New Hampshire’s Short Term Governor Not Alone

By John Celock

Chuck Morse’s tenure as New Hampshire governor will forever be measured in hours rather than years.

Due to a constitutional quirk, Morse, the Republican president of the state Senate, took the reigns of state government as acting governor for 60 hours this week, serving from outgoing Gov. Maggie Hassan’s (D) resignation at midnight on Tuesday until Gov. Chris Sununu’s (R) inauguration at Noon on Thursday. Hassan stepped down early to take her seat in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday. Morse, who held the Senate presidency during his governorship, returns to the top job in the Senate.

Morse’s 60 hours as the Granite State’s governor is not alone in American history or New Hampshire history. In 1993, Republican Senate President Ralph Hough served five days as acting governor following the resignation of Republican Judd Gregg to become a senator and the swearing in of Republican Steve Merrill as governor. In 1982, Republican Senate President Vesta Roy became New Hampshire’s first female chief executive when outgoing Gov. Hugh Gallen (D) died a week before leaving office. Roy too was succeeded by a Sununu, the new governor’s father, John.

Other states have had short-term governors, many from governors leaving office early to assume other offices and other quirks. Both of Maine’s short-term governors, Republican Nathanial Haskell for one day in 1953 and Whig Richard Vose for two days in 1841, were Senate presidents who were elevated to the governorship when their predecessors resigned before the end of their terms to assume Senate seats.

New Jersey famously had five governors in a week in 2002 when a constitutional quirk caused a game of musical chairs in the governor’s mansion. Following Republican Christine Todd Whitman’s resignation in 2001 to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Republican Senate President Donald DiFrancesco took over as acting governor for a year, since the state did not have a lieutenant governor’s office at the time. DiFrancesco did not seek the governorship or his Senate seat again and left the Senate a week prior to the end of Whitman’s term.

Since the New Jersey Senate was equally split between parties in 2002, Republican John Bennett and Democrat Dick Codey each became co-president of the Senate, giving them each three and a half days as governor to complete Whitman’s term. But, 90 minutes existed between the end of DiFrancesco’s term and Bennett taking office as Senate president, and the Assembly speaker had retired a new speaker had not been elected. This left state Attorney General John Farmer as governor for 90 minutes. Finally after a week of musical governors, Codey handed over the reigns to Democrat Jim McGreevey, who had been elected in 2001. McGreevey would also not complete his term and in November 2004, resigned and gave the governor’s mansion back to Codey, who held the job for another 14 months.

In 1998, outgoing Ohio Gov. George Voinovich’s (R) election to the U.S. Senate caused him to leave office on Dec. 31, 11 days before Republican Bob Taft would be sworn-in as governor. Republican Nancy Hollister, Voinovich’s lieutenant governor, succeeded her boss to spend 11 days as the first woman governor of Ohio. Hollister was then appointed to an open seat in the state House of Representatives after her time as Ohio’s 66th governor. Hollister recently appointed to the state Board of Education by Gov. John Kasich (R).

Though Democrat Bob Graham stepped down as Florida’s governor three days early in 1987 to become a senator, his lieutenant governor, Democrat Wayne Mixson, was due to become governor for three days no matter how Graham fared in the Senate race. Under Florida law in 1986, Graham was required to file an irrevocable letter of resignation from the governorship when he filed as a Senate candidate, with the resignation effective Jan. 3, 1987, the start date for the Senate term. This was the case even though Graham was term limited after eight years as governor and was due to leave office on Jan. 6, 1987. Mixson’s three days as the 39th governor of Florida is the shortest for any governor of the state.

Former Delaware Gov. Dale Wolf (R) came to the governorship in similar circumstances with his predecessor, Republican Mike Castle, stepping down on Dec. 31, 1992 to assume a seat in Congress. Wolf though served longer than many other short-term governors, holding office for three weeks as Delaware’s 70th governor, until Democrat Tom Carper was sworn-in.

Carper himself would step down two weeks before his second term as governor ended in 2001, bequeathing the governorship to his lieutenant governor, Democrat Ruth Ann Minner. In Minner’s case, she had already won the governorship in her own right when Carper resigned, so the resignation added two additional weeks to the eight years she would spend as Delaware’s chief executive. Those extra two weeks though, give Minner the distinction of being the longest serving governor of Delaware.

Like New Jersey’s five governors in a week, not all short term governors come about through governors headed to elective posts in Washington. On Dec. 3, 1942, Democrat Charles Poletti became New York’s 46th governor after fellow Democrat Herbert Lehman, who did not seek reelection that year, resigned 29 days early to accept a post at the State Department working on foreign aid issues.

Kansas received it’s shortest serving governor in 1957 in an effort to deny the Democratic governor-elect the chance to appoint a chief justice of the state Supreme Court. On Jan. 3, 1957, outgoing Gov. Fred Hall (R), who had been defeated in a GOP primary for reelection the previous year, resigned, elevating Lt. Gov. John McCuish (R) to the governor’s mansion for 11 days. McCuish then appointed Hall to the vacant chief justice’s job. Democrat George Docking then succeeded McCuish as governor.