This election cycle, governors across the country are more embattled than they have been in years, with at least half a dozen races once believed to be safe now tightly contested. But for those who want the job, both in 2014 and beyond, these are the most common roads to the governor mansions.

The Washington Post reviewed the jobs the current 50 governors held immediately before taking office, either through biographies on their Web sites or through spokespeople. The most popular previous employment was as a lieutenant governor or member of Congress, but there’s also attorneys, a former university president and a rancher.

No matter where governors came from, most of them had previous public service experience: Only two, Flordia Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), did not. Almost half of them also served in their state’s legislatures, although very few went straight from the statehouse to the governor’s mansion.

Here’s the breakdown:

Lieutenant governor

*Arizona does not have a lieutenant governor and West Virginia’s is an honorary title.

The most common way today’s governor got to their position was by being a lieutenant governor first. Ten states are headed by someone who was in the No. 2 position before becoming governor.

The majority of these governors owe their first term to the boss leaving office early. Seven of out of the 10 took office when the governor was either tapped for another position or ran for higher office, like Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who became governor when George W. Bush became president in 2000. In Alaska, Gov. Sean Parnell (R) took office when Sarah Palin resigned in 2009, and in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) took office when Rod Blagojevich was impeached.

In Arizona and West Virginia, which don’t have traditional lieutenant governor spots, their governors held other second-in-command offices and became governor because of a vacancy: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) was secretary of state, and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) was Senate president. For purposes of this list, I put them in the lieutenant governor category.

It’s also a very GOP way to become governor: Eight of of the 10 are Republicans.


The career with the second most sitting governors is Congress. This map shows both former members of the House and Senate, but most came from the lower chamber. Only Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) came from the Senate, and both of them left because they decided not to run for reelection.

Going from the House to a governor’s mansion makes sense from a job security and future job opportunities standpoint. In the House, you’re one of 435 members, you’re constantly running for reelection, and most Americans couldn’t pick out of a police lineup. If a job opens up at the governor’s mansion, it looks pretty appealing. You’re now one of 50, you don’t have to run for reelection every two years, and you’re now on the radar, alongside senators, to be selected for Cabinet positions or for vice president.

Six out of these nine governors are Republican.

Attorney general

Six sitting governors were previously state attorney generals, five of them Democrats. It’s a good launching pad for a gubernatorial run, because it’s more removed from the partisanship of state legislatures, and you can position your experience as having fought for the common good of the people of your state while serving as the state’s top lawyer.


The jump from chief executive of a town to of the state is rare.  Five states are headed by former mayors. Two, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley were mayors of their state’s largest city, Denver and Baltimore, respectively.  Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) were mayors of their state’s third largest cities, Stamford, and Knoxville. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is the odd man out, having been mayor of a smaller city: Waterville, population 15,855.

State legislature

Only four governors came directly from the state legislature. It’s not that its’ a bad job to have if you want to be governor one day — 22 governors served in their state legislatures at some point — it’s just that usually, there’s other offices held in between.


Sixteen governors had other jobs. Only two of them had no previous experience in government or politics, as I said previously: Florida’s Rick Scott and Michigan’s Rick Snyder, both venture capitalists. Others were on breaks from elected or appointed office. Wyoming’s rancher governor, Matt Mead (R), for example, served as a U.S. attorney four years before becoming governor, and both Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) previously served as governor before their stints, respectively, in health care as president of the Estes Park Institute and in academia as president of Des Moines University.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included inaccurate information about how Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell became governor.