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Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Seal of the Governor of Massachusetts.svg
Seal of the Governor
Flag of the Governor of Massachusetts.svg
Flag of the Governor
Charlie Baker official portrait.jpg
Incumbent
Charlie Baker

since January 8, 2015
Style His Excellency
Term length Four years, no term limit
Inaugural holder John Hancock
Formation October 25, 1780
Salary $139,832 (2013)
Website Office of the Governor

The Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the head of the executive branch of Massachusetts' state government and serves as commander-in-chief of the state's military forces. The current governor is Charlie Baker.

Constitutional role

Part of the Second, Chapter II, Section I, Article I, of the Massachusetts Constitution reads,

There shall be a supreme executive magistrate, who shall be styled, The Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and whose title shall be – His Excellency.

The Governor of Massachusetts is the chief executive of the Commonwealth, and is supported by a number of subordinate officers. He, like most other state officers, senators, and representatives, was originally elected annually. In 1918 this was changed to a two-year term, and since 1966 the office of governor has carried a four-year term. The Governor of Massachusetts does not receive a mansion, other official residence, or housing allowance. Instead, he resides in his own private residence. The title "His Excellency" is a throwback to the royally appointed governors of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. The first governor to use the title was Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont, in 1699; since he was an Earl, it was thought proper to call him "Your Excellency." The title was retained until 1742, when an order from King George II forbade its further use. However, the framers of the state constitution revived it because they found it fitting to dignify the governor with this title.

The governor also serves as commander-in-chief of the Commonwealth's armed forces.

Succession

According to the state constitution, whenever the chair of the governor is vacant, the lieutenant governor shall take over as acting governor. The first time this came into use was five years after the constitution's adoption in 1785, when Governor John Hancock resigned the post, leaving Lieutenant Governor Thomas Cushing as acting governor. Most recently, Jane Swift became acting governor upon the resignation of Paul Cellucci. Under this system, the lieutenant governor retains his or her position and title as "lieutenant governor" and becomes acting governor, not governor.

The lieutenant governor, when acting as governor, is referred to as "the lieutenant governor, acting governor" in official documents.

The Massachusetts Constitution does not use the term "acting governor". The Massachusetts courts have found that the full authority of the office of the governor devolves to the lieutenant governor upon vacancy in the office of governor, i.e., there is no circumstance short of death, resignation, or impeachment that would relieve the acting governor from the full gubernatorial responsibilities.

When the constitution was first adopted, the Governor's Council was charged with acting as governor in the event that both the governorship and lieutenant governorship were vacant. This occurred in 1799 when Governor Increase Sumner died in office on June 7, 1799, leaving Lieutenant Governor Moses Gill as acting governor. Acting Governor Gill never received a lieutenant and died on May 20, 1800, between that year's election and the inauguration of Governor-elect Caleb Strong. The Governor's Council served as the executive for ten days; the council's chair, Thomas Dawes was at no point named governor or acting governor.

Article LV of the Constitution, enacted in 1918, created a new line of succession:

  • Governor (Charlie Baker)
  • Lieutenant governor (Karyn Polito)
  • Secretary of the Commonwealth (Bill Galvin)
  • Attorney general (Maura Healey)
  • Treasurer and receiver-general (Deb Goldberg)
  • State auditor (Suzanne Bump)

When the governor dies, resigns, or is removed from office, the office of governor remains vacant for the rest of the 4-year term. The lieutenant governor does not succeed but only discharges powers and duties as acting governor. However, if a vacancy in the office of governor continues for six months, and the six months expire more than five months before the next regular biennial state election midway through the governor's term, a special election is held at that time to fill the vacancy for the balance of the unexpired four-year term.

Traditions

The front doors of the state house are only opened when a governor leaves office or a head of state comes to visit the State House, or for the return of flags from Massachusetts regiments at the end of wars. The tradition of the ceremonial door originated when departing Governor Benjamin Butler kicked open the front door and walked out by himself in 1884.

Incoming governors usually choose at least one past governor's portrait to hang in their office.

Immediately before being sworn into office, the governor-elect receives four symbols from the departing governor: the ceremonial pewter "Key" for the governor's office door, the Butler Bible, the "Gavel", and a two-volume set of the Massachusetts General Statutes with a personal note from the departing governor to his/her successor added to the back of the text. The governor-elect is then escorted by the sergeant-at-arms to the House Chamber and sworn in by the senate president before a joint session of the House and Senate.

Lone walk

Upon completion of their term, the departing governor takes a "lone walk" down the Grand Staircase, through the House of Flags, into Doric Hall, out the central doors and down the steps of the Massachusetts State House. The governor then crosses the street into Boston Common, thereby symbolically rejoining the Commonwealth as a private citizen. Benjamin Butler started the tradition in 1884. Some walks have been modified with some past governors having their wives, friends or staff accompany them. A 19-gun salute is offered during the walk, and frequently the steps are lined by the outgoing governor's friends and supporters.

In January 1991, outgoing Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Murphy, the first woman elected to statewide office in Massachusetts, walked down the stairs before Governor Michael Dukakis. In a break from tradition, the January 2007 inauguration of Governor Deval Patrick took place the day after outgoing Governor Mitt Romney took the lone walk down the front steps.


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