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In the United States, the title governor refers to the chief executive of each state or insular territory, not directly subordinate to the federal authorities, but the political and ceremonial head of the state.

Role and powers

See also: Seals of Governors of the U.S. States and Flags of Governors of the U.S. States

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

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

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

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

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


Main article: Colonial government in the Thirteen Colonies

In colonial America, when the governor was the representative of the monarch who exercised executive power, many colonies originally indirectly elected their governors, choosing them through the colonial legislatures, but in the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War, the Crown began to appoint them directly. During the American Revolution, all royal governors except for Jonathan Trumbull fled or were expelled, but the title of governor was retained to denote the new elected official.

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



State Governors by political party.


There are currently 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, and 1 Independent serving as state governors. Two Democrats and two Republicans also occupy territorial governorships, while the governor of the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands belongs to the local Covenant Party. No other third parties hold a Governorship.


The longest-serving current governor is Rick Perry of Texas, who was sworn in on December 21, 2000. The newest governor is Phil Bryant of Mississippi, who was sworn in on January 10, 2012.

In the majority of states, term limits cap a governor's tenure.


The oldest current governor is Jerry Brown, 74, of California. The youngest currently serving governor is Nikki Haley of South Carolina, at age 40.

The youngest person to ever serve as a governor in the United States was Stevens T. Mason of the Michigan Territory, elected in 1835 having just turned 24. Mason would later become the first governor of the state of Michigan when it was admitted to the Union in January 1837, when he was 25. Mason was re-elected in November 1837, then age 26.[2]

The second youngest governor ever elected was J. Neely Johnson of California, when he was elected in 1855 at the age of 30, and the third youngest governor was Harold Stassen of Minnesota, when he was elected in 1938 at age 31.[3] When President Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas in 1978 at age 32, he became the youngest governor since Stassen.

In most states the minimum age of the governor is either 25 or 30.

State Governors by religious preference.


Main article: List of female state governors in the United States

There are currently 44 male and 6 female governors. All five territorial governors are men.

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

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

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

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

Race and ethnicity

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

Among the five U.S. territories, one Hispanic (Luis G. Fortuño of Puerto Rico), one black (John de Jongh of the U.S. Virgin Islands), and three Pacific Islander Americans (Benigno R. Fitial of the Northern Mariana Islands, Eddie Calvo of Guam, and Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa) currently serve as governor.


21 of the current state governors were born outside the state they are serving. State constitutions have varying requirements for the length of citizenship and residency of the governor but unlike the President, state governors do not need to be natural-born citizens.

Physical Disability

Two legally blind governors have served: Bob C. Riley, who was governor of Arkansas for eleven days in January 1975, and David Paterson, who was governor of New York from 2008 until 2010.


The average salary of a state governor in 2009 was $124,398. California currently offers the highest annual salary for a governor at $206,500. The highest salary currently being accepted is that of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at $179,000. The lowest salary is that of Maine Governor Paul LePage at $70,000. Only five states (California, New York, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia) currently offer their governors a higher salary than the $174,000 paid to members of Congress. In many states, the governor is not the highest-paid state employee.

Gubernatorial election timeline schedule

All states hold gubernatorial elections on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. The earliest possible date for the election is therefore November 2 (if that date falls on a Tuesday), and the latest possible date is November 8 (if November 1 falls on a Tuesday).

New Hampshire and Vermont

The other 48 states hold gubernatorial elections every four years.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Puerto Rico
Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi
New Jersey and Virginia

Term limits

Relationship with lieutenant governor

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

Arizona, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Wyoming
Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Tennessee and West Virginia
Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.
Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana,[4] Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Utah.

See also


  1. ^ [1] CRS Report for Congress, January 22, 2003
  2. ^ "Stevens Thomson Mason - Background Reading"
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ The current lieutenant governor in Montana is of a different party than the governor by choice of the governor.