Powers and Powers of Governors - National Association of Governors (2023)

Powers and Powers of Governors - National Association of Governors (1)


The popularly elected governors serve as the chief executive officers of the 55 states, commonwealths and territories of the United States.

As state administrators, governors are responsible for enforcing state laws and overseeing the functioning of the state executive branch. As heads of state, governors promote and track new and revised policies and programs using a variety of tools, including executive orders, executive budgets and vetoes, and legislative proposals. As heads of state, governors act on behalf of the state as the intergovernmental liaison to the federal government.

Governors carry out their managerial and leadership responsibilities and objectives with the support and assistance of department and agency heads, many of whom have the authority to appoint them. Most governors also have the power to appoint state court judges, in most cases from a list of names presented by a nominating committee.

On this page

  • Ratings and tenures
  • legislative role
  • appointing power
  • power of grace
  • Executive Orders and Regulatory Authority
  • Emergency powers and civil protection
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Although governors share many roles and responsibilities, the extent of governmental powers varies from state to state in accordance with state constitutions, laws, and traditions, and political historians and other observers of state policy often classify governors as governors by the number and extent of their powers. Ranking factors may include the following.

  • Ratings and tenures
  • Legislative authority, including budget and veto power
  • power of appointment
  • leniency authority

While not necessarily a ranking factor, the power to issue executive orders and take emergency action is a significant governmental responsibility that varies from state to state.

Ratings and tenures


States, commonwealths, and territories differ in minimum age, U.S. citizenship, and state residency requirements for gubernatorial candidates and incumbents. The minimum age for governors ranges from no formal provision to 35 years. U.S. citizenship requirements for gubernatorial candidates range from no formal disposition to 20 years of age. State residency requirements range from no formal determination to 7 years.

Term Limits

The governor's term is four years in all states, commonwealths and territories except New Hampshire and Vermont, which have two-year terms. All governors except Virginia are self-successful, although they may be limited to a specific number of consecutive or cumulative terms.

For information on each state's governor qualifications, see "The governors: requirements for the position(Table 4.2, The Book of States 2021, Source: The Council of States Governments).

For information on each state's term limits, see the NGAGovernor List, and "Constitutional and statutory provisions governing the number of consecutive terms held by state-elected officials(Table 4.9, The Book of States 2021, Source: The Council of States Governments).


In the event of a vacancy in office, the Lieutenant Governor is the designated successor to the Governor in 49 states and territories (in two of which, Tennessee and West Virginia, the President/Senate Speaker and Lieutenant Governor are one and the Lieutenant Governor is the same). In the remaining 5 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, officers appointed to succeed the governor include the secretary of state and the chairman of the senate.

For state information on the probate see “Governor(Table 4.1, The Book of States 2021, Source: The Council of Governments of the States). For more information on lieutenant governors and other executive branch officers, see the Appointing Powers section below.

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The impeachment process

All states except Oregon provide for the removal of governors. As in the case of the federal government, impeachment begins with the lower body of the legislature, and the process is conducted by the higher body in all states except Alaska, where the process is reversed, and Nebraska, which has an impeachable unicameral legislature. with the full impeachment process. In most cases, impeachment requires a majority of members, while a conviction usually requires a two-thirds or other special majority.

In the event of a governor's impeachment, the lieutenant governor serves as the acting governor in the vast majority of states. For state information on the impeachment process, see “Impeachment Laws in the States(Table 4.8, The Book of States 2021, Source: The Council of State Governments). See the Appointing Powers section below for more information on Lieutenant Governors.

