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In the United States, the title governor refers to the chief executive of each state or insular territory, not directly subordinate to the federal authorities, but the political and ceremonial head of the state.
The United States Constitution preserves the notion that the country is a federation of semi-sovereign states and that powers not specifically granted to the federal government are retained by the states. States, therefore, are not merely provinces or subdivisions of federal administration. State governments in the U.S. are relatively powerful; each state has its own independent criminal and civil law codes, and each state manages its internal government.
The governor thus heads the executive branch in each state or territory and, depending on the individual jurisdiction, may have considerable control over government budgeting, the power of appointment of many officials (including many judges), and a considerable role in legislation. The governor may also have additional roles, such as that of commander-in-chief of the state's National Guard (when not federalized), and in many states and territories the governor has partial or absolute power to commute or pardon a criminal sentence. All U.S. governors serve four-year terms except those in New Hampshire and Vermont, who serve two-year terms.
In all states, the governor is directly elected, and in most cases has considerable practical powers, though this may be moderated by the state legislature and in some cases by other elected executive officials. In the five U.S. territories, all governors are now directly elected as well, though in the past many territorial governors were historically appointed by the President of the United States. Governors can veto state bills, and in all but seven states they have the power of the line item veto on appropriations bills (a power the President does not have). In some cases legislatures can override a gubernatorial veto by a two-thirds vote, in others by three-fifths. In Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the governor's veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote, making it virtually useless. In Arkansas, a gubernatorial veto may be overridden by an absolute majority. The Governor of North Carolina had no veto power until a 1996 referendum. In 47 states, whenever there is a vacancy of one of the state's U.S. Senate seats, that state's governor has the power to appoint someone to fill the vacancy until a special election is held; the governors of Oregon, Alaska, and Wisconsin do not have this power.
A state governor may give an annual State of the State address in order to satisfy a constitutional stipulation that a governor must report annually (or in older constitutions described as being "from time to time") on the state or condition of the state. Governors of states may also perform ceremonial roles, such as greeting dignitaries, conferring state decorations, issuing symbolic proclamations or attending the state fair. The governor may also have an official residence (see Governor's Mansion).
In colonial America, when the governor was the representative of the monarch who exercised executive power, many colonies originally indirectly elected their governors, choosing them through the colonial legislatures, but in the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War, the Crown began to appoint them directly. During the American Revolution, all royal governors except for Jonathan Trumbull fled or were expelled, but the title of governor was retained to denote the new elected official.
Before achieving statehood, many of the 50 states were territories. Administered by the federal government, they had governors who were appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate rather than elected by the resident population.
There are currently 26 Democrats and 24 Republicans serving as state governors. Two Democrats and two Republicans also occupy territorial governorships, while the governor of the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands belongs to the local Covenant Party. No other third parties hold a Governorship.
The longest-serving current governor is John Hoeven, who has served as North Dakota's governor since December 15, 2000. The second-longest tenure, that of Texas Governor Rick Perry, is six days shorter. The newest governor is Christopher J. Christie of New Jersey, who was sworn in on January 19, 2010.
The youngest person to ever serve as a governor in the United States was Stevens T. Mason of the Michigan Territory, elected in 1835 having just turned 24. Stevens would later become the first governor of the state of Michigan when it was admitted to the Union in January 1837, when he was 25. Stevens was re-elected in November 1837, then age 26
The second youngest governor ever elected was J. Neely Johnson of California, when he was elected in 1855 at the age of 30, and the third youngest governor was Harold Stassen of Minnesota, when he was elected in 1938 at age 31. When President Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas in 1978 at age 32, he became the youngest governor since Stassen.
There are currently 44 men and 6 women governors. All five territorial governors are men.
Thirty-one women have been or are currently serving as the governor, including two in an acting capacity.
The first female governor was Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming who was elected on November 4, 1924 and sworn in on January 5, 1925. She was preceded in office by her late husband William B. Ross. Also elected on November 4 was Miriam A. Ferguson of Texas, succeeding her impeached husband James Edward Ferguson, but she was not sworn in until January 21, 1925. The first female governor elected without being the wife or widow of a past state governor was Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut, elected in 1974 and sworn in on January 8, 1975.
Connecticut and Arizona are the only two states to have elected female governors from both major parties. New Hampshire has also had female governors from two parties, but Republican Vesta M. Roy served only in the acting capacity for a short time. Arizona was the first state where a woman followed another woman as governor (they were from different parties). Arizona also has had the most female governors with a total of four, and is the first state to have three women in a row serve as governor.
Six women are currently serving as governors of U.S. states. Previously, there were a record nine women serving as chief executive of their states on two different occasions: first, between December 6, 2006, when Sarah Palin was inaugurated as the first female governor of Alaska, and January 14, 2008, when Kathleen Blanco left office as governor of Louisiana; and second, between January 10, 2009, when Beverly Perdue was inaugurated as governor of North Carolina, and January 20, 2009, when Ruth Ann Minner retired as governor of Delaware.
Among the 50 states, there are 45 whites, two African Americans (Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and David Paterson of New York), one Hispanic American (Bill Richardson of New Mexico), one Asian American of Indian descent (Bobby Jindal of Louisiana), and one Arab (John Baldacci of Maine) currently serving as governor.
Among the five U.S. territories, one Hispanic American (Luis G. Fortuño of Puerto Rico), one African American (John de Jongh of the U.S. Virgin Islands), and three Pacific Islander Americans (Benigno R. Fitial of the Northern Mariana Islands, Felix Perez Camacho of Guam, and Togiola Tulafono of American Samoa) currently serve as governor.
All states hold gubernatorial elections on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. The earliest possible date for the election is therefore November 2 (if that date falls on a Tuesday), and the latest possible date is November 8 (if November 1 falls on a Tuesday).
The other 48 states hold gubernatorial elections every four years.
The type of relationship between the governor and the lieutenant governor greatly varies by state. In some states the the governor and lieutenant governor are completely independent of each other, while in others the governor gets to choose (prior to the election) who would be his/her lieutenant governor.