments share common problems. Because of these common problems, the priorities of governors within a region will be similar. Western governors often must focus attention on their states’ water supplies. Southern state governors might focus on the region wide problems in public education.
Party or ideological attachments also influence which issues governors choose to address. For instance, Republican governors may be more likely to address problems of crime and punishment. Other issues might span party and ideology divides, such as economic development. Yet even among the issues that cross party lines, party and ideological differences might arise in terms of the answers advocated by the governors.
Not only do governors often address similar public problems, they also tend to offer similar solutions to these problems. An examination of state of the state addresses in 1994 found that all but nine of the fifty governors discussed crime in them. Eleven of these governors advocated mandatory sentencing laws (often called “three strikes and you’re out” laws). Nineteen governors pointed to guns as a primary cause for crime and proposed some sort of restriction on the possession or sale of these weapons to try to address the dangers. Thirty-eight of the fifty governors discussed the state education system in their state of the state address. Governors across the states identified similar problems in education and remarkably similar solutions. Several governors talked about giving local schools more control. Thirty-two governors discussed the need to reform health care, especially health care programs for the poor and elderly. Similarities can be observed across the other major policy areas addressed by the governors (Ferguson 2003).
State of the state addresses, therefore, offers a critical opportunity for governors to set the legislative agenda for the states. Legislators look to these speeches for indications of the governors’ goals. However governors hope to do more through these speeches. They attempt to use them to convince the legislature not only that a certain problem needs to be addressed but also that their own solution is the best alternative. The state of the state speech seems somewhat less successful for governors in regard to this more specific goal of policy formation (Ferguson 2003).
Executive Branch Reorganization
The power to reorganize the bureaucracy, a power possessed by governors in half of the states, is most useful in terms of the chief executive role. This power allows governors to organize the people and offices of the executive branch in such a way that the bureaucracy is more responsive to political control. Organizational structures definitely can affect the flow of information, the choices that are offered to decision makers, and the decisions ultimately made by those responsible.
State bureaucracies typically developed in a rather haphazard manner. The executive branch in most states has grown gradually as agencies were created to address new problems. As a result, the responsibilities of agencies are often poorly defined, and multiple agencies sometimes share overlapping responsibilities. In addition, agencies that probably should be grouped together because of shared functional responsibilities often refuse to merge or cooperate with other related agencies. Because of all of these concerns, governors often hope to organize the bureaucracies so that they are more manageable.
However, reorganizing state executive agencies is not merely an administrative task. The choices involved are very politically charged. Administrative agencies affect many different groups, and each agency invariably favors some of the participants over others. Rearranging the structure may therefore increase the power of some groups over others. This outcome is precisely the goal of governors attempting to rearrange such agencies. Governors hope to appoint those favorable to their programs to head the departments in charge of administering those programs. Placing such supporters in these positions is critical for governors, who cannot possibly exercise constant supervision over these administrators.
Reformers long sought to give the governors this power so as to place them at the top of the state bureaucracy. When governors organize the state bureaucracy to suit their goals and preferences, they should also have greater influence over the decisions and actions of these bureaucracies. Since 1965, more than twenty states have significantly reorganized their bureaucracies. In more than half of the states, governors can initiate organizational changes that will take effect unless the legislature objects in a specified period of time. However, this power is not unlimited. Legislatures do have the ability to object, and they often decide to do so. Administrators and clientele groups outside of government that will be directly affected by the reorganization may also lobby the legislature to overturn the governor’s decisions. Even in the twenty-three states that have given their governors power to reorganize by executive order (subject to veto by one or both chambers of the legislature), the governors have rarely used this power. Instead, they tend to seek legislative approval for such dramatic changes, which means that governors must work very closely with legislators to succeed in the hard work of building coalitions to get their reorganization proposals passed.
Governors often hope to reorganize the state bureaucracy at the outset of their administrations. They believe that such organization can help them to get a handle on the apparatus of government and lead it in the desired direction. Moving early is smart be cause the beginning of a term is often when the governor is most successful with the legislature. Moving quickly might also minimize the ability of opponents to organize against the governor’s plan.
