Governors' Powers and Authority

Governors are popularly elected to serve as the chief executive officers of the fifty states and five commonwealths and territories. Governors are responsible for implementing state laws and overseeing the operation of the state executive branch. Governors carry out their management and leadership responsibilities with the support of department and agency heads, many of whom the governor appoints. Most governors have the authority to appoint state court judges as well.

Qualifications and Tenure: The minimum age requirement for governors ranges from no formal provision to age 35. The requirement of U.S. citizenship for gubernatorial candidates ranges from no formal provision to 20 years. State residency requirements range from no formal provision to 7 years.

Gubernatorial terms are four years in every state, commonwealth, and territory but New Hampshire and Vermont, which have two-year terms. Most governors may continue for a limited number of successive terms.

Legislative Role: Governors have powers related to state legislatures. They may be empowered to call special legislative sessions, setting the purpose and agenda for the sessions in advance. Governors also work with state legislatures in the following areas:

  • approval of state budgets and appropriations
  • enactment of state legislation
  • confirmation of executive and judicial appointments
  • legislative oversight of executive branch functions

Appointment Power: Most governors have broad authority to nominate officials to serve in state executive branch positions. Governors may also make appointments to state judgeships.

In many states the members of boards (for education, labor, transportation and health and human services) are named or nominated by the governor.

A large number of states provide for the independent selection of certain executive branch positions. Examples of these positions are lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer.

State cabinets serve as advisory councils to the nation's governors. Cabinet members are appointed by the governor to head state departments and agencies. In most states the cabinet advises the governor on the development of policy.

Executive Orders: Governors use executive orders to trigger emergency powers during natural disasters or energy crises, create advisory or investigative committees or commissions, and address issues such as regulatory reform, environmental impact, hiring freezes, discrimination, and intergovernmental coordination.

Emergency Powers: Governors are responsible for ensuring their state is adequately prepared for emergencies and disasters. States focus on four stages of disaster or emergency management: prepare, prevent, respond, and recover.

Source: Governors' Powers and Authority

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