There Certainly Is Life After Being Governor

By: - March 1, 2004 12:00 am

They used to have mansions, chauffeured cars, a media mob hanging on every word, security staff and sometimes access to the state plane. Now many drive their own cars and hunt for parking.

Former governors who recently lost power and perks upon stepping out of their state’s highest office find there is gubernatorial afterlife, though it may mean radical occupational switches.

  • Former California Gov. Gray Davis (D) is making a cameo appearance March 1 in a CBS sitcom, “Yes, Dear.” •Former South Dakota Gov. William Janklow (R), who moved to the Congress last year, started serving a 100-day jail sentence Feb. 7 for manslaughter stemming from a collision that killed a motorcyclist.
  • Jesse “The Body” Ventura, former governor of Minnesota and pro wrestler, is a fellow this spring at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. His course, “Body Slamming the Political Establishment,” will examine the future of third parties such as his own Reform Party in American government.
  • Colorado’s Roy Romer, a Democrat, serves as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Political scientists say studying ex-governors’ occupational choices is important because four of the last five men to occupy the White House were former governors.

“Where they come from may affect where they go, and to me, that’s interesting,” said Margaret Ferguson, a political scientist at Indiana University who is studying the career paths of governors.

Conversations with the latest crop of governors to leave state office find them grateful for more privacy–but wistful about days when a phone call moved mountains.

“I joke that the one thing I do miss the most is not the driver, it is the parking spot,” said former Michigan Gov. John Engler, (R), who is president of state and local business for EDS, an information technology services company that handles Medicaid claims-processing systems for 16 states. Engler doesn’t have a reserved space at EDS’ Northern Virginia parking lot.

For 11 of the governors who left office since 1999, moving on has meant moving to Washington, D.C. The transplanted former governors occasionally socialize together, celebrating former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating’s 60th birthday in February at Keating’s home. Keating (R) is president and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.

Engler said, “On behalf of the colleagues I’ve talked to, we all are pretty comfortable that there certainly is life after being governor and that thus far all of us think it’s pretty good.”

Former Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) tapped a few GOP governors for Washington jobs after he became the 43rd president. New Jersey’s Christine Whitman served as EPA administrator, followed at the EPA by Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt. Pennsylvania’s Tom Ridge became secretary of homeland security, and Montana’s Marc Racicot was head of the Republican National Committee before taking on leadership of Bush’s re-election campaign.

Another common career path is moving to Congress. Ohio’s George Voinovich (R) and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson (D) left the governor’s office in 1999 to serve in the U.S. Senate. Thomas Carper (D) became Delaware’s junior senator in 2001 after serving two terms as governor, five terms as U.S. congressman, and six years as state treasurer.

Lobbying also is a popular new career. Former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves (R), whose father and grandfather founded Graves Truck Line in 1935 after losing their farm in the Great Depression, returned to his family roots as president of the Washington-based American Trucking Associations.

Two former governors, Iowa’s Terry Branstad (R) and Nevada’s Bob Miller (D), stayed in their home states and became partners in, a lobbying firm that specializes in state and local issues.

Teaching is another common resume-topper. Along with Ventura, former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) took a teaching job at Harvard in the John F. Kennedy School of Government before becoming national campaign chairwoman of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s quest for the White House.

Democrat Paul Patton, the first Kentucky governor in 200 years to serve two straight terms, said he will work with Pikeville College, the repository for his official papers. He left office last year after admitting an extramarital affair that sparked an ethics probe.

Patton, who attended a luncheon for gubernatorial veterans at the National Governors Association winter meeting in Washington last week, said he will guest lecture at the college and catalog a mountain of official papers.

“We threw a third of it away before we left. Over the next two years, I’m going to try to throw another third of it away. Then in about 30 years, somebody will throw the other third away,” Patton said.

Federal prosecutors are meticulously going through some of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s papers. Ryan (R), who starred in a Sundance Film Festival documentary called “Deadline” and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize again this year for commuting death row sentences, was indicted on federal racketeering and mail fraud charges in December. He invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify before a grand jury last year, the Associated Press reported. If he’s convicted, the 22-count indictment could send Ryan to prison for years.

Seize the day is the advice to sitting governors from Mario Cuomo, New York governor from 1983 to 1995. Cuomo, a Democrat, recalled with pride enacting the nation’s first seat belt law in 1984; now every state but New Hampshire has one.

“The instrument that was so cursed has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. That’s one small example of what you can get done,” Cuomo, who lectures and works at a New York law firm, told

His third book, “Lincoln Matters More Today Than Yesterday,” is to be published this spring and will explore what President Abraham Lincoln would have said about current events such as the war in Iraq, stem-cell research and the Patriot Act.

Cuomo, who never sought the presidency despite widespread speculation that he had presidential ambitions, said the governorship lets you do good works on a larger scale.

“The thing I miss most about the governorship is that sense of potential effectuality that you have every morning that you’re lucky enough to wake up as governor…I can only imagine what it’s like to be president.” 

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