A quote from President Dwight Eisenhower sums up the importance of this role: “Organization cannot make a genius out of an incompetent…on the other hand, disorganization can scarcely fail to result in inefficiency and can easily lead to disaster” (quoted in Greensteth 1988, 83).
When talking about the power of the governor, it is natural to speak of the formal powers. These are powers that come with the office itself, either because the Constitution provides them to the governor or because the state has passed laws giving the governor such powers. Accordingly, observers have long talked about strong and weak governors and compared one state’s governors to others based on these powers. However, a host of other factors affect how powerful a governor will be. Many governors have managed to exert quite a lot of power even though they were serving in an office with very limited formal powers. How did they succeed in being powerful when the office was weak? They pulled power from sources outside the office itself. Since such resources do not come with the office, they are referred to as informal powers. Informal powers differ substantially from one governor to another, rather than from one state to the next. Some informal powers have to do with the person who holds the office. Each man or woman who becomes governor has certain knowledge, skills, and personality traits that will help in the performance of the job. These ideas about informal powers are some times harder for researchers to discuss because they are less concrete than formal powers. One cannot read the law or the constitution to determine how powerful the governor will be in an informal sense, Instead, one has to know more about the person in the office and the context or situation he or she is in to understand why some governors succeed without significant formal powers and, conversely, why some governors with substantial formal powers nevertheless fail.
Personal and Professional Characteristics of the Governor
Obviously, the people who hold the office of governor are individuals with strengths and weaknesses goals and aspirations. They have knowledge and skills and experiences that they can put to use in the governor’s office. Each of these factors may also affect which parts of the job the governor most enjoys and spends the most time on. They may also influence how successful the governor manages to be in his or her many endeavors.
Some governors truly love the legislative role. They enjoy the game of politics, the maneuvering, and negotiating with the legislatures. Others dislike this aspect of the job, preferring instead the managerial role or even the role as head of state. Governors who crave the excitement or the give-and-take of the legislative arena will spend more time and effort on that and probably achieve greater success. They may spend less time on other elements of the job. Having a particularly good personal relationship with the legislature might actually help the governor to succeed at being chief legislator. Being well liked, admired, and respected by state legislators might help a governor to succeed in the legislative arena. Similarly, some governors are more interested in being a manager of the state. This interest may lead to greater attention to this role and a willingness to invest the time and energy necessary to succeed in what is often the hardest part of the job. This dedication may lead to greater achievements for the governor.
For some politicians, arriving at the governor’s mansion is their ultimate goal. They may hope to serve a single term in the governor’s office or, more likely, to serve as many terms as the law allows. Others may hope to run for the U.S. Senate or for the presidency down the road. Such ambitions will have an effect on how a governor behaves in office. Governors with goals of seeking reelection or higher elective office might have reason to be more active in the pursuit of policy they believe important to their electorates. This attitude might also result in greater success for governors. Conversely, the ambition for seeking higher office may make governors wary of failure in the legislative arena, which could result in a lesser emphasis on policy formulation activities (though it may result in a greater emphasis on agenda setting).
Choices that governors make before or during their time in office might also help or hurt their chances for success. For example, when a governor is involved in scandals, he or she will probably not do as well in any of the roles of the office. His or her bargaining position with members of the legislature will likely be compromised. And members of legislatures might feel free to oppose scandal-ridden governors or even want to avoid being associated with them (Ferguson 2003).
Skill and Experience
Doing a good job across the many roles of the governorship is a difficult assignment, requiring a great deal of knowledge, skill, and perseverance. Nearly every governor approaching the job for the first time feels under-prepared. Governors must know a lot about a lot of things, and they have very little time to learn on the job. A governor who assumes office with a bigger bank of skills will be able to move into the job more quickly and easily.
