Do State Governors Deal with Congress in Any Way?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The relationship between state governors and the United States Congress can be a little murky at times. In the sense of having a direct role in the federal legislative process, state governors may be able to assert some political influence over their own state's senators and representatives, but they have no official role in the voting process. State governors have much more power and influence at the state government level.

The US Capitol Building, the seat of the US Congress.
The US Capitol Building, the seat of the US Congress.

The US Congress has an established pecking order, beginning with freshman or first year House representatives and ending with long-serving senators and the appointed president pro tem, usually a respected senator from the majority political party. State governors are not included in that hierarchy of power, although they are not without their uses for federal legislators.

Quite often state governors find themselves on the thankless receiving end of new federal laws, Supreme Court rulings and unfunded mandates imposed by Congress. Because these edicts are often tied to much-needed federal funding, state governments are generally obligated to comply with any federal laws, and in many cases are strongly urged to create similar state laws, such as the mandatory use of motorcycle helmets or highway speed limitations. Even if certain state governors believe the federal laws are either too restrictive or too permissive, they are rarely in a position to override federal law with new state law.

This is not to say that state governors are completely powerless when dealing with the United States Congress. Individual state governments can band together over an issue of mutual interest and use that collective power to send a unified message to Congress. State governments have historically chafed at the idea of being controlled by a strong central federal government, which in turn has led to several skirmishes over states' rights. The Civil War, for example, was partially triggered by a disagreement between state governors and Congress over the right to decide whether future states could decide to allow slavery or not.

Another infamous clash between a state governor and the federal government occurred in 1962, when Alabama governor George Wallace physically stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to prevent several black students from registering at a traditionally white college. While the federal government had ordered the desegregation of government-funded institutions, Governor Wallace believed individual states should have the right to form their own segregation or desegregation laws. In the end, Wallace did step aside and allow the students to enter the campus, but the incident demonstrated how fractious the relationship between state governors and Congress can be.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


@matthewc23 - You are correct and there are certain duties that the Governor has according to state and federal laws that allows them to intervene with Congress.

In most states the Governor is allowed to appoint someone to fill a vacancy and in reality they are legally allowed to fill the seat with anyone they see fit to be seated in that position.

I remember when Barack Obama was elected and his Senate seat was vacated, Governor Blagojevich of Illinois, had to choose someone to fill the vacancy and there was a rumor going around that he had the power to appoint himself and was talking about doing so.

Naturally the Senate would have found some way not to allow this to happen, but there was no law present at the time to prevent him from doing so.

This instance does show though that the Governor has the ability to appoint who they want in vacant posts in Congress and they could do so with an agenda in mind, say appointing someone of a particular interest group or political ideology.


@cardsfan27 - I absolutely agree. One of the duties of the Governor is to stand up for their stand and keep the federal government in check.

In a way the Governor is the patriarch of the state and watches over all the people and protects them and their interests.

Sometimes the federal government might overstep their boundaries and that is when the Governor has to be the first one to act and be able to defend the rights of his or her state.

Instances like this happen all the time and although they are usually pretty civil in nature, can get heated. They also do not only have to involve fiscal issues, but can also involve social issues and even legal issues, like in a court case.


@TreeMan - You are correct in the instances you described and to be honest the Governor's job in any state is to question how the federal government is administrating their power within the state and make sure that their state still has a bit of a voice on the national level.

The major clashes between the Governors and the federal government, besides the Nullification Crisis and the George Wallace protest, are usually not as heated and are really simply cases of the Governor standing up for his or her state.

Usually the Governor will try to intervene on behalf of the state in instances in which he feels the federal government is giving a raw deal to the state.

Most of these instances usually involve issues like funding as well as the federal government taking control of issues that the Governor of that state feels like should be left with the state or another area of the Government.


There are so many instance sin history in which the Governor has tried to intervene in some way with Congress and it was especially not uncommon at all during the early days of the United States Government.

Back in the early days of American government there was always clashes between the state and federal government and it was not unusual for the Governor of the state to lead the charge protesting the federal government's rule.

There are way too many instances to name and I know the issue with George Wallace is a fairly recent and well publicized one, but there are other instances like the Nullification Crisis in which South Carolinians refused to go along with federal law and this forced the Governor of South Carolina to butt heads with President Andrew Jackson as well as Congress.

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