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A Brief History of Ex-Governors Returning to Power

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Nearly 150 ex-governors in U.S. history have returned to their position after a gap in service; five have done so after changing parties since 1900 with Charlie Crist of Florida hoping to be the sixth in 2014

charliecrist10.jpgFour years ago, five ex-governors appeared on the general election ballot seeking to reclaim their old position in state government.

Three of those governors were successful - Democrats Jerry Brown of California and John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Republican Terry Branstad of Iowa - each of whom is seeking reelection this November. (Democrat Roy Barnes of Georgia and GOPer Bob Ehrlich of Maryland were defeated that cycle).

That was the largest number of ex-governors to make it to the general election in a quarter century, when six did so in 1986 (Democrat Cecil Andrus of Idaho and Republicans Frank White of Arkansas, Jim Rhodes of Ohio, Henry Bellmon of Oklahoma, Winfield Dunn of Tennessee, and Bill Clements of Texas) plus three others who were knocked out in the primary (Republicans Wally Hickel of Alaska and Orval Faubus of Arkansas and Democrat Fob James of Alabama).

Andrus, Bellmon, and Clements were victorious that cycle.

In 2014, however, only Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist from Florida is seeking a return to gubernatorial power in one of the most closely watched and competitive races this cycle against one-term GOP incumbent Rick Scott.

But just how rare is it for ex-governors to get back on the job?

Smart Politics culled data from the National Governors Association and found that 144 governors have recorded interrupted tenures since the late 1700s including 74 who have served since 1900.

It should be notes that not all of these twelve-dozen officeholders were elected to the position of governor for each of their stints.

Some ascended to the position while serving as lieutenant governor or state senate president after a gubernatorial death or resignation.

Others who wished to serve more than one term were required to have a gap in service as many states banned consecutive terms (only Virginia does now).

To date, just five states have never had a governor return to power after leaving office since statehood: Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi and New Jersey have each had 10 governors serve interrupted terms over the last two centuries.

Georgia is next with nine, followed by Tennessee with seven, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Ohio with six, and Alabama and Louisiana with five.

As for Florida, only one of its 43 governors in history came back into office after a gap in service -
Democrat William Bloxham.

Bloxham was elected to four-year terms from 1881 to 1885 and 1897 to 1901 during a period in which governors could not serve consecutive terms.

Among the dozens of governors in U.S. history who have served interrupted terms are:

● Future presidents James Monroe of Virginia (1799-1802, 1811-1811), Andrew Johnson of Tennessee (1853-1857, 1862-1865), Rutherford Hayes of Ohio (1868-1872, 1876-1877), and Bill Clinton of Arkansas (1979-1981, 1983-1992)

● Failed presidential candidates DeWitt Clinton of New York (1817-1823, 1825-1828), Horatio Seymour of New York (1853-1855, 1863-1865), James Cox of Ohio (1913-1915, 1917-1921), Al Smith of New York (1919-1921, 1923-1929), George Wallace of Alabama (1963-1967, 1971-1979, 1983-1987), and Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts (1975-1979, 1983-1991)

● Ma Ferguson of Texas (1925-1927, 1933-1935) - the second woman to serve as governor in the United States (15 days after Wyoming's Nellie Tayloe Ross took office in January 1925)

Many governors served more than two stints in office including:

● Jeffersonian Republicans Charles Pinckney of South Carolina (1789-1792, 1796-1798, 1806-1808) and James Fenner of Rhode Island (1807-1811, 1824-1831, 1843-1845)

● Republicans Richard Oglesby of Illinois (1865-1869, 1873-1873, 1885-1889) and Ed Mechem of New Mexico (1951-1955, 1957-1959, 1961-1962)

● Democrats Alva Adams of Colorado (1887-1889, 1897-1899, 1905-1905), George Hunt of Arizona (1912-1917, 1917-1919, 1923-1929, 1931-1933), Arthur Moore of New Jersey (1926-1929, 1932-1935, 1938-1941), Earl Long of Louisiana (1939-1940, 1948-1952, 1956-1960), George Wallace of Alabama (1963-1967, 1971-1979, 1983-1987), Edwin Edwards of Louisiana (1972-1980, 1984-1988, 1992-1996), and Bruce King of New Mexico (1971-1975, 1979-1983, 1991-1995).