For some, the governorship is the first elected position. That is not true for most governors, however. Instead, the majority have served in other elective offices and perhaps in private positions as well. This prior experience teaches them myriad different skills that will be of help in the governor’s office. Thus, being a legislator would help to develop knowledge about how government in the state works. So governors who were formerly in the state legislature probably know more about the workings of the lawmaking systems. Legislative experience may also mean that the governor still has some friends in the legislature, which would also help in the role as chief legislator. Some governors already have experience in the executive branch, perhaps having served previously as lieutenant governor or attorney general.
This experience does not mean that these governors know all there is to know when they are first elected, but it most likely does give them a leg up over those who go straight to the governor’s mansion. The skills and experience a governor brings to the office will surely impact his or her ability to do the job.
Personal traits may also be important. Some governors are exceptionally persuasive. Some are charismatic and likable. Some have very forceful personalities all of these facets of a governor’s personality can be used in doing the many jobs of the office.
Governors draw some sources of power from outside themselves and their office. Many observers think that being well liked by the public helps a governor in the many roles he or she plays. Popularity is especially important for the chief legislator and head of state roles because of the importance of the public (and the public’s desires) to these roles.
The popularity of governors always varies over time. A state’s citizens will feel more positive about their governor in certain periods and less so in others. Generally, popularity is highest just after election, and then it declines over time. Certain events or action may encourage the public to be more supportive of the governor, but many events also diminish a governor’s popularity. Unfortunately for the governors, they do not have much control over how popular they are: there are very few things they can do to influence how the public views them. However, they can certainly try to use their popularity to their advantage. It is not entirely clear what leads some governors to be more popular than others. Personality may have something to do with it. The state of the economy may as well. Social upheaval, such as events that occurred during the civil rights movement, probably leads to lower levels of popular support, while decisive action on the part of the governor probably improves his or her standing.
Having the support of the public is important for governors as they work in the legislative arena. Being unpopular can surely hurt a governor who is trying to negotiate with the legislature. This may be because legislators do not want to be associated with the policies of an unpopular governor. Low public approval of a governor gives legislators who want to oppose the governor a greater opening to do so. Even more serious for the governor, being unpopular may actually cause legislators to oppose his or her goals because they do not want to be associated with an unpopular governor. By contrast, popularity might rally the public in favor of a governor’s proposals. The people may be encouraged to contact their legislators on behalf of the governor, and this might in turn convince a legislator to support a governor’s goals.
Another way of looking at the importance of the relationship between the governor and the people is to ask whether the governor can claim a mandate from the public. Unlike popularity, which remains important throughout a governor’s term, mandates are only had immediately after an election. Governors claim that they campaigned to and were elected by the people in the entire state. Since the voters elected the governor, they are behind his or her goals. Further, if the election shows that the people are behind the governor, then the legislature should be, too—at least, this is the claim governors make. They often assert that they have a mandate from the people to pursue their priorities and that the legislature should follow suit.
None of the members of the legislature were elected by the whole state, so none of them can claim that the whole state is behind them. This fact of political life can be a potent source of informal power. However, there are many reasons to be skeptical about such a claim. When people vote for a candidate for governor (or for any official), they have many reasons for doing so. They may simply strongly dislike one candidate and wish to vote against that person. They may really like one or two of the ideas of the chosen candidate but dislike many others. Because of such factors, strictly speaking, there is no way to know whether the fact that a majority of voters chose one candidate means that they are also behind all of the ideas of that candidate. Nevertheless, governors attempt to convince the legislature and other state officials that such a statement of support for the governor is exactly the message the voters were sending in the election.
Governors who win their positions by large margins at the polls are more likely to convince members of the legislature they have a mandate from the people to go after their goals. Under these circumstances, legislators may feel that the public is in support of the governor’s agenda, a perception that might encourage the legislature to support the governor’s proposals as well.
Members of the legislature, of course, represent only a single district of typically a few thousand people, while the governor can claim the whole state as his or her “district.” This difference of constituency may make legislators vulnerable to governors’ claims of mandates. A governor who was not actually elected cannot claim a mandate. If a sitting governor dies in office, someone else must take over. In most states, the lieutenant governor steps into the post. Governors who succeed to the office after some particularly divisive event, such as the indictment or impeachment of the incumbent governor, will likely have a more difficult time than those succeeding due to the death of the incumbent. Governors in this latter situation may actually benefit from the goodwill of the people who are grieving over the loss of the elected governor.
