A few days ago, I was asked a whole bunch of questions about the Presidential line of succession, Acting Presidents, the process for Presidential succession, and what happens in the case of multiple vacancies in the line of succession — as an example, if the offices of President, Vice President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate were all vacant and the official next in line to the Presidency (the Secretary of State) would have to assume the office of President.
Interestingly, this weekend here in my home State of California, there will be a rare display of the continuity of government process in action, featuring the position of Governor of California rather than the President of the United States.
The Sacramento Bee notes that California Governor Jerry Brown will be traveling to Mexico on an official trade and investment mission from Sunday afternoon until late Wednesday. Whenever the Governor is out of the state, the Lieutenant Governor takes charge of California as the Acting Governor, so Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom will serve in that role from the time of Governor Brown’s departure on Sunday until Tuesday morning, when Newsom will be leaving the state for business, as well.
With Governor Brown and Lieutenant Governor Newsom out of the state, the President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate (and fellow Sacramentan) Darrell Steinberg will assume the role of Acting Governor from Tuesday until Wednesday. Governor Brown is scheduled to return home to California on Wednesday, but not before Senator Steinberg also has a trip scheduled outside of California! When Governor Brown, Lieutenant Governor Newsom, and Senator Steinberg are all absent, the Speaker of the California State Assembly, Toni Atkins, will become Acting Governor of California for at least a few hours until Governor Brown finally arrives back from Mexico. Although Atkins will only spend a few quiet hours as Acting Governor on Wednesday, during that brief window of time, she’ll become the first openly lesbian Californian to serve in that role.
Interestingly, whenever the Governor of California is out of the state and the duties fall to the Acting Governor (usually the Lieutenant Governor), those duties are, technically, quite substantial. Traditionally, the Acting Governor does not take any dramatic action or alter the policy of the elected Governor while he or she is briefly absent from the state. However, during the Governor’s absence, the Acting Governor can actually issue executive orders, make political appointments, and sign or veto legislation. During Jerry Brown’s first stint as Governor of California (1975-1983), he decided to challenge Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic Presidential nomination and spent a significant amount of time outside of California while campaigning in other states. California’s Lieutenant Governor, Mike Curb, was a Republican and opposed to many of Brown’s policies. While Governor Brown campaigned out of state in his bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Lieutenant Governor Curb — serving as Acting Governor — vetoed legislation Brown had planned to sign, issued executive orders establishing different policies than that of Brown, and appointed Republicans, Brown opponents, and Curb loyalists to various political vacancies. When Governor Brown returned to California after his campaign-related absences from the state, he attempted to overturn Lieutenant Governor Curb’s actions while serving as Acting Governor, but the California Supreme Court ruled in Curb’s favor, deciding that the executive powers of the Governor’s office indeed devolved on to the Acting Governor (Curb) in the absence of the actual Governor (Brown) and it was within the rights of the Acting Governor to discharge those duties.
Fortunately for Brown, who is now serving his second stint as Governor, he likely won’t have to worry about his Gubernatorial duties being hijacked by the opposition during this week’s trade mission to Mexico like they were 35 years ago by his Republican Lieutenant Governor Mike Curb. This week’s four Governors in four days are all Democrats and Jerry Brown loyalists.
I’m not sure about the specifics, but I think a Governor of Kentucky was shot and killed right around the turn of the century (1900). And there was a former Governor of Idaho (or maybe Montana) who was killed by a bomb in his mailbox in the early-20th Century. I’m not sure about earlier Governors off the top of my head.
More famous, of course, (and more recent) are Texas Governor John Connally, who was nearly killed in the JFK assassination, and Alabama Governor George Wallace was shot and paralyzed while campaigning for President in Maryland in 1972.
A Governor’s office has definitely been a better launching pad for the Presidency — particularly in the last 40 years — than seeking the White House directly from either wing of the Capitol.
