Although the upcoming special election to fill John Kerry’s U.S. Senate seat is currently getting all of the attention, there is another important election coming on the heels of that. In 2014, residents of Massachusetts will be electing a new governor. With incumbent Gov. Deval Patrick already stating that he will not seek a third term, some early jockeying has begun. Lt. Gov. Tim Murray is out, business executive Joseph Avellone is in, and State Treasurer Steve Grossman seems to be taking a serious look.
While one certainly cannot fault ambition, it is a curious fact that more than a few of our governors have chosen to either resign (in all but one case to seek appointed office) or retire (in all but one case to seek elected office). Since the Massachusetts state constitution was adopted in 1780, a total of 71 people have been elected governor, starting with John Hancock up to Deval Patrick.
Out of the 71, six (about 9 percent) resigned and seven (10 percent) retired to pursue something else. This represents a total of 13 governors, which accounts for 18 percent or almost one out of every five governors!
Amazingly, it all began with our very first governor, John Hancock, who resigned in 1785. He actually resigned due to illness, while the following five resignations occurred in order to seek appointed office: John Davis became a U.S. senator in 1835; William Washburn became a U.S. senator in 1874; John Volpe became U.S. Secretary of Transportation in 1969; William Weld was nominated but not confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become U.S. ambassador to Mexico in 1997; and Paul Cellucci became U.S. ambassador to Canada in 2001. It should be noted that prior to 1914, U.S. senators were not popularly elected but rather appointed by state legislatures.
Those governors who chose to retire in order to pursue something else include the following: Nathaniel Prentice Banks, who sought the 1860 Republican presidential nomination (losing out to Abraham Lincoln); Calvin Coolidge, who ran successfully for vice president on the GOP ticket with Warren Harding in 1920; James Michael Curley, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. senator in 1936; Leverett Saltonstall, who ran successfully for U.S. senator in 1944; Christian Herter, who soon after retirement was appointed U.S. undersecretary of state in early 1957 and then secretary of state in 1959; Foster Furcolo, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. senator in 1960; and Mitt Romney, who ran unsuccessfully for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
One governor who sought higher office but did not resign or retire in order to do it was Michael Dukakis. In chatting with him recently, I asked his opinion about my findings. Although he was not quite sure of the reason himself, he did say that he considered it a very individual thing with each governor. Saying that it’s the best job in the world, he could not understand why Governors Weld and Cellucci would have preferred an ambassadorship to the governor’s office. As for our most recent governor who bailed – Mitt Romney – Dukakis says that Romney always considered it simply a stepping stone to the presidency and didn’t have much interest in it (agreed).
Addendum – in the blogging that took place after my previous guest column last Nov. 4, some people were panning the survey results I used which supported my prediction of an Obama re-election victory. Well, as we all found out on the evening of Nov. 6, the survey results were accurate. And while I don’t claim to be Nate Silver, I did predict in that same column that Obama would receive around 51 percent of the popular vote (he received 51.1 percent) and around 300 electoral votes, possibly more (he received 303, then with Florida decided 332).
Richard Padova teaches history, government and geography at Northern Essex Community College.