A bad year for governors

102414251-RTR4O8YM.530x298Some months ago New Hampshire Republicans were polled not about who they wanted as  president but about the sort of person they wanted. A solid margin preferred a governor to a senator. They also expressed the view that Jeb Bush was the most experienced candidate. On the second point they were wrong. John Kasich is a second term governor in a state almost as large as Florida, served longer in Congress than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton combined, and chaired the House Budget Committee. But on the first point, that governors are preferable to senators, New Hampshire got it right.

But this year it seems as though being a governor doesn’t make you enough of an outsider. What primary voters – or at least people being polled – seem to want is someone with no governmental record at all. Even the private sector experience they want is not the ideal type. Mitt Romney took over failing organizations and made them better. That’s a good background for taking over the federal government. But Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina have, at best, mixed records of achievement in business (though she, at least, worked her way up from the bottom). Ben Carson has run a small team of neurosurgeons and written a few books. 

The first two candidates to withdraw from the Republican race were Rick Perry – for ten years the Governor of Texas – and Scott Walker – the Pugnacious governor of Wisconsin. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, were evicted from the main debate to the ‘kiddie table,’ where they faced the Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. Former Governors George Pataki of New York and Jim Gilmore of Virginia were excluded entirely. Even Jeb Bush is struggling and John Kasich’s momentum has stalled. This is not the year to be a governor. 

This is a great shame. As candidates, governors have two strengths. Their decisions are, in a very obvious way, comparable to the types of decisions that presidents make. The complexity and the stakes will be somewhat lower – depending on the size and constitution of the state. (Mayor’s of very major cities, such as this columnist’s favorite Democrat, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, are honorary governors in this sense). The two strengths both stem from this. First, it is reasonable to assume that people who are accustomed to making executive decisions and leading complex governments get better at doing this. Experience improves a candidate’s skills. Secondly voters get a chance to assess their skills. It is hard to tell how a senator would behave facing a critical question of leadership because senators don’t have to make those type of decisions. Senators get to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on bills, but it is much harder to pick up a sense of their priorities. They might favor both X and Y – and it may be possible to see that from their votes – but what if the president had to choose between X and Y? Legislators don’t have to make decisions about priorities in quite the same way that presidents and governors do. (A clear exception is those who play a key role in the budget process – score a further point for Governor Kasich). 

Neither the Republican nor the Democratic candidate is likely to be a governor, and there may not be one as Veep candidate either. 

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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