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Looking Forward: The significance of a near record number of new governors

January 04, 2018
By: Dan Berglund

One year from now, at least one-third of the states will have a new person sitting in the governor’s chair due to the retirement or term-limit of 17 current governors. The number of new governors could be higher than the guaranteed 17 new governors because there are 36 gubernatorial seats up for grabs. For those questioning the import of a large new class of governors, one does not need to look beyond the last two major waves of new governors — 2010 when 26 new governors came into office and 2002 when 20 new governors did — to see the impact that large classes of governors can have not just on their individual states, but the field as a whole.

Governors elected in 2010 for the first time included Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee, whose advocacy for the Tennessee Promise program helped lead to the current wave of proposals for free tuition, Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas who slashed taxes and eliminated two of the country’s largest tech-based economic development programs largely on ideological grounds, and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York whose regional approach to economic development influenced a number of states.

The 2002 elections saw Governors Rick Perry of Texas and Bob Taft of Ohio elected for the first time, both of whom went on to propose major investments in tech-based economic development in the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and Ohio’s Third Frontier.

The 17 open seats currently are held by four Democratic governors (California, Colorado, Connecticut and Minnesota) and 13 Republicans (Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming). The 19 other states that will hold gubernatorial elections this fall have incumbents who are eligible to seek reelection, representing five Democrats, 13 Republicans and one Independent governor (Alaska).

The map below shows those states that will hold gubernatorial elections, the current party and whether the seat is open because the governor is not eligible to run due to term limits or has declared they are not seeking reelection. (Note that although Alaska Governor Bill Walker is now an Independent, he had been a Republican prior to the 2014 election and because of map limitations, Alaska is shown as a Republican seat.)

Ellen Marrison, Laura Lacy and Jonathan Dworin all contributed to this article.

elections