The Governor and the Executive Branch
The governor has more influence than any other single actor in the state's political system, and both his or her formal and informal powers have changed significantly in recent decades. In Kentucky, as in all the states, the effectiveness of the governor varies with the goals, the skills, and the political resources of the individual who holds that office. The single-term limit for Kentucky's governors, no longer in effect after Brereton Jones, has exaggerated these differences.1
It is an enduring tribute to Kentucky's traditionalistic view of itself that the office of governor defines much of the state's history.2 Sessions of Congress are described by their own names ("the 100th Congress"), while meetings of the General Assembly in Kentucky are designated according to the state's executive leader ("the second regular session of Happy Chandler's first term").
The office of governor was created in Kentucky, as elsewhere among the states, in reaction to the British colonial governors who ruled in the name of hated monarchs. The execution of law was understood to be a necessary evil, but this was a function to be performed within considerable constraints. The militia required a commander-in-chief; the remission of fines and the granting of pardons needed to emanate from one authority; and revenues had to be accumulated and dispersed by one functionary, but not necessarily the governor. The growth of new monarchies had to be avoided. Kentucky's first constitution, lifted almost wholly from Pennsylvania's, circumscribed the governor's formal powers in many ways that remain intact today. Indeed, Kentucky's later constitutions added structural obstacles to the executive.