Governors play three major roles in relation to the state legislature. First, they can propose legislation and convey political priorities, often through a state of the state speech. Second, they can be empowered to convene extraordinary legislative sessions, provided that in most cases the purpose and agenda of the sessions are determined in advance. Third, and better known, governors coordinate and collaborate with state legislatures on:

  • approval of government budgets and appropriations;
  • passage or veto of government legislation;
  • confirmation of executive and judicial appointments; Y
  • Legislative oversight of executive branch functions.

legislative role

Approval of state budgets and funds

Governors develop and submit annual or biennial budgets for review and approval by the Legislature. In several states, commonwealths and territories, governors also have a "reduction" veto power, usually called a "position," which can be used to remove funds that they object to. These tools allow governors and their budget staff to play an important role in prioritizing the use of government resources. For state information on the state budget and line item veto power, see “The governors: powers(Table 4.4, The Book of States 2021, Source: The Council of States Governments).

passing of laws

Governors often use state-of-the-state news to outline their legislative platforms, and many governors prepare specific legislative proposals that they introduce on their behalf. In addition, state departments and agencies can initiate legislative initiatives with the approval of the governor. Executive branch officials are often called upon to testify on proposed legislation, and governors and other executive branch officials will seek to mobilize public opinion and interest groups for or against particular legislative proposals.

Every law passed by the state legislature is submitted to the governor for signature. State law dictates how much time the governor is allotted to sign off or veto proposed legislation after it is broadcast. Laws may be enacted after the statutory deadline without the governor's signature. Different rules may apply depending on whether the state is in a regular legislature, after a legislature recess, or in a special session.

Governors can use their role as party leaders to build support for legislative initiatives and, along with department heads and staff, can seek to influence the progress of legislation through regular meetings with legislators, lawmakers, and other interested parties.

right of veto

The governors of all 50 states have the right to veto entire legislative measures. In the vast majority of states, a bill becomes law if the governor does not veto it within a certain number of days, which varies from state to state. In a smaller number of states, bills are dead (pocket veto) unless they are also officially signed into law by the governor within a certain number of days. Other types of vetoes available to some states' governors are "line item" (where a governor can remove a general item from a statute), "reduction" (where a governor can remove an item from the budget), and "amendable “. (through which a governor can revise laws). Legislatures can overrule vetoes, usually by voting with a supermajority.

For state information on veto rights, see “The governors: powers“ (Table 4.4,The State Book 2021, Source: State Council of Governments) and “Legislation enacted: veto, veto override and effective date“ (Tab. 3.16,The State Book 2021, Source: State Council of Governments).

confirmation of appointments

Many gubernatorial appointments require statutory endorsement. For more information, see the Power of Attorney section below and "Selected civil servants: selection process“ (Table 4.10,The State Book 2021, Source: State Council of Governments).

Legal Oversight

Governors work with their legislatures to ensure that their priorities, goals, and achievements are accurately presented in oversight hearings and other legislative activities that address and evaluate the executive branch's implementation of programs and services required by the legislation and be received positively.

appointing power

Governor's Appointments: Overview

Most governors have broad powers to appoint officers to positions in the state executive branch, many of whom will serve on the governor's advisory committee, known as the "cabinet." Governors may also be empowered to appoint state judges. These appointments are often subject to confirmation by one or both chambers of the Landtag. While this is often pro forma in nature, lawmakers can use the confirmation process related to executive branch appointments to broaden their influence over governors and their policies. As a result, many governors consult with major lawmakers before making formal nominations.

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For state information on state officer selection processes, see"Selected State Administrators: Selection Process"(Table 4.10,The State Book 2021, Source: State Council of Governments).

bodies and commissions

The roles played by boards and commissions vary widely by state and program. In some states, appointed boards have primary responsibility for individual programs and agencies and are responsible for selecting department and agency heads. This is particularly true in education, but boards retain responsibility for a wide range of other programs in areas such as labor, transportation, and health and social services.

In many states, the members of these boards are appointed or nominated by the governor. And in many of these cases, board members must be confirmed by one or both houses of the legislature.

Other bodies play a more limited regulatory or advisory role. In most states, boards oversee the licensing and regulation of many professions and businesses. In other states, they advise the governor on important areas such as the environment and economic development.