You’re correct about me not wanting to contribute to the beginning of the 2016 election cycle just yet and even the primaries are far enough away that it’s almost useless to speculate because so much can happen, but yes, there are definitely some Governors who could be contenders.
Unfortunately for some of those contenders the timing is going to be tough because the strongest pool of potential candidates are on the Democratic side. There are actually some really solid Democratic Governors who will probably be overlooked during the 2016 election cycle because the Democrats have two big-name, superstar frontrunners in line before they even start to consider other options. For a current Democratic Governor to break through and contend for the 2016 Presidential nomination, they’ll have to get by Hillary Clinton or Vice President Biden. That won’t be easy, it might not be possible, and I doubt either Hillary or Biden will step aside.
If so, however, there are more than a few Democratic Governors that would have a shot at making a splash on the nation stage. Of course, there is a pretty big-name Democratic Governor out there in New York’s Andrew Cuomo. I’m sure Maryland’s Martin O’Malley, Connecticut’s Dan Malloy, and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper are keeping their eyes on the plans of Hillary Clinton and Vice President Biden. I think Governor O’Malley would be a strong candidate in an open race.
The Democrats also have some lesser-known (maybe even widely unknown) Governors who I think are showing themselves to be fantastic chief executives and who could probably raise some eyebrows if the country had an opportunity to know them. Governor Markell of Delaware was re-elected with nearly 70% of the vote in November. Arkansas’s Mike Beebe is consistently rated as one of the best Governors in the nation. Steve Beshear has done some good work in Kentucky and Governor Bullock of Montana and Governor Shumlin of Vermont live in states where the spotlight doesn’t shine, but if it did it would show states with citizens very satisfied with their man in the statehouse.
California’s Jerry Brown is a big-name and is the Governor of a big state where he has done a far better-than-expected job — not because people doubted him, but because people doubted that anyone could turn things around in California. Unfortunately for Brown, he’ll be 78 years old in 2016. Vice President Biden, who will turn 74 a couple of weeks after Election Day 2016, will have enough trouble with the age issue. It’s something Brown definitely won’t be able to overcome. If Governor Brown were ten years younger, he’d be a front-runner for the Presidency (even with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in the race).
On the Republican side, New Jersey’s Chris Christie is going to be a contender if he steps into the race for the GOP nomination in 2016. Rick Perry (Texas) should be too damaged from his disastrous primary bid in 2012 to ever run again, but he can probably rehabilitate himself and Republicans will give him a pass because he looks like a President is supposed to look and is from Texas. Governor Kasich of Ohio is from a battleground state that the GOP needs, but Kasich might not even be able to win Ohio’s votes for Governor if another election was held tomorrow. Michigan’s Rick Snyder is in a better position, but it would be pretty tough to say, “If you want to fix the economy, elect our guy — the Governor of Michigan.”
The Republican Party’s movers and shakers love Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and would love for him to be the new face of the GOP because he’s from the South but he’s brown and changes the perception of the party as one of old white men. Unfortunately for the GOP, everytime I hear Governor Jindal speak, I get angry because it sounds like he’s being condescending and reading me a bedtime story. Jindal simply doesn’t come across well on anything that I have ever seen him on. He did the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address a few years ago and I still remember it solely because I thought he could be a contender in the future and it ended up being so terrible that I actually felt bad for him.
He’s not flashy or exciting or all that well-known, but the Republicans have a very solid executive in their ranks with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. He looks like the type of guy that the GOP would nominate for President, and I know that the GOP is actively trying to avoid that and shake things up, but Governor McDonnell does his job well, doesn’t rock the boat, has really good approval ratings, and has the credentials and the resume to lock up the base. That’s the type of candidate that I’d be afraid to run against. Also, I think Nevada’s Brian Sandoval is a potential superstar for the GOP. Again, like McDonnell, he’s not flashy or anything, but Governor Sandoval is Hispanic and young and if you don’t think that’s enough for the Republicans to want to put him on their posters, well, you haven’t met Reince Priebus (who sounds like he was named after a Norwegian hybrid car). Sandoval still needs to do more, but he has potential for the Republicans, and he would definitely be able to be a top fundraiser.