Crist is not the only former governor who changed his partisan stripes in an attempt to win back his old job in recent decades.

Over the past century, five have done so successfully:

● Philip La Follette of Wisconsin served as a Republican during his first term (1931-1933) before switching to the Progressive Party for his last two (1935-1939)

● Wild Bill Langer of North Dakota was elected as a Republican to his first term (1933-1934) and then, after being removed from office and seeing his wife lose as the GOP candidate in 1934, ran again and won as an independent for his second term (1937-1939).

● Mills Godwin of Virginia served as a Democrat during his first term (1966-1970) and a Republican during his second (1974-1978)

● Wally Hickel of Alaska served as a Republican during his first stint as governor (1966-1969), was elected under the Alaska Independence Party banner for his second (1990-1994), but then rejoined the GOP at the end of his term.

● Fob James of Alabama was elected as a Democrat for his first gubernatorial victory (1979-1983), lost as a Democrat in two subsequent primaries, and then won as a Republican for his second term (1995-1999)

Unlike Crist, who will return to office after just a four-year absence if he is victorious in 2014, some governors waited decades before they won back their job.

Republican Cecil Underwood of West Virginia had a 36-year gap between his first (1957-1961) and second (1997-2001) terms while Democrat James McCreary of Kentucky logged 32 years (1875-1879, 1911-1915), Democrat Jerry Brown of California had 28 years (1975-1983, 2011-present), Republican Walter Edge of New Jersey had nearly 25 years (1917-1919, 1944-1947), and Wally Hickel of Alaska waited nearly 22 years (1966-1969, 1990-1994).

As for Crist's odds, more than half of ex-governors have been victorious in general election bids to return to their old seats since the end of World War II, although the success rate has been just 41 percent against incumbents.

Joining Crist and Governor Scott on the Florida ballot this November are Libertarian nominee Adrian Wyllie and independents Joe Allen, Glenn Burkett, and Farid Khavari.

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5 Comments


  • Why vote between 2 known liars? Florida, we are fortunate enough not to
    be stuck picking one liar or the other this time. We actually have an
    alternative. Take advantage of the opportunity. Adrian Wyllie deserves
    my vote. He is a honest average Floridian just as you and I , that is
    willing to stand up and do something for the interest of all of us here
    in Florida. The other candidates both Republican and Democrat are owned
    and controlled by special interest, like puppets and will lie to your
    face to gain your vote, then continue the same old agenda that we
    complain about year after year. Time to get off this merry-go-round,
    election after election, thinking it will be any different. Take a
    stand, vote for the candidate that loves this state and is willing to
    take time out of his life, effort and money to SERVE the people of
    Florida and stop voting for these ‘paid for’ career politicians that are
    only out for money and fame and have zero interest in us Floridians.
    Even if it’s just for honesty alone, vote for Adrian Wyllie instead of
    the other two (Scott/Crist) which are proven liars. The choice is yours
    and yours alone, if you want the same old corruption and slap in the
    face, go ahead and vote for one of the two puppets (Scott/Crist) OR do
    what is right for our (yours and your children’s) future and vote for
    Adrian Wyllie. Support him by donating to his campaign, spreading the
    word and contribute to the super brochure program which I think is very
    powerful. Visit his website today

  • The Economist and Environmentalist we need NOW!
    www.khavariforgovernor.com

  • Farid Khavari, Ph.D., is independent candidate for Florida governor 2014 - The Economist and Environmentalist we need NOW!
    No other candidate has a plan, much less to match his.
    To learn more, please visit:
    www.khavariforgovernor.com

  • George Hunt was Governor of Arizona from 1911-19? AZ didn't become a state until 1912.

  • G. Hunt was elected in 1911, but took office two months later in early 1912. Corrected above, thanks. (The NGA lists his start date as 12/12/11).

  • Leave a comment


    Remains of the Data

    No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

    Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

    Political Crumbs

    Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

    Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


    An Idaho Six Pack

    Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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