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Which States Produce the Most Governors?

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New York has given birth to 116 future governors of other states, or 1 for every 1.9 years since statehood; South Carolina leads the nation with 88 percent of its governors 'home-grown'

This is the fifth in a series of historical reports leading up to the gubernatorial elections of 2010. Past reports have examined the historic Class of 2002 and its large number of first-term governors, the success rate of ex-governors trying to reclaim their office, plurality winning gubernatorial campaigns, and states with the most living ex-governors.

Although California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was born and raised in Long Island, native Californian, former governor, and Democratic candidate Jerry Brown probably can't count on using that fact against her to boost his candidacy in the Golden State's competitive open race this November.

That is because California has only had seven of its 38 governors born inside its borders, or just 18.4 percent - the third lowest percentage in the nation.

While this is an usually low number, overall, nearly half of the nearly 2,500 governors in the nation's history have not been born in the state they served.

A Smart Politics analysis of gubernatorial biographies from the National Governors Association finds only slightly more than half of the more than 2,300 governors that have served the nation's 50 states since the original 13 colonies declared their independence over 230 years ago were born in that state.

In total, 1,279 governors have been born in the state in which they served (54.7 percent), with 981 born in other states (41.9), and 80 born in another country (3.4 percent).

The variation in the percentage of home-grown governors from state to state is great, with older, eastern states generally at the top and younger, western states at the bottom - a pattern that makes intuitive sense as the country settled from east to west from the late 1700s over the next 100+ years.

South Carolina tops the list with 88.4 percent of its more than 80 governors in state history born in the Palmetto State, including 23 of the last 24 dating back to Richard Manning, who served from 1915-1919. Republican James Edwards (1975-1979) was the only governor born out of state during this span (Florida).

Not coincidentally, South Carolina's major party nominees in 2010 are both home-grown South Carolinians - Republican Nikki Haley (pictured) was born in Bamberg and Democrat Vincent Shaheen was born in Camden.

The next seven states topping the list are all among the the oldest in the nation - Maryland (84.1 percent), Virginia (82.9 percent), Pennsylvania (78.4 percent), Rhode Island (75.0 percent), North Carolina (74.6 percent), New York (74.5), and Massachusetts (73.9).

States with the lowest percentage of home-grown governors are generally the nation's younger, western states.

Idaho is ranked #50, with just four of its 30 governors in state history born inside its borders (13.3 percent). Even though the Gem State achieved statehood some 120 years ago, Idaho saw one of its own become governor only once among the first 24 to hold the office from 1890 through 1976 (Charles Ross, 1931-1937).

Five other western states have had less than one in four home-born governors: Arizona (18.2 percent), California (18.4 percent), Alaska (20.0 percent), Colorado (22.2 percent), and Wyoming (22.6 percent).

Percentage of Home-Grown Governors by State

Rank
State
Home
Other
Total
% Home
1
SC
76
10
86
88.4
2
MD
53
10
63
84.1
3
VA
63
13
76
82.9
4
PA
40
11
51
78.4
5
RI
51
17
68
75.0
6
NC
50
17
67
74.6
7
NY
41
14
55
74.5
8
MA
51
18
69
73.9
9
ME
50
18
68
73.5
10
DE
50
20
70
71.4
10
NJ
45
18
63
71.4
12
KY
40
17
57
70.2
13
CT
47
21
68
69.1
14
WV
22
11
33
66.7
15
UT
11
6
17
64.7
16
LA
34
20
54
63.0
17
NH
48
34
82
58.5
18
TN
27*
23
50
54.0
19
OH
33
29
62
53.2
20
MS
27
25
52
51.9
21
GA
39
38
77
50.6
21
VT
39
38
77
50.6
23
HI
3
3
6
50.0
24
IN
23
24
47
48.9
25
AL
25
27
53
47.2
26
WI
20
23
43
46.5
27
TX
20
25
45
44.4
28
SD
13
17
30
43.3
29
FL
18
25
43
41.9
30
MO
22
31
53
41.5
31
NE
16
23
39
41.0
32
MT
9
13
22
40.9
33
AR
21
31
52
40.4
34
IA
15
25
40
37.5
34
OK
9
15
24
37.5
36
MN
14
24
38
36.8
37
ND
11
19
30
36.7
38
KS
16
29
45
35.6
39
WA
7
14
21
33.3
40
IL
12
29
41
29.3
41
NV
8
21
29
27.6
42
NM
7
19
26
26.9
43
MI
12
33
45
26.7
44
OR
9
27
36
25.0
45
WY
7
24
31
22.6
46
CO
8
28
36
22.2
47
AK
2
8
10
20.0
48
CA
7
31
38
18.4
49
AZ
4
18
22
18.2
50
ID
4
26
30
13.3
 
Total
1,279
1,060
2,340
54.7
* Includes Robert Carruthers who was elected Governor of Tennessee, but was never inaugurated (Andrew Johnson was appointed military governor by President Abraham Lincoln). Data includes acting governors as well as any post-colonial chief executive (e.g. President). Data does not reflect information for three acting governors of New Jersey, one in Massachusetts, and three early post-colonial governors from Georgia, whose place of birth is not available. Data compiled by Smart Politics from National Governors Association biographical information.

But it is not simply younger, western states that have had to 'import' the vast majority of their governors.

Illinois, which achieved statehood in 1818, has seen only 29.3 percent of its governors born inside its borders (12 of 41), including six of the last 12 since World War II.

Likewise, Michigan (statehood in 1837) has had the 8th fewest home-born governors in the nation at just 26.7 percent, including three of the past six governors who were born out of the country: current Governor Jennifer Granholm (Canada), George Romney (Mexico), and John Swainson (Canada).

