What Does an Acting Governor Do?

Emily Daw

In the United States, an acting governor temporarily takes over the responsibilities of a state governor who is unable to fulfill his or her duties for some reason. Like the duties of governors themselves, the duties of an acting governor vary from state to state, but generally consist of running the day-to-day affairs of the executive branch. These may include preparing the state budget and approving or vetoing laws.

Woman posing
Woman posing

An acting governor must be appointed if a state's governor dies, suffers serious illness or injury, is on trial for a crime, or is not able to act as governor for any other reason. For example, if the governor is campaigning for a national office such as president or vice-president, he or she may be absent for several months at a time. In most states, the lieutenant governor takes on the governor's role. Some states, such as West Virginia, do not have a lieutenant governor, so another elected official such as the Senate president will take over.

If the governor is not able to return to office, the acting governor will sometimes serve the remainder of the governor's term. In other states, a special gubernatorial election will be held to determine the successor. The newly elected official will then be the governor, rather than the acting governor.

Generally, acting governors have all the powers, rights, and responsibilities of the head of the state's executive branch. Depending on how long the acting governor is in power, he or she may be required to perform some or all of these duties. A typical governor's job includes some or all responsibility for the state's budget, approving or vetoing laws passed by the Senate, granting pardons, appointing officials like judges, and calling special congressional sessions. State constitutions will determine which of these actions should be administered by acting governors.

The acting governor will not necessarily be from the same political party as the actual governor or even have similar political aims. Acting governors are often not in power long enough to make any significant changes in state government, but occasionally one will cause controversy by acting in ways that the governor likely would not. One well-known example of this was Mike Curb, a Republican, who periodically acted as governor of California while Democrat Jerry Brown was campaigning for national office in 1979–1980. Curb made over 400 appointments and signed 30 bills into law, many of which did not have Brown's support. The California Supreme Court controversially upheld Curb's decisions by ruling that the acting governor did, in fact, have all the authority of the governor in his or her absence.

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