Rhode Island Politics and Government

By Maureen Moakley; Elmer Cornwell | Go to book overview
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The Executive and the Administration

The framers of the constitution in 1842 and 1986 have treated executive power quite differently than did the framers of the federal Constitution. First, they included no specific appointment clause similar to that contained in the federal Constitution. Secondly, they deliberately fragmented and distributed the executive power among four elected general officers.

Rhode Island Supreme Court, 1999

Rhode Island did not really have a governorship worthy of the name until the 1930s. The office was so weak that it played, at most, a marginal role in the General Assembly–dominated government of the colony and the state. To this day, along with all other New England states except Connecticut, the Rhode Island governor ranks among the weakest of the fifty state governors as measured in terms of constitutional provisions and powers.

However, as suggested earlier, Rhode Island's constitutional tradition accounts for a good bit of the low ranking. Unlike many other states, the brief constitutional provisions have of necessity been fleshed out by statute. As a result, much of the role and many of the powers of the governor of today are statutory, and in totality compare more favorably with those of governors elsewhere. 1


The framers of the 1843 constitution had the clear intention of crafting a gubernatorial office that was weak in the tradition set by the royal charter. Article VII of the constitution (now Article IX in the edited and reformatted 1986 version) is entitled “Of the Executive Power.” It provides that the governor shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, be commander


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