While the abolition and/or consolidation of boards and commissions is a common focus of government efficiency and government restructuring initiatives, they still play a prominent role in state government as they provide opportunities to address issues of particular concern and reward supporters.

Independently selected executive branch positions

A large number of states provide for independent selection of certain executive posts. The most notable among these positions are the Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and Treasurer.

The office of lieutenant governor exists in the vast majority of states, where the office is most commonly held by state elections by the people and jointly with the governor, although in a small number of cases state law assigns the role of lieutenant governor to another office. in the executive or legislature (e.g. state secretary or senate chairperson). The offices of Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Treasurer are elected by federal vote in most states, with at least one of the three being elected in most other states. The governors of five states (Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Wyoming) appoint the state attorney general.

Governors generally have limited powers to appoint state inspectors and heads of pre- and post-inspection departments. Governors' appointing powers are also limited with respect to heads of state education and higher education boards. The chief of education is independently elected nationally in 14 states and is appointed by a board of directors or agency chief independently of governor approval in 20 states and two territories. In most states and territories, the director of higher education is appointed by a board independently of the governor's approval.

Several states also provide for statewide election of one or more department heads, including utility supervisors and department heads for agriculture, labor, and natural resources.

As with governors, other state elected positions may be subject to age, citizenship and residency requirements, and term limits.

For state data on the joint election of governors and lieutenant governors, see"Die Governor"(Table 4.1,The State Book 2021, Source: State Council of Governments).

For state information on state officer selection processes, see"Selected State Administrators: Selection Process"(Table 4.10,The State Book 2021, Source: State Council of Governments).

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For state information on eligibility requirements for state officials, see“Constitutional and Statutory Provisions Relating to the Number of Consecutive Term of Office of Elected State Officials”(Table 4.9,The State Book 2021, Source: State Council of Governments).


Governors are charged by their state constitutions with the responsibility of ensuring that laws are faithfully carried out by the many individuals and organizations that make up the executive branch. Day-to-day administrative tasks are delegated to state agencies overseen by the governor. State cabinets, which serve as advisory councils to the nation's governors, generally consist of officers appointed by the governor to direct state departments and agencies, and in some cases senior staffers in the governor's immediate office. In most states, the closet serves two functions:

  • advises the governor on policy development; Y
  • serves as a vehicle for the governor or senior staff to communicate priorities to the governor's commissioners and to address inter-agency issues or concerns.

In several states, governors have created sub-cabinets to bring agencies together to address issues such as children's needs.

Forty-four states and all commonwealths and territories have cabinets and/or sub-cabinets. The cabinets themselves may have their origins in law, tradition and/or at the discretion of the governor. Cabinet membership can be by appointment to a specific position or chosen by the governor. The size of the cabinet and the frequency of cabinet meetings, as well as the formality and extent to which a governor uses his cabinet for advice and assistance, vary among states, free states, and territories.

For information on state-by-state cabinets, see"State Cabinet Systems"(Table 4.6,The State Book 2021, Source: State Council of Governments).

power of grace

Pardon is a general term that refers to various mechanisms that allow for the remission of the consequences of a crime that has been committed. Virtually all state constitutions authorize the governor or a parole board to grant clemency, although the terminology, procedure, and structure can vary widely from state to state. Generally, clemency authorities refer to the following executive powers:

  • A pardon is an official cancellation of the legal consequences of a crime. The granting of a pardon by the governor or the formal parole board can restore civil rights to benefits rendered to the state, such as the right to vote, the right to bear arms, or the ability to serve in the military.
  • Commutation shortens an individual's sentence. If a commutation reduces a person's sentence to time served, it will result in that person's release. Upon release, a person whose sentence has been commuted may remain under community supervision or may be released without continued supervision.
  • A pardon suspends a person's sentence or temporarily delays the imposition or resumption of a sentence, including for a person sentenced to death.

