The Washington Post

If he wins, Crist would be the 6th ex-governor to leave office, switch parties and return since 1900

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist speaks to supporters at a victory party in Fort Lauderdale after Florida’s primary election on Aug. 26. He defeated Nan Rich, a former Senate Democratic leader who has been campaigning for governor longer than Crist has been a Democrat. He is the first person in Florida to win the nomination for governor as a Republican and a Democrat. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

If Charlie Crist wins in Florida this fall, he will become the sixth ex-governor in more than a century to leave office, switch parties and then retake his old position as governor.

Since 1900, 74 governors have left office only to return after a gap, while five of them switched parties in between. That’s according to Eric Ostermeier, a research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs who writes the blog Smart Politics. In the nation’s history, 144 governors have left office only to return after a break. In 2010, three ex-governors successfully won their old job back: Jerry Brown (D-Calif.), John Kitzhaber (D-Ore.) and Terry Branstad (R-Iowa).

Crist is the only ex-governor up for office this cycle, according to Smart Politics. Of the five since 1900 who switched parties in between their terms, the most recent was Alabama’s Fob James, who served as a Democrat from 1979 to 1983, failed to win two primaries but then won and served a second term as a Republican from 1995 to 1999. More than half of ex-governors have won their general election contests since the end of World War II, with a 41 percent success rate running against incumbents.

Mississippi and New Jersey each have had 10 governors return to office after a break. Georgia has had nine, Tennessee has had seven and Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Ohio have had six. Florida has only had one: Democrat William Bloxham served from 1881 to 1885 and 1897 to 1901, a time when consecutive terms were not allowed. Five states — Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — have had no ex-governor return to power after a gap.

The longest gap in a governor’s service was 36 years and belonged to Gov. Cecil Underwood, a West Virginia Republican who served terms from 1957 to 1961 and 1997 to 2001. Current California Gov. Jerry Brown holds the third-largest gap between terms, having first served from 1975 to 1983.

Not all of the 144 governors who have had interrupted tenures were elected: Some became their state’s top executive through succession, rising to power after the previous governor died or resigned. For others, the interruption was forced thanks to state bans on consecutive terms, which only Virginia has today. And some of the governors who have had breaks in their service as top executive went on to become president, including James Monroe, Andrew Johnson, Rutherford Hayes and Bill Clinton.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.



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