Contrasts and similarities of the offices of governor and president


The office of governor pre-dates that of the president of the United States. The first English colonies in the 1600s in North America – Virginia, Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay – elected governors to serve as chief executives of the colonial governments. Friction between Great Britain and American colonies was intensified in the mid-1700s when royally appointed governors replaced locally elected ones.

During the Revolution, the newly independent states began electing governors again, although their powers were reduced out of disdain for authoritarian executives. To some extent, the new office of president of the United States, created in the Constitution of 1787, was modeled on that of governor with responsibilities for law-enforcement and command of the military, informing the legislature of the state of the union, and making certain appointments. Many states had done away with a governor's power to veto legislation (later restored in most states), but the new office of president had that power. In contrast today, many states allow their governors to "line item veto" budget appropriations, while the president can only approve or veto an entire bill. In this regard, state governors have wider authority than the president and often have nearly as much, or more power to appoint policy-making officials. As well, state governors are usually much more actively involved in direct law enforcement through command of one or more state law enforcement agencies. Conversely, the FBI and other federal law-enforcement agencies generally fall under the direct control of a Cabinet officer, putting one or more officials in the direct line of command flowing from the president.

The president has the power to conduct foreign relations with other nations, which includes negotiating treaties and similar agreements for Senate approval, and the appointment of ambassadors and other top diplomats. States do not engage in foreign relations, although U.S. law allows states to make compacts with each other, with Congressional consent, and to engage in certain economic activities abroad with U.S. government supervision. While governors can, and often do, make overseas trips to promote economic investment, governors have no power to directly negotiate official treaties or similar agreements.

The president's direct control of foreign relations, combined with control of the U.S. military as commander-in-chief, give that office far more power to influence political and economic matters worldwide than governors possess. However, since state governments are more closely concerned with governance at the local level, governors often exercise deep influence on political, economic, social and cultural activities within their states through more-direct control of various agencies and public budgets than is the case with the president at the federal level. Looking at the differences between power and influence at the state level for governors and the national level for the president, a case can be made governors often have more power locally than the president nationally.

Governors and the president typically meet at least once or twice a year when the president addresses a meeting of the bipartisan National Governors Association, or the governors association of the president's political party. Additionally, governors and the president will meet to address unusual circumstances, such as the two days spent by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and President Barack Obama to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Other meetings, with one or more governors, also take place regularly to deal with a variety of state-federal issues.


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