Undesirable Exits: Not All Long-Serving Governors Went Out On Their Own Terms

Forty percent of the longest-serving governors in U.S. history left office far short of a storybook ending

johnkitzhaber11.jpgSpeculation ran wild on Wednesday that embattled Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber was going to announce his resignation after days of pressure stemming from a new ethics investigation on him and his fiancée Cylvia Hayes.

Kitzhaber was reportedly poised to resign, but then changed his mind and decided to forge ahead – come what may of the state investigation.

On Thursday, top Democratic leaders from both state legislative chambers as well as Treasurer Ted Wheeler called on the governor to resign in what has been a remarkably swift onslaught of bipartisan pressure on Kitzhaber to step down from office.

On Friday, it was announced Kitzhaber would resign effective next Wednesday.

As previously reported by Smart Politics, Kitzhaber (along with California Democrat Jerry Brown) currently ranks #20 in all-time statehood gubernatorial service, logging in more than 12 years and one month on the job.

If Kitzhaber had completed his term he would have passed up Republican Bill Janklow of South Dakota for second place on the list by three days.

However, Kitzhaber will add his name to a list of long-serving governors who, despite having a long and impressive resume, did not get to leave office on their own terms.

Although he was the first to resign among them due to a scandal.

A Smart Politics analysis of the governors with the Top 25 longest tenures in U.S. history finds that 40 percent of them – 10 including John Kitzhaber – exited office by losing their party’s nomination, losing the general election, resigning due to scandal, or dying in office.

Of the top 25 longest-serving statehood governors, two (as of next week, excluding Kitzhaber) are still in office:

● #1 Iowa Republican Terry Branstad (1983-1999, 2011-present; 7,338 days)
● #20 (t) California Democrat Jerry Brown (1975-1983, 2011-present; 4,423 days)

Two others resigned from office, not under pressure to do so, but to take new positions:

● #9 New York Republican Nelson Rockefeller (1959-1973; 5,466 days) to work on his Commission on Critical Choices for Americans (and became Vice President soon thereafter)
● #11 Wisconsin Republican Tommy Thompson (1987-2001; 5,142 days) to become Secretary of Health and Human Services

Two governors were term-limited:

● #2 South Dakota Republican Bill Janklow (1979-1987, 1995-2003; 5,851 days) who won a seat in Congress in the 2002 cycle instead
● #4 (t) North Carolina Democrat Jim Hunt (1977-1985, 1993-2001; 5,840 days)

Nine others opted not to run for reelection:

● #3 Alabama Democrat George Wallace (1963-1967, 1971-1979, 1983-1987; 5,848 days)
● #6 Louisiana Democrat Edwin Edwards (1972-1980, 1984-1988, 1992-1996; 5,784 days)
● #10 Texas Republican Rick Perry (2000-2015; 5,144 days)
● #12 Idaho Democrat Cecil Andrus (1971-1977, 1987-1995; 5,133 days)
● #13 New Hampshire Federalist John Gilman (1794-1805, 1813-1816; 5,119 days)
● #14 Illinois Republican James Thompson (1977-1991; 5,118 days)
● #15 Iowa Republican Robert Ray (1969-1983; 5,112 days)
● #16 Michigan Republican William Milliken (1969-1983; 5,093 days)
● #25 Washington Republican Dan Evans (1965-1977; 4,385 days)

Note: While Edwards was not forced out of office, two years later he was indicted and convicted on federal racketeering charges.

That leaves 10 of the Top 25 longest-serving governors who, despite their numerous victories and once popular record with the public, did not leave on their own terms:

● #4 (t) Ohio Republican Jim Rhodes (1963-1971, 1975-1983; 5,840 days) was term-limited in 1982, but sought a fifth term in 1986 and was easily defeated in the general election by incumbent Richard Celeste.

● #7 Rhode Island Anti-Federalist Arthur Fenner (1790-1805; 5,642 days) died in office in 1805.

● #8 Maryland Democrat Albert Ritchie (1920-1935; 5,475 days) was narrowly defeated in his quest for a fifth consecutive term in 1934 by Republican Harry Nice.

● #17 Arizona Democrat George Hunt’s (1911-1919, 1923-1929, 1931-1933; 5,090 days) attempt at an eighth nonconsecutive term fell short when he was defeated by 6.2 points in the 1932 Democratic primary by Benjamin Moeur. Hunt sought a rematch with Governor Moeur in the 1934 primary but placed third and then died that December.

