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Rutgers-Eagleton study finds governors are not appointed to cabinet positions

A recent study conducted by the Center on the American Governor by the Eagleton Institute of Politics found that governors are not often appointed for cabinet positions. – Photo by Edwin Gano

A gubernatorial appointment can push one into the national spotlight, but is less effective at getting one into the presidential cabinet.

A recent study conducted by the Center on the American Governor by the Eagleton Institute of Politics found that governors are not often appointed for cabinet positions.

The study, titled “Governors running for the Cabinet,” found that since former President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, only 39 of the 339 total cabinet positions, or roughly 11.5 percent, had been held by former governors.

John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, defined “cabinet” as an office for which a member is nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. 

Governors would seem to be a likely choice for cabinet positions as they have executive experience and spend time as autonomous “free agents,” but it is suggested that personal autonomy may be detrimental to their appointment.

“I think some presidents look at some governors and say, 'we don’t want someone who’s going to be that much of a free agent, who’s not going to be a team player,'” Weingart said.

For the purpose of this study, Weingart said the "cabinet" includes the white house chief of staff, environmental protection agency administrator, U.S. trade representative and ambassador to the United Nations. 

Lack of desire to move to Washington, D.C. may also play a role in the appointments, he said.

There is some question about the cabinet definition, which was expanded for the study. Weingart gave the example of the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Technically, I don’t think that person’s part of the cabinet, but most presidents treat them as if they were part of the cabinet, so we counted that as a member of the cabinet,” Weingart said. 

Personal background also plays a large role in the selection of cabinet members. Former Gov. Thomas Kean (R-N.J.), for example, supported the development of certain arts programs, which Weingart said could make him more appealing candidate than a similar candidate without such views.

Gov. Chris Christie’s (R-N.J.) recently suspended presidential campaign makes him a candidate for a cabinet position. But the governor's approval rating casts doubts on his chances.

A poll released by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling on Feb. 16 found that 29 percent of registered New Jersey voters had a favorable view of Christie, the lowest to date. 

David Castaldi, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, shared his thoughts on Christie’s chances.

“His chances of having a cabinet position would be high if a Republican was elected," Castaldi said. "He sent our credit ratings into the ground, but I think he made positive changes in terms of taxes and lowering taxes.” 

Castaldi stressed that he wants “successful people” in the cabinet, and that a governorship does not guarantee merit for a cabinet position. But he did not indiscriminately support an outside hire over Christie.

Michael-Vincent D’anella-Mercanti, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, shared a similar view.

“I think that is a good choice because they have executive experience. But it all depends on experience, but I wouldn’t explicitly trust someone just because they’re governor,” D’Anella-Mercanti said.

Weingart also mentioned the relationship between party politics and cabinet appointments.

New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972, but has elected several Republican governors.

In the current political atmosphere, more governors are “polarizing figures” in their states. Weingart said he does not consider the low rate of governor appointments to cabinet to be significant toward American politics, as such appointments do significantly impact policy decisions.

“There used to be much more cooperation between among Republican and Democratic governors cross-country,” Weingart said. “A lot of what needed to be done was managerial and one person might do what needed to be done better than another, but it was not as divisive as national politics.” 


Jonathan Xiong is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in biology. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. See more on Twitter @ra567.

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