What Is It?
A governor is the CEO of a state (or commonwealth or territory, like Puerto Rico or Guam).
Depending which state you live in, your governor may have different powers and responsibilities, but generally they:
- Make sure state laws are implemented.
- Oversee state agencies, like the Health Department, the Board of Elections, the Department of Corrections, and many more. The governor also appoints many of the people who head those agencies.
- Sign bills into law or veto them. Same goes for the state budget.
- Create their own bills and budgets, then work with the legislature to get them passed.
- Push certain policy priorities. The leaders they appoint to run state agencies do this too.
- Issue executive orders.
In many states, they also appoint judges to state court, usually from a list of names submitted by a nominating committee.
If your governor wants to do something that requires a new law, they’ll need to work with the state legislature to make it happen.
Why It Matters to You
Your governor has a big say in the laws and policies in your state, as well as how the state spends its money. Whatever issue is important to you, there’s a good chance your governor can do something about it. For example, if you care about:
Your governor can decide whether people are required to wear masks and who is first in line for the vaccine. They could also issue an executive order saying that people should be able to keep receiving unemployment benefits while fixing paperwork issues, rather than just having benefits cut off.
The governor could nominate someone to the state board of education who has a strong stance on charter schools or has committed to expanding early childhood education.
Your governor communicates with the public during an emergency and could declare a state of emergency that enables aid dollars to flow.
Your governor could issue an executive order committing the state to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions, and directing state agencies to come up with ways to make that a reality.
Your governor could sign or veto legislation to change state gun laws.
Your governor can decide whether to make more people eligible for Medicaid (the health insurance program for low-income people), what kind of resources are available to fight the opioid crisis, or how to improve access to medical care in rural areas.
Your governor could sign or veto legislation allowing unauthorized immigrants to get drivers licenses.
If your U.S. senator leaves office for some reason (maybe they retire or are convicted of a crime), then in many states, the governor appoints a new senator until an election is held.
Your governor could work with your state legislature to raise or lower taxes.
Your governor could prioritize funding for mass transit or replacing old bridges and tunnels.
How to Make an Impact
If you want your governor to do something, tell them. Call, write, petition, ask for a meeting. Ditto if you want to see action from a state agency. If enough people are unhappy with a governor, some states even allow special recall elections to bring in someone new – and that process begins with citizens.
Governors are elected, and that means they run campaigns (in most states, they run every four years). That means you can vote for or against them – and encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to vote too.
You can also get directly involved by supporting or opposing their campaigns.
Your governor and state legislature work together closely. If you want to see the governor do something, ask your state legislators to put pressure on the governor.
Root for (or against) the Team
Ask your state legislature to approve or reject the governor’s appointees. Most appointees, whether agency heads or sometimes judges, require the legislature to confirm them.
On the Ground
People like you are having an impact across the country every day. When change happens at the state level, a lot of people are involved — not just the governor. But encouraging your governor to do something — like sign a bill or direct an agency to do something — is one part of being an active citizen.
Love it or hate it, here’s how people are influencing their governors across the country:
In Maryland, the decision to bring back in-person learning during the Covid-19 pandemic was up to local school boards, but the governor had the ability to push them to act. A coalition of parents came together to urge Governor Hogan to use his influence to advocate for re-opening.
When Iowa’s governor pushed a bill to require gasoline to contain at least ten percent ethanol, gas stations, truck stops, and transportation groups pushed back. They formed the Fuel Choice Coalition, which argued that it would be too expensive for businesses and would limit consumer choice.
In January 2021, the governor of Illinois signed a bill that ended cash bail. Behind the push were Black leaders in the state legislature and a vocal group of community advocates called the Coalition to End Money Bond.
Kim Kardashian isn’t exactly a regular person, but she used her clout to become an advocate for criminal justice reform in 2017. Kardashian leveraged her platform to raise awareness about a woman serving a 51-year prison sentence that many believed to be unjust, and the public pressure ultimately resulted in Tennessee’s governor granting clemency.
In March 2021, Georgia’s governor signed a law that imposed new rules on voting, like adding new deadlines for absentee ballots and banning volunteers from handing out snacks and water to voters standing in line at polling places. A group of faith leaders protested the new law by handing out bottles of water at the Capitol.
In California, advocates argued for years that high-needs students weren’t receiving all the money budgeted for them. Many people were excited to see Governor Gavin Newsom taking action on this issue, but worried his solution didn’t go far enough and asked him to do more to fix the problem.