With a national anti-establishment mood and 12 gubernatorial elections—eight in states with a Democrat as sitting governor—the Republicans were optimistic that they would strengthen their hand as they headed into the November elections. Republicans already held 31 governorships to the Democrats’ 18—Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is an Independent—and with about half the gubernatorial elections considered competitive, Republicans had the potential to increase their control to 36 governors’ mansions. For their part, Democrats had a realistic chance to convert only a couple of Republican governorships to their party. Given the party’s win-loss potential, Republicans were optimistic, in a good position.
As Utah code states: “The assignment of important responsibilities to the lieutenant governor is essential to the continuity of state government and for the effective use of funds appropriated to the office of lieutenant governor.” State legislators have a significant role to define responsibilities for a state’s lieutenant governor in statute. Lieutenant governors elected statewide hold an average of eight statutory duties which range from operating a government department to leading an array of commissions.
The slow economy and unpredictable Trump administration have governors in a bit of a straitjacket, some more than others. Chief executives in states with reasonably stable finances are able to speak positively to their public—some are opting for long overdue pay raises for state workers, expanding programs, innovating others, and replenishing rainy day funds. Those in states suffering financially are less sanguine, holding firm to tight agendas by limiting policy concerns, discussion about budget priorities and/or emphasizing the need for continued hard work and sacrifices ahead. This is the first year since 2007 that gubernatorial concerns and policy options related to economic development and jobs have fallen from the top three issues considered by at least two thirds of governors. In 2007, these concerns tracked fifth in terms of being mentioned by at least 66 percent of state chief executives. The Great Recession officially began later that year and states seemingly have yet to fully recover.
Voters left the overall partisan landscape in state legislatures relatively unchanged in 2016, despite a tumultuous campaign for the presidency. The GOP remains firmly in control of legislatures. Their overall ranks grew slightly in the 2015 and 2016 elections allowing the party to reach new historic heights. Democrats saw modest gains in Western states that were offset by Republican success in the Midwest and South.
Interstate compacts are an increasingly important and popular form of cooperation among states. Through compacts, states can address shared problems, promote a common agenda, and produce collective goods on a wide array of issues such as child welfare, criminal justice, education, health, natural resources, taxation and transportation.
Several state constitutional amendments on the ballot in 2016 attracted significant attention. Voters approved citizen-initiated amendments legalizing medical marijuana in Arkansas and Florida, boosting the minimum wage in Colorado, and extending an income tax hike on upper-income earners in California. Victims’ rights were recognized through passage of amendments in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, as were hunting and fishing rights through passage of amendments in Kansas and Indiana. Colorado voters approved an amendment increasing the barriers to passage of future amendments, in part by adding a super-majority voter-ratification rule.