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Once Again, the States Are Way Ahead of National Politics: Current Governors with Business Backgrounds

The 2016 presidential debate has revolved around what type of candidate is best fit to run the highest executive office in the world – a political insider with a long resume of senior positions versus a businessperson with no political/public service background whatsoever.

As we come down to the election, we thought it would be interesting to catalogue the current governors whose career experiences prior to becoming governors were outside of government; pure business people (lawyers and sole-practice practitioners not included).

We initially considered attempting to identify a correlation between governors with business backgrounds and their states’ business climates, but there are far too many factors—and perspectives— to consider in an article of this length. We’ll leave the business climate ratings  to the folks at the Tax Foundation, ALEC, Forbes et al.

Without further ado, here is our list of businessmen turned politicians:

Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Alabama), a physician by training, opened a series of dermatology clinics throughout the southern US—which puts him in our business category—before being elected as a state representative in 2002 and subsequently becoming governor in 2011.

Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Arizona) was the CEO of Cold Stone Creamery before he became state treasurer in 2011 then governor four years later. Hopefully the ice cream business helps keep him cool.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s (D-Colorado) primary background before holding public office was as a brew pub owner, which led to a career in politics, first as Mayor of Denver for eight years then governor in 2011.

Gov. Jack Markell (D-Delaware) started his career in business as a banker and then a consultant for a few companies—McKinsey & Company and Comcast being two of them. He also worked for Nextel Communications as VP of Corporate Development. All of these roles were before becoming treasurer from 1999 – 2009 and then governor in 2009.

Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Michigan), an accountant by training, ran for and won the office of governor in 2010 based on his business background, which included running Gateway computers, using the campaign slogan of “One Tough Nerd.”

Gov. Rick Scott's (R-Florida) first foray into elective office began with his run for governor in 2010. Prior to that, he helped found the company now known as Columbia/HCA, a major hospital operator.

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s (R-Illinois) background was in private equity, not elective office. While he was involved in civic campaign issues, he never appeared on the ballot personally until his upset victory in 2014.

Gov. Matt Bevin (R-Kentucky) did not run for office until 2014, when he challenged then-US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the US Senate primary. Shortly after losing, he entered the race for governor, winning the primary by a mere 85 votes and subsequently trouncing his general election opponent by nearly 9 percentage points. After graduating from college in 1989 then serving four years of active duty in the military, Bevin did very well in the investment business and became president of Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Company. When Bevin took over, the family company was floundering but he turned it to profitability.

Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine) is someone that we are including on this list even though he previously served on the city council and then as mayor of Waterville (pop. 15,000) since his career was in business. Prior to holding elective office, he founded business consulting firm LePage & Kasevich Inc. and was general manager of Marden’s Surplus and Salvage, a well-known Maine discount store chain.

Gov. Charlie Baker (R-Massachusetts) had an extensive career in public service (undersecretary then secretary of health and human services and then secretary of administration and finance under Governor William Weld), but also spent ten years as CEO of a health care company. One can whether he fits on this list in that he served in the executive branch before and after his private sector experience, but his 10 years and MBA put him in the business category for us.

Gov. Pete Ricketts (R-Nebraska) served as COO for Ameritrade, which was was founded by parents. He also continues to serve on the Board of the Chicago Cubs (hey, it is November and the Cubs are in the Series!). Before running for Governor, Rickets was the 2006 GOP US Senate nominee, losing to incumbent Ben Nelson in the general election.

Gov. Jack Dalyrmple (R-North Dakota) grew up working for the family's large-scale wheat farm, eventually starting a pasta business, before being elected in 2010.

Gov. Tom Wolf (D-Pennsylvania) spent most of his adult life working for and then running his large family building materials business, while also serving various boards. Then in 2007 and 2008, he served as the Secretary of Revenue before becoming governor in 2015.

Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-Rhode Island) worked in a variety of venture capital firms and founded the state’s first VC firm, Point Judith Capital, before becoming Rhode Island’s second female state treasurer from 2011-2015 and then first female Governor in 2015.

Gov. Bill Haslam (R-Tennessee) is another businessperson turned politician on our list as he worked in a variety of positions in the company started by his father, Pilot Corporation, parent of Pilot Flying J truck stops, and also in the retail industry. His first run for office led to his election as Mayor of Knoxville, serving for two terms before being elected governor in 2014.

Finally, we have Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-Virginia), whose business career started at the age of 14 when he founded McAuliffe Driveway Maintenance, sealing driveways and parking lots. According to The Washington Post, McAuliffe “earned millions as a banker, real estate developer, home builder, hotel owner, and internet venture capitalist.” In his early 20s, he volunteered for President Carter's re-election committee in the finance operation. He went on to invest in banks and telecommunications, all while being active at the highest levels of national politics as a close friend of former President Bill Clinton and 2016 Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton. McAuliffe also served as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His first run for elective office ended in defeat in the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial Democratic primary, but he went on to win the governorship in 2013.

As far as this year’s gubernatorial elections go…. one candidate in particular that jumps out as a former businessperson is West Virginia's wealthiest resident, Jim Justice, the Democratic nominee for Governor (see our Gubernatorial Election blog). Justice began his career in agriculture and inherited Bluestone Coal Corporation when his father passed away. He also serves as the CEO of over 50 companies including The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV. According to an article from USA Today, Forbes estimates his net worth at $1.6 billion.

Since 2016 will only see twelve gubernatorial elections, this list will not change much, if at all. Stay tuned for 2018!

MultiState’s policy analysts are tracking all the hot 2016 election issues from a state & local perspective. For more election-related news, click here. For further information about this issue or regarding how MultiState can advance your government affairs function, please contact the author.

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