A national financial collapse can engender a heightened gubernatorial sense
of accountability, leadership, and learning. An attempt at theory building
on this theme uses governors 2009 speeches as an historical artifact and
policy document recording the kind of rhetoric they employed during the
Great Recession. A quantitative analysis reveals correlations between
gubernatorial characteristics and rhetoric. A qualitative approach yields
gubernatorial constructs of accountability, leadership, and learning at a time
of crisis. The results offer a foundation for further theory building using
cross-sectional and longitudinal data.
fiscal stress, gubernatorial rhetoric, accountability, learning, leadership,
As the year 2009 began, 29 Democrats and 21 Republicans stood at the helm
of state governments throughout the United States. Most had served more
than one term; a higher percentage on their first term was Democrats. Most
possessed prior experience in elective office or private management. Some
1San Francisco State University, CA, USA
2Indiana State University, Terre Haute, USA
M. Ernita Joaquin, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco,
CA 94132, USA.
Email: [email protected]
532270 AASXXX10.1177/0095399714532270Administration & SocietyJoaquin and Myers
1016 Administration & Society 47(8)
were presiding over unified state assemblies; some had preceded governors
of the opposing party. In the White House, the first African American
President, a Democrat, had just been inaugurated. All of them were confronted with the longest, worst recession since the Great Depression (Center
on Budget and Policy Priorities [CBPP], 2013). This is an exploratory study
of gubernatorial accountability at a time of crisis, in particular, the extent to
which accountability, learning, and policy response themes dominated their
State of the State (SOS) addresses in 2009, and if these themes correlated
with certain gubernatorial characteristics.
The 2009 speeches were chosen because they were given in the year when
governors had acquired a full sense of the recessions magnitude and had to
publicly address it in a formal venue. Without aiming to generalize beyond
this critical period, we assumed that 2009 could suggest some potential relationships between gubernatorial attributes and leadership pronouncements as
well as allow us to speculate how rhetoric might adapt in the face of extraordinary crisis. More a theory