In the week since Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination, he received more votes in the Ames Straw Poll as a write in than Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, poached the treasurer of Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC, and toured Iowa by bus. When senators run for president, they have to miss the occasional vote. But how do state governments keep running when their chief executive is on the campaign trail?
Without much difficulty. In the age of digital communication, campaigning governors can still complete many of their daily tasks, like overseeing state agencies and negotiating with local councils. As always, they can also delegate responsibilities to staffers. For executive duties that need to be conducted in person, the next-ranked official, usually the lieutenant governor, steps in. In the governor’s absence, for instance, the lieutenant may approve an execution, with the option to pardon. Since lieutenant governors typically don’t have many crucial day-to-day responsibilities, the extra workload tends not to cause problems.
Good form dictates that acting governors don’t overreach by signing any bills the elected governor wouldn’t or making drastic changes. Of course, not everyone cares about manners: When California Gov. Jerry Brown left the state to campaign for the presidency in 1979, Lieutenant Gov. Mike Curb appointed Armand Arabian to the court of appeal, knowing well that Brown intended to appoint someone else. When Brown returned, he withdrew Arabian’s appointment and made his own. The ensuing dispute made it to the state supreme court, which ruled both the appointment and the withdrawal legal. During his time as acting governor in 1979 and 1980, Curb made 431 appointments and signed more than 30 bills.
One thing governors are loath to let their lieutenants do is sign important bills. So during state legislative sessions (Texas doesn’t have another scheduled until January 2013), campaigning governors typically return to their states often enough to get this done. During such sessions, it’s also important to have an in-state presence to meet with lawmakers and influence the legislative process.
Bonus Explainer: What are the upsides to being acting governor, if you’re well-mannered? Better pay, for one. Acting governors generally get a temporary raise to the real governor’s salary. In Texas, that’s $410.96 per midnight-to-midnight of acting governorship. At the same time, Texas governors on leave still get their standard salary. Unless they don’t want it: George W. Bush forwent his gubernatorial salary (then $316.01 per day) while campaigning in 1999. Texas’ lieutenant governor at the time? Rick Perry.
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Explainer thanks Richard Kearney of North Carolina State University’s School of Public and International Affairs and Lucy Nashed of the Office of Gov. Rick Perry. Explaineralso thanks reader Alec Stapp for asking the question.