● #18 Rhode Island Jeffersonian-Republican / Jacksonian Democrat / Law and Order Governor James Fenner (1807-1811, 1824-1831, 1843-1845; 4,749 days) lost reelection three times – in 1811, in 1831, and in 1845 to Whig Liberation Party nominee Charles Jackson after his last term in office. (Fenner also lost the Election of 1832).

● #19 New Jersey Jeffersonian-Republican Isaac Williamson (1817-1829; 4,650 days) was defeated by Jacksonian Garret Wall by a 37 to 15 vote after partisan control of the legislature flipped. (Wall declined and the governorship went to Peter Vroom). Williamson would become mayor of Elizabethtown but never returned to the governor’s office.

● #20 (t) Oregon Democrat John Kitzhaber (1995-2003, 2011-present; 4,423 days) will resign next week.

● #22 Tennessee Jeffersonian-Republican/Democrat William Carroll (1821-1827, 1829-1835; 4,395 days) lost his bid for a seventh non-consecutive term to former U.S. Representative and Anti Van-Buren Democrat Newton Cannon in 1835.

● #23 West Virginia Republican Arch Moore (1969-1977, 1985-1989; 4,391 days) was defeated by Gaston Caperton in his attempt at a fourth non-consecutive four-year term in 1988. Moore was also the losing GOP nominee in the Election of 1980.

● #24 New Mexico Democrat Bruce King (1971-1975, 1979-1983, 1991-1995; 4,386 days) lost his reelection bid during the Republican revolution of 1994 to Gary Johnson.

Top 25 Longest-Serving Statehood Governors in U.S. History

#
State
Governor
Party
Years
# Days
1
IA
Terry Branstad*
Republican
1983-1999, 2011-present
7,338
2
SD
William Janklow
Republican
1979-1987, 1995-2003
5,851
3
AL
George Wallace
Democrat
1963-1967, 1971-1979, 1983-1987
5,848
4
NC
Jim Hunt
Democrat
1977-1985, 1993-2001
5,840
4
OH
Jim Rhodes
Republican
1963-1971, 1975-1983
5,840
6
LA
Edwin Edwards
Democrat
1972-1980, 1984-1988, 1992-1996
5,784
7
RI
Arthur Fenner
Anti-Federalist
1790-1805
5,642
8
MD
Albert Ritchie
Democrat
1920-1935
5,475
9
NY
Nelson Rockefeller
Republican
1959-1973
5,466
10
TX
Rick Perry
Republican
2000-2015
5,144
11
WI
Tommy Thompson
Republican
1987-2001
5,142
12
ID
Cecil Andrus
Democrat
1971-1977, 1987-1995
5,133
13
NH
John Gilman
Federalist
1794-1805, 1813-1816
5,119
14
IL
James Thompson
Republican
1977-1991
5,118
15
IA
Robert Ray
Republican
1969-1983
5,112
16
MI
William Milliken
Republican
1969-1983
5,093
17
AZ
George Hunt
Democrat
1911-1919, 1923-1929, 1931-1933
5,090
18
RI
James Fenner
Jeff-Rep; Jack-Dem, Law & Order
1807-1811, 1824-1831, 1843-1845
4,749
19
NJ
Isaac Williamson
Jeffersonian Republican
1817-1829
4,650
20
OR
John Kitzhaber*
Democrat
1995-2003; 2011-present
4,423
20
CA
Jerry Brown*
Democrat
1975-1983; 2011-present
4,423
22
TN
William Carroll
Jeffersonian-Republican; Democrat
1821-1827, 1829-1835
4,395
23
WV
Arch Moore
Republican
1969-1977, 1985-1989
4,391
24
NM
Bruce King
Democrat
1971-1975, 1979-1983, 1991-1995
4,386
25
WA
Dan Evans
Republican
1965-1977
4,385

* Denotes a governor still in office. Through February 13, 2015. Note: Excludes pre-U.S. Constitutional gubernatorial service as well as gubernatorial service in U.S. territories. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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1 Comment on "Undesirable Exits: Not All Long-Serving Governors Went Out On Their Own Terms"

  1. Maybe time to update this list just a bit!

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