Cuomo joins small group of US governors forced to resign

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Andrew Cuomo prepares to board a helicopter after announcing his resignation as governor of New York on August 10, 2021. (Seth Wenig / AP)

When former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned entered into force on August 24, he became the 56th member of a rather closed club: governors of American states who resigned under pressure, were indicted and removed from their posts, were recalled or involuntarily left their posts before the end of their mandate.

With one state governor (Andrew Cuomo from New York) just stepping out and another (Gavin Newsom from California) fighting to stay, we wanted to see how common it was for governors in the United States to leave their homes. functions early against their will.

To do so, this analysis from the Pew Research Center examined the careers of nearly 2,400 people who have served as state governors. We omitted territorial governors, colonial-era governors, and those who served before the United States formally gained independence in 1783.

Our basic source of information was the National Association of Governors (NGA), which maintains lists of current and former governors for each state. However, we found several missing Governors in the NGA database, so we supplemented our search by consulting state archives and historical websites, as well as modern and contemporary media accounts.

States differ on who counts as an “official” governor. Some states include interim governors – such as legislative leaders or other state officials who have served as governors-elect who have died or resigned – while others do not. Still others have some acting governors, but not all. Some states, but not all, have people who have served multiple non-consecutive terms as governor more than once. When in doubt, we referred to the NGA list; if a person appeared there, he counted in our universe of governors. We only counted each governor once; our unit of analysis was individuals, not terms.

In this universe, we have counted every case where a governor has been removed and removed from office; recalled by voters; resigned in the context of an ethics scandal or legal entanglement; or removed from office in some other way, such as by a court order or legislative vote declaring that another person is the rightful governor. We also included 15 cases in which Reconstruction Era governors from former Confederate states were removed from office by military or presidential order. We did not count voluntary resignations, such as when a governor was elected to the United States Senate or appointed to federal office.

The case of the former government of Maryland is of note. Marvin mandel. In June 1977, while battling federal charges of mail fraud and racketeering, Mandel informed Lieutenant Governor Blair Lee III that Lee should serve as “Acting Governor” until further notice. Lee held this post until January 15, 1979, when Mandel resumed his post – two days before his term expired. For this analysis, we ruled that Mandel had effectively left his office without actually resigning, so we placed him in the “otherwise withdrawn” category. (Mandel eventually served 19 months in federal prison, until President Ronald Reagan commuted his sentence.)

A graphic showing resignation is the most common way for U.S. governors to be forced out

Including Cuomo, only 21 of the nearly 2,400 people who have served as state governor since independence from the United States have resigned under pressure – such as after a criminal conviction or, as in Cuomo’s case, under pressure. threat of imminent impeachment – according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center. Eight other governors were dismissed and removed from office, while two others were dismissed by voters. The remaining 25 were dismissed from their posts by other mechanisms, ranging from court orders to bayonets of Union soldiers.

The ranks of ousted governors can grow before the leaves turn. On September 14, Californians vote on whether to recall Governor Gavin Newsom (although postal ballots have already been sent out) and on his potential replacement in the Governor’s Mansion.

A bar chart showing Arizona and Louisiana have the highest proportions of governors forced to resign

Louisiana has seen most governors leave office against their will. Seven of the 56 people who have served as governors since Louisiana became a state in 1812 have involuntarily left their posts. All of these cases except one occurred in the twelve years after the Civil War, when Louisiana was one of the places where reconstruction was most fiercely resisted. During that 12-year period, as many as 11 men served as state governors, one of whom was for just 35 days.

