A Legacy of Innovation: Governors and Public Policy

A Legacy of Innovation: Governors and Public Policy

A Legacy of Innovation: Governors and Public Policy

A Legacy of Innovation: Governors and Public Policy


From La Follette to Faubus, from Rockefeller to Reagan, U.S. governors have addressed some of the most contentious policy questions of the twentieth century. In doing so, they not only responded to dramatic changes in the political landscape, they shaped that landscape. The influence of governors has been felt both within the states and across the nation. It is telling that four of the last five U.S. Presidents were former state governors.

A Legacy of Innovation: Governors and Public Policy examines the changing role of the state governor during the "American Century." In this volume, top political scientists, historians, and journalists track the evolution of gubernatorial leadership as it has dealt with critical issues, including conservation, transportation, civil rights, education, globalization, and health care. As the most visible state officials, twentieth-century governors often found themselves at the center of America's conflicting political tendencies. A Legacy of Innovation describes how they negotiated the tensions between increasing democratization and the desire for expert control, the rise of interest groups and demise of political parties, the pull of regionalism against growing nationalism, and the rising demand for public services in a society that fears centralized government. In their responses to these conflicts, governors helped shape the institutions of modern American government.

As state governments face new policy challenges in the twenty-first century, A Legacy of Innovation will serve as a valuable source of information for political scientists and policy makers alike.


We live, to a great extent, in a country that governors helped create. It is interesting to note that seventeen state governors in our nation’s history have become president—seven of them over the course of the twentieth century. Perhaps more significantly, four out of the past five presidents were former governors, a testament to the importance citizens ascribe to the states’ highest office.

In May 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt convened the nation’s governors at the White House to discuss conserving the country’s resources. Both the president and vice president attended, as did cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, and thirty-nine state and territorial governors. They were joined by a cadre of guests known for their innovative thinking and influential actions, including populist William Jennings Bryan and industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

The meeting achieved its goal, yielding a policy declaration concerning conservation, but it also was notable for another idea—the creation of a national organization for governors. As Louisiana Governor Newton Blanchard noted, “Personally, I have long thought that, if the governors of the states could themselves from time to time get together, exchanging ideas and views touching the governmental and other affairs of their states, much good would come out of it.” the idea found favor among his colleagues, and in 1910 New Jersey Governor-elect Woodrow Wilson proposed its formation. the organization was formally constituted in 1912.

A century after the 1908 meeting, governors representing all of the states, territories, and commonwealths convene today as the National Governors Association. the bipartisan association assists governors on domestic policy and state management issues and provides a forum for governors to speak with one voice to the President and Congress.

The 2008 meeting in Philadelphia marks the centennial for the organization, and this book and a companion volume have been published as part of that commemoration. A Legacy of Innovation highlights the role of governors in developing new policy responses to emerging challenges. From welfare to Medicaid to race relations, governors played a major role in shaping the economic and social climate of today. Readers . . .

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