But if the Republicans really want a chance at winning in 2016, they need to nominate a former Governor — Jon Huntsman — and just let the nation get to know him.
That’s tough to say because it’s hard to rank the Governors of states that you don’t live in. I’ll just go with my personal experience from living in California under several Governors because there is no way that Rick Perry, Governor of Texas while I lived there for a year, would ever make it on any list of mine. And, while I live in Missouri now and it seems like Governor Jay Nixon is a solid executive, I still don’t know a whole lot about him.
From my experience in California, I have a soft spot for Governor Gray Davis, whose recall in 2003 was a complete travesty. Time will vindicate Governor Davis — in fact, I think it has already started to, especially now that we know what we know about Enron and the electricity crisis which was a big factor in Governor Davis’s downfall. Governor Davis was a hard-working, smart, effective public servant from his service in Vietnam to his devotion to California as Governor Brown’s chief of staff, State Assemblyman, State Controller, Lieutenant Governor, and then Governor. With the trajectory he was on up until his Gubernatorial re-election in 2002, Davis was heading to national prominence. Because he wasn’t very charismatic or an inspiring public speaker, I don’t think he the Presidency was a realistic goal, but he certainly could have been Vice President and probably would have been on John Kerry’s short list in 2004.
But Governor Davis got a raw deal from Californians. He became the scapegoat for problems that weren’t entirely his fault and he was the victim of a smear campaign that he couldn’t combat while trying to do his job and that he couldn’t outspend. Plus, he had just won re-election just a few months before the recall campaign got going. Gray Davis won re-election in November 2002 and his opponents decided that they wanted a do-over. And then, in the midst of the circus-like atmosphere of the recall campaign, Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped into the spotlight and the voters of California got starry-eyed. It was a shitty deal and Governor Davis deserved better from California. Yet, he accepted the results of the recall with humility and never said a cross word about it or the voters or his opponents. And he was incredibly helpful to Governor Schwarzenegger, both during the transition and after Schwarzenegger was inaugurated.
Gray Davis was the first politician who inspired me to get involved in a campaign and go to work for a candidate. In 1998, I was only 18, but Davis — the Lieutenant Governor at the time — seemed like the perfect candidate for Governor. He had paid his dues and undoubtedly had the best resume of any Gubernatorial candidate on the scene. I went to a rally downtown near the State Capitol (where the legendary, beloved, and late Mayor of Sacramento Joe Serna stepped on my shoe and then talked to me for ten minutes about public service) and everything that Gray Davis said gave me confidence in him and his vision for California. When I briefly met Gray Davis that day, I felt like he blocked everyone else out and focused on me for the two minutes that I had his attention. As an 18-year-old, that was huge. Later, of course, I realized that all great politicians are able to do that. But I was sold. And I still am. I went to work for Gray Davis’s campaign in 1998 and on Election night, for the first time, I felt that amazing feeling of having your candidate win and it was a validation of all of the work we had done. It was the moment where I got bit by the bug of working on high-stakes political campaigns. Fifteen years later, when I see a candidate that piques my interest, I still get that itch to sign up, start training volunteers, canvass neighborhoods, register voters, and phone bank (okay…maybe not phone banking…I hate that). I’ll never forget that it was Governor Davis that instilled that feeling in me.
I was too young to experience Jerry Brown’s first time as Governor of California (1975-1983), but I knew his reputation and was always fascinated by him. I saw Governor Brown speak a few times when he was Mayor of Oakland and I met him when he was California’s Attorney General and always hoped that he would make another run for Governor. Of course, once he did (in 2010), I had moved out of California.
