In all states, the governor is directly elected, and in most cases has considerable practical powers (notable exceptions with very weak governorships include Texas), though this may be moderated by the state legislature and in some cases by other elected executive officials. They can veto state bills. The specific duties and powers vary widely between states.
The chart below is a breakdown of the political parties pertaining to the state executive office of governor. For other state executive offices, click here.
(Updated Prior to 2011 General elections)
In 36 states, governors are subject to some type of term limits. Though many of these term limits are initially set by state constitutions, there are a growing number of ballot initiatives to change, and in some cases create, term limits.
Fourteen states do not have any limits on the number of terms a governor may serve. These states include:
- Main article: How gubernatorial vacancies are filled
Each state has some constitutionally prescribed method for filling vacancies in the office of governor. In the 43 states with a lieutenant governor, that individual is the first in the line of succession, with the notable exception of Arkansas. Whether additional offices in the line of succession are named in the constitution or by statute varies among states.
Among those 7 states without a lieutenant governor, the primary successor to the governor varies. Officers first in line to succeed the governor in case of a vacancy are:
- The president of the state senate in three states (Maine, West Virginia, Arkansas).
- The secretary of state in three other states (Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming).
- The speaker of the senate in one state (Tennessee).
Overall, the constitutional rules for who comes second in line for the governor's seat are much more complex than that of first in line. Common second-in-lines include:
- The President of the Senate (Pro Tempore)
- The Speaker of the House
- The Secretary of State
However, 7 states leave the decision specifically law and another 7 states decline any mention. This map shows who is a generalized version of who is second in line to fill vacancies in the office of governor in each state according to state constitutions.
For more details regarding how gubernatorial vacancies are filled, click here.
Elected or appointed
The office of the Governor is a constitutionally mandated office in all states. It is additionally statewide, directly elected, and part of the Executive branch in all 50 states.
There are limited cases when the position is filled by someone who was not elected:
- Acting Governor: This term, not used in all states, applies to someone serving as governor who was not elected. When used, it applies to someone, often the Lieutenant Governor, temporarily discharging the office due to the short-term inability of the Governor to do so. Usually, if the elected Governor's inability to serve is permanent, her replacement will simply be addressed as 'Governor'.
- Governor-designate: This term is rarely in use. It applies when there is a planned or anticipated vacancy in the governorship. For instance, in 2010, North Dakota's elected Governor, John Hoeven, won a U.S. Senate seat. As 2010 was not a gubernatorial election year for North Dakota, when Hoeven won his race and prepared to leave the Governor's office, he had to make an appointment to fulfill the gubernatorial term. Hoeven named his Lieutenant Governor, Jack Dalrymple, who had the title of Governor-designate from Election Night 2010 until he actually took the gubernatorial Oath of Office the following month.
- Governor-elect: This term applies to an elected governor who has not yet taken the oath of office. Governors-elect do not yet have any of the powers or duties of the office, though they may be accorded some of the privileges and honors in anticipation of their taking office.
- Main article: Gubernatorial elections, 2011
Three states, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi, have scheduled gubernatorial elections in the 2011 electoral cycle. A fourth state, West Virginia, will hold a special election following a court order.
Kentucky and Louisiana will see their incumbents, Kentucky Democrat Steve Beshear and Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal, seek to retain their seats while Mississippi's Haley Barbour is prevented by term limits from running for re-election. In West Virginia, appointed Governor pro tem Earl Ray Tomblin will seek to hold the seat.
As one of America's most popular governors, Jindal is expected to retain his seat while Mississippi, despite being an open seat, is considered to favor a GOP hold. In Kentucky, Beshear is facing a slightly tougher battle for re-election. West Virginia is shaping up to be wild card of the 2011 gubernatorial season, with a long slate of candidates and a shortened primary season.
However, many race watchers still think 2011's races could end without any net change in how many governorships each party holds.
- Main article: Gubernatorial elections, 2010
Thirty-seven gubernatorial elections took place on November 2, 2010. That added up to the largest block of states to choose governors in a single election year. Leading immediately into the 2011 Congressional reapportionment, the gubernatorial races became intensely contested. Four states that make up almost one-fourth of the entire U.S. House of Representatives - California, Florida, Texas, and New York were all in play.
In 15 of the seats up for election, the incumbent could not run again because of term limits, leaving 22 seats guaranteed to be open to non-incumbents. Of the incumbent but limited-out governors, 8 were Democratic and 7, Republican. When incumbents did choose to run, the primaries were good to them. Only in Nevada did an incumbent seeing re-election lose his own party's primary. (One of the term-limited governors, Dave Freudenthal in Wyoming, at one point indicated he planned to challenge his state's term limits law; while he did win his legal battle to have the state's term limits invalidated, he eventually declined to run for a third term.)