Executive Orders and Regulatory Authority

Understanding how state constitutions and laws specify the characteristics of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches is important and can help defuse disputes over the separation of powers. Although the scope varies from state to state, governors generally have broad executive authority to act in their states. These agencies are removed by executive branch orders or proclamations and government regulatory processes.

implementing regulations

The power of governors to make executive orders is found in state and federal constitutions, case law, or is implicit in the powers of heads of state. Governors use executive orders, some of which are subject to statutory review in some states, for a variety of purposes, including:

  • triggering emergency powers and related responses to natural disasters, weather events, energy crises, public health emergencies, mass casualties and other situations requiring immediate attention;
  • set up advisory, coordinating, study or research committees or commissions;
  • establish or reorganize government agencies, boards and commissions;
  • deal with administrative and management issues of the executive branch, such as B. Regulatory reforms, environmental impacts, hiring freezes, discrimination and intergovernmental coordination; Y
  • other actions within the executive authority of the governor, including announcing/defining government priorities and initiatives.

Depending on state agencies, governors may also issue an executive order or proclamation to declare special elections to fill vacancies in specific elected offices. For state-by-state information on governors' power to issue executive orders, see"Government Regulations: Authorization, Provisions, Procedures"(Table 4.5,The State Book 2021, Source: State Council of Governments).

Regulatory Approvalority

The executive branch executes laws passed by state legislatures, and state agencies, departments, or bodies are often directed to make rules and regulations to implement those laws. Legislative processes for rulemaking vary widely from state to state. In many states, the offices of the governor have established processes to coordinate and oversee these rule releases to ensure that the rules adopted by departments and agencies reflect the governor's priorities and philosophy.

Emergency powers and civil protection

As chief executive, governors are responsible for ensuring that their state is adequately prepared for emergencies and disasters of all shapes and sizes. Most emergencies and disasters are handled locally, and few require a presidential disaster declaration or attract global media attention. However, governors must be prepared for everyday events—tornadoes, floods, power outages, industrial fires, and hazardous materials spills—as well as for disasters on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hurricane Katrina, or the September 11 terrorist attack. Attacks States focus on four phases of disaster or emergency management:

  • Prepare
  • Impede
  • responder
  • Recall

These components provide a useful rubric for reflecting on the cycle of disasters and emergencies and organizing recommendations for government action. During an emergency, the governor also plays a key role in communicating with the public during an emergency, providing advice and direction, and maintaining public order and calm.

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emergency powers

The governor's emergency powers, typically activated by the implementation of a state declaration of emergency or disaster, provide governors with opportunities to improve skills, coordination, and collaboration between state and local agencies. They also give states flexibility to respond to urgent circumstances, including reallocating state and federal funds. In addition, emergency declarations allow governors to temporarily change their state's legal, regulatory, and legal framework to respond more quickly to the changing nature of an emergency.

While statutes vary, all states give the governor the authority to declare one or more types of emergency, including a disaster or public health emergency. State laws determine how these legal statements are made, duration limitations, legislative involvement, and other potential limitations. In some cases, the necessary response to a disaster exceeds the capabilities of state and local governments. A state can ask the President to declare a major disaster. The declaration of a major catastrophe triggers different federal programs depending on the extent of the catastrophe and the type of damage suffered.

national guard

When National Guard units are not under federal control, governors are the commanders and chiefs of state militias with responsibility for protecting the safety of states' citizens. A governor may send the National Guard on active duty to respond to domestic emergencies such as riots or mass casualty incidents and disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. The governors exercise control through the state aides-de-camp.


1. A Conversation with Chairman of the National Governors Association
(Commonwealth Club of California)
2. The President and Vice President Speak to the National Governors Association
(The Obama White House)
3. WATCH LIVE: North Carolina governor offers update on power outage from shooting attacks
(PBS NewsHour)
4. Attack on North Carolina power facility a "new level of threat," governor says
(CBS News)
5. WATCH LIVE: Trump addresses the National Governors Association
(PBS NewsHour)
6. Republican governors' message to Biden: Stop trying to rescue us
(Fox News)


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