Overall, 80 governors have been born outside of the United States, with the most famous probably being current California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (Austria).

A significant number of these foreign-born governors took office as the United States was being settled in 1700s and early 1800s. Overall, 29 governors have come from England (19), Scotland (8), and Wales (2) with another 10 from Ireland.

For example, all eight of Georgia's foreign-born governors (the most in the nation) were among the state's first 22 governors through 1817 - each settling in Georgia in the 1700s (four from England, two from Scotland, and one from Germany).

The other states topping the list with the largest number of foreign-born governors are all from the Midwest: Wisconsin (5), Ohio (4), Minnesota (4), North Dakota (4), and Michigan (4).

Birth Countries of Foreign-Born Governors

Other countries
Number
England
19
Canada
10
Ireland
10
Scotland
8
Norway
6
Germany
5
Sweden
5
France
3
Mexico
3
Prussia
2
Wales
2
Austria
1
Bavaria
1
British West Indies
1
Cuba
1
Denmark
1
Estonia
1
Switzerland
1
Total
80
Data compiled by Smart Politics from National Governors Association biographical information.

Another 981 governors were born inside the United States, but not in the state in which they served.

From what states do these governors come?

Smart Politics calculated the number of governors 'exported' by each state, adjusted for the number of years since that state achieved statehood (the calculus does not adjust for variations in population over the years - more populous states are certainly going to have an advantage in that regard).

New York topped the list both in absolute number (116) as well as the rate of gubernatorial exports - with one native New Yorker becoming a governor of another state every 1.9 years since it became a state in 1788.

Virginia (1 per 2.8 years since statehood), Pennsylvania (1 per 3.5 years), Ohio (1 per 4.1 years) and Illinois (1 per 4.2 years) round out the Top 5.

There is one unusual state that stands out among the Top 10 - Iowa (at #9).

Despite not being one of the more populous states, the Hawkeye State has produced a significant number of the nation's governors outside its borders.

At a rate of giving birth to one future governor of another state for every 6.1 years since statehood in 1846, Iowa has exported 27 governors, including five to Idaho, four to Nebraska, four to South Dakota, and three to Colorado. (Iowa has produced more Idaho governors at five than Idaho itself with four).

Three states, meanwhile, have never had residents born within its borders go on to become governors of other states: Alaska, New Mexico, and Nevada.

The western states of Montana (1 per 121 years since statehood), Wyoming (1 per 120 years), Arizona (1 per 98 years) and Oregon (1 per 75.5 years) also rank near the bottom.

But it is not simply newer, western states that have not seen residents in high numbers go on to become leaders of other states across the country.

For example, the state of Rhode Island, which achieved statehood in 1790, has only seen three of its native-born residents become governors of other states, and none since Henry Baldwin of Michigan (1869-1873), or one for every 73.3 years since statehood.

Old states such as New Jersey (#33, 1 per 22.3 years) and Delaware (#34, 1 per 27.9 years) also rank in the bottom third.

Rate of 'Gubernatorial Exports' by State

Rank
State
Statehood
Governors
Rate
1
New York
1788
116
1.9
2
Virginia
1788
78
2.8
3
Pennsylvania
1787
63
3.5
4
Ohio
1803
51
4.1
5
Illinois
1818
46
4.2
6
Massachusetts
1788
51
4.4
6
Kentucky
1792
49
4.4
8
Connecticut
1788
46
4.8
9
Iowa
1846
27
6.1
10
Missouri
1821
27
7.0
11
North Carolina
1789
31
7.1
12
Tennessee
1796
28
7.6
13
Indiana
1816
25
7.8
14
Wisconsin
1848
20
8.1
15
Maine
1820
23
8.3
16
South Carolina
1788
23
9.7
17
Vermont
1791
21
10.4
18
New Hampshire
1788
21
10.6
19
Kansas
1861
13
11.5
20
West Virginia
1863
12
12.3
20
Maryland
1788
18
12.3
22
Michigan
1837
14
12.4
23
Georgia
1788
17
13.1
24
California
1850
12
13.3
25
Minnesota
1858
11
13.8
26
Alabama
1819
13
14.7
27
Mississippi
1817
13
14.8
28
Texas
1845
11
15.0
29
Nebraska
1867
9
15.9
30
Utah
1896
6
19.0
31
Oklahoma
1907
5
20.6
32
Louisiana
1812
9
22.0
33
New Jersey
1787
10
22.3
34
Delaware
1787
8
27.9
35
Washington
1889
4
30.3
36
Colorado
1876
4
33.5
37
Idaho
1890
3
40.0
38
South Dakota
1889
3
40.3
39
Arkansas
1836
4
43.5
40
Hawaii
1959
1
51.0
41
Florida
1845
3
55.0
42
North Dakota
1889
2
60.5
43
Rhode Island
1790
3
73.3
44
Oregon
1859
2
75.5
45
Arizona
1912
1
98.0
46
Wyoming
1890
1
120.0
47
Montana
1889
1
121.0
48
Nevada
1864
0
---
48
New Mexico
1912
0
---
48
Alaska
1959
0
---
Table compiles the number of years since statehood by the number of residents born in that state who became governors of other states. Data compiled by Smart Politics from National Governors Association biographical information.

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2 Comments


  • I'd be curious as to what this chart looks like for the last 25 or 50 years? I bet you the numbers of home state Governors is much smaller. For example, 5 of the last 10 Virginia Governors and 3 of the last 4 were born out of state.

  • i had never real thought of "home grown governors" before...growing up in massachusetts, it was a "given" that someone who was running for governor would be a "local"..now that im in california, it seems like no one is originally from calif....our current governor is from austria and 1 of the 2 major party has as an "alien" (moonbeam) running.

  • Leave a comment


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