But Louisiana takes second place when it comes to the highest to share governors driven from power. This “honor” goes to Arizona. Since it became a state in 1912, three of its 23 governors, or about 13%, have left office involuntarily:

  • Thomas Campbell was first declared the winner of the 1916 gubernatorial election and served for almost a year before the state Supreme Court ruled that his rival, George WP Hunt, had actually won and ordered Campbell to hand over the office. (He got his revenge by defeating Hunt in the 1918 election and winning a second term in 1920.)
  • In 1988, Governor Evan Mecham was indicted and convicted obstruction of justice and abuse of government funds after allegedly loaning $ 80,000 in inaugural funds to his car dealership. Mecham also faced a recall election (which was quashed) and a criminal trial (in which he was acquitted).
  • In 1997, Governor Fife Symington resigned after being convicted of bank fraud for allegedly lying to his lenders about the true financial situation of his commercial real estate business prior to becoming governor. The convictions were then overturned on appeal and Symington was pardoned by then President Bill Clinton before he could be retried.

As far as we can tell, the first US state governor to step down against his will was the (appropriately named) John A. Quitman of Mississippi. In 1851, Quitman was accused of violating federal law by supporting a putative invasion of Cuba, then a Spanish colony. The charges were eventually dropped after his resignation.

Two dozen of the 56 forced evictions of governors were linked to the politics of the Civil War era and reconstruction, which took place between 1861 and 1877. Two governors, Sam Houston of Texas and Claiborne Fox Jackson of Missouri, were removed from office. their functions in 1861 during disputes over the accession of their states to Confederation. Later, as Confederation collapsed, Union troops forcibly removed several governors from the South. (Several other governors, such as those of Louisiana and Texas, fled to Mexico to avoid being captured.)

In the early stages of Reconstruction, military authorities ousted the governors of five states for resisting federal authority or for failing to protect the rights of freed slaves. Later, like the white Americans of the South fought to restore white domination and regained control of state legislatures, pro-reconstruction governors in five states were either removed from office or resigned under threat of impeachment.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of a governor being forced out of office followed the Kentucky gubernatorial election of 1899. Republican William S. Taylor was declared the winner and took office in December, but his Democratic opponent, William Goebel, challenged the result in the Democratic-controlled legislature. January 30, 1900, Goebel was shot upon entering what is now the Old State Capitol; Taylor declared a state of emergency and called the militia. The next day the legislature declared Goebel legitimate governor; he was sworn in but died three days later. Taylor tried to stay in office, but the state Court of Appeals ruled that Goebel’s running mate, John C. Beckham, was the rightful governor. (Taylor was eventually charged as an accomplice in Goebel’s murder, but fled to Indiana to avoid extradition and was never tried; he was pardoned in 1909 but avoided Kentucky for the remainder of his life.)

Colorado once had three governors in one day. The 1904 gubernatorial election between incumbent Governor James H. Peabody (R) and former Governor Alva Adams (D) was riddled with accusations of fraud on both sides. Adams was first declared the winner and was sworn in in January 1905. But Peabody continued to challenge the results, and the Republican-controlled legislature declared him the winner on March 17, 1905 – on condition that he resign immediately and hands over the post to its lieutenant governor, Jesse F. McDonald. McDonald then served the remainder of the term.

Graph showing more than half of states have seen at least one governor removed from office

Oklahoma is the only state to have impeached and removed of them state governors. In 1923, the governor John C. Walton the battles against the Ku Klux Klan brought it to put Tulsa – and later the entire state – under martial law. The KKK-dominated legislature responded by indicting and condemning him for corruption in power. Six years later, Governor Henry S. Johnston was impeached on many charges, but convicted and fired on one – “general incompetence”.

Cuomo became the second New York governor to resign amid threats of scandal and impeachment, and the third in total to step down against his will. Just 13 years ago Eliot Spitzer has resigned following revelations that he frequented a high-end prostitution service. In 1913 Governor William Sulzer, who had repeatedly clashed with the legislature and Tammany Hall’s powerful machine, was indicted, convicted of perjury and filing false campaign finance reports, and removed from office.

If Newsom lost next month’s recall election, he would be the second California governor to do so – after Davis Gray in 2003 – and the third in total, starting with Lynn frazier of North Dakota in 1921. The only other re-election for governor was held in 2012, when Scott Walker of Wisconsin push back an effort to withdraw it.


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