The Governor and the Media
It goes without saying that the invention of new types of media has changed American life. The development of radio and then television and now the Internet (and who knows what tomorrow?) has had a very powerful effect on politics and government. The media, especially visual media such as television, tend to focus on stories that are easy to convey in short periods of time. Television news tends to shy away from covering legislatures, since the lawmaking process is so complicated. But a single figure, such as the president or the governor, is easier to examine and discuss.
The growth in television media has helped the chief executives (both the president and the governors) to rise to the center of public attention. For the governor, this is helpful in many different ways, especially within the chief legislator role. Media coverage gives the governor a way of communicating with the public and with other governmental actors. It also sends other less concrete messages to these observers. The media reinforce the idea that the governor is the state’s leader. This reinforcement feeds into the governor’s future attempts to lead. Looking like a leader on television helps the governor to be a leader in the state.
The media seem particularly preoccupied with the governor because he or she is a single actor who is easy to follow around and report about. Governors are also the topic of media attention because they serve an entire state. Though there are other officials in the states who are also elected statewide by the voters, these figures do not carry as much responsibility as the governor, and their jobs are less clearly related to the lives of most people in the state. So the voters tend to think of the governor as a pivotal leader, and the media in turn focus on the governor more than on any other state official.
Governors are very aware of the opportunity the media offer them in their efforts to reach the public and other government officials. In addition to reinforcing the image of the governor as a leader, the media may help them to send more specific messages. The message might be that some problem, such as poor educational performance in the public schools, is a major dilemma facing the state. Governors can use public speeches, press conferences, and interviews with specific reporters to get the word out about their key concerns. When a governor makes a speech or gives an interview, the public gets to hear directly from that individual. Also, the governor has the stage, so there are no other actors competing at that moment to get their ideas heard. In addition, no other actor has the access to the media that the governor has, and this gives the governor a great opportunity to put issues on the agenda.
Next, having directed the attention of the public (and other public officials) to a problem in the state, the governor will typically move to a specific proposal. The governor mentioned in the last paragraph who used the media to attract attention to students failing in the public schools may now want to convince the public that the way to fix that problem is to set stricter standards for teacher education. This step moves the process beyond merely identifying a problem: the governor is trying to define the solution as well. The media provide the governor with an outlet for these efforts.
When governors use the media, they are most likely to be targeting their message to the public. The governors hope that if the public is on their side, then the state legislature will be, too. If the governor can reach out to the voters and convince them, then the voters will (hopefully) contact and convince their legislators that the governor’s goals are right for the state and should be pursued. Clearly, the governor has the attention of the public more than any other state official, and this is largely due to media coverage. It is also quite likely that using the media helps the governor to set the agenda and encourage other state actors to look into problems that the governor identifies. But it is less likely that the media will stimulate the public to head to their Phones (or their computers) to contact their legislators. Relatively few voters contact their legislators in any case, and they are not all that likely to do so at the governor’s request. However, there may be times when the governor does succeed in motivating the public to assist in this way. If any state actor can encourage such a movement among the citizens, it would be the governor; given the unique access he or she has to the media.
Media exposure has broad implications for the governor. It helps the governor to exercise many of the other informal powers he or she possesses. For instance, media coverage is the mechanism that helps the governor to generate popular support, to get the attention of the legislature, and to remind other governmental actors of the governor’s goals. In fact, access to the media helps the governor pursue nearly all of the roles of the office.
Modern governors possess many formal powers, and they come to office with a variety of informal resources that they may also put to use in performing the multiple roles they play. A governor who skillfully employs the right combination of these resources can succeed in the office, but not all governors manage to do so. The powers of the office and the skills of the person holding it do not fully explain why some governors succeed and others fail. The presence of numerous other actors, both inside and outside of government, who have their own goals and responsibilities, also affects the ability of governors to succeed at their jobs. These features of the larger political environment are discussed in Chapter 5.
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