ABSTRACT

The evolution of the American governorship over the past two decades mirrors that of state governments generally. As we have seen, state governments were rediscovered in the late 1970s and early 1980s, becoming for many the major source of political responsiveness and policy innovation. Yet, by the 1990s analysts were increasingly tempering their earlier optimism and pointing to a number of political and policy problems and limits. The experiences of the states’ governors parallel those developments. Writing in 1978, political scientist Larry Sabato pointed to a new breed of American governor—younger, better educated, and more diverse—and bid “Goodbye to Good-Time Charlie.” A decade later, David Osborne (1988) profiled six of the nation’s most successful governors and credited their success to a new political paradigm that defied classification along the traditional liberal-conservative continuum. One need only look at the subsequent career paths of those individuals to appreciate their uniqueness and capabilities. Among the half dozen governors profiled in Osborne’s now classic Laboratories of Democracy (1988), Dick Thornburgh of Pennsylvania would become the nation’s attorney general; Arizona’s Bruce Babbitt would serve as secretary of the interior; Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts would capture his party’s nomination for the presidency in 1988; and Arkansas’s Bill Clinton would win the nation’s presidency just four years later. Although much of the success of governors in recent decades can be attributed to the personal characteristics of those individuals, governors today also enjoy more formal powers and institutional resources than their predecessors. As we shall see, governors now have greater tenure potential, more influence over their states’ budgets, more institutional resources, and somewhat greater control over the executive branch. By the 1980s, it appeared that a new kind of American governor armed with new powers and resources and a new perspective on governing had emerged.