However, since his election, I have followed him from outside of the state and think that he’s done an amazing job as Governor. From what I’ve seen, he is actually getting California moving in the right direction when it’s seemed for so long like the state was broken and might be too big and too broke and too much to fix. Apparently (and this is from what I understand from what I read and hear out here in Missouri), Governor Brown has done such a remarkable job that some of the younger Democrats and potential Republicans who considered taking him on in 2014 (when Governor Brown will be 76) aren’t even going to risk it. One friend I have back in Sacramento who is a political consultant said that, if Governor Brown were 10 or 15 years younger, he’d be a viable Presidential candidate in 2016 (Brown made unsuccessful bids for the Presidency in 1976, 1980, and 1992). So, I’m going to go ahead and count Jerry Brown as one of my favorite Governors, too.
Oh, and I had no experience living under him or in his state, but I always thought Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s shocking election as Governor of Minnesota in 1998 was awesome. I loved his unorthodox campaign ads and the fact that he was a professional wrestler and the party he had after his inauguration where he wore a pink boa and some of the funky clothes he used to wear. I liked the fact that he was an independent and that he named his autobiography I Ain’t Got Time To Bleed (BOOK•KINDLE) after his famous line in Predator. I enjoyed his candor and thought it was refreshing, and it was fun to see the incumbent Governor of Minnesota not only be the special referee at SummerSlam but throw Shane McMahon out of the ring and yell, “That’s for your old man, you little bastard!”. That’s not something you’d ever see his successor, Tim Pawlenty, or Iowa’s long-serving Governor Terry Branstad do.
So, from afar, I thought Governor Ventura was pretty cool. Then he left office and became a complete nutjob. I mean, he may have always been one, but when he was Jesse “The Body”, he was fun. Former Governor Ventura, however, is totally unbearable to watch or listen to. Of course, everything is a conspiracy to him, so he’ll probably find this post and accuse me of being part of the Illuminati. It’s easy for me to say that Governor Ventura was fun to watch from a couple of thousand miles away, but I’m sure the novelty wore off pretty quickly for the people of Minnesota. And I’m sure people said the same thing about Governor Schwarzenegger.
We’ll stick with Gray Davis and Jerry Brown as my favorites and, from what I’ve seen of him, I like Governor Nixon here in Missouri.
(By the way, Missourians, Gov. Nixon is term-limited, so the Governor’s Mansion is wide-open in 2016. Anthony for Governor? Who wants to donate?)
Barring a miraculous change in the Constitution, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will never be President of the United States, but eighteen Presidents have served as Governors of states or territories prior to their Presidential election, including four of the last six Presidents.
•Thomas Jefferson: Governor of Virginia (1779-1781)
•James Monroe: Governor of Virginia (1799-1802; Jan. 1811-Mar. 1811)
•Andrew Jackson: Military Governor of Florida (Mar. 1821-July 1821)
•Martin Van Buren: Governor of New York (Jan. 1829-Mar. 1829)
•William Henry Harrison: Governor of Indiana Territory (1800-1812)
•John Tyler: Governor of Virginia (1825-1827)
•James K. Polk: Governor of Tennessee (1839-1841)
•Andrew Johnson: Governor of Tennessee (1853-1857); Military Governor of Tennessee (1862-1864)
•Rutherford B. Hayes: Governor of Ohio (1868-1872; 1876-1877)
•Grover Cleveland: Governor of New York (1883-1885)
•William McKinley: Governor of Ohio (1892-1896)
•Theodore Roosevelt: Governor of New York (1898-1900)
•Woodrow Wilson: Governor of New Jersey (1911-1913)
•Calvin Coolidge: Governor of Massachusetts (1919-1920)
•Franklin D. Roosevelt: Governor of New York (1929-1933)
•Jimmy Carter: Governor of Georgia (1971-1975)
•Ronald Reagan: Governor of California (1967-1975)
•Bill Clinton: Governor of Arkansas (1979-1981; 1983-1992)
•George W. Bush: Governor of Texas (1994-2000)
*I couldn’t decide whether or not to include him, but William Howard Taft also served as Governor-General of the Philippines, which had been acquired during the Spanish-American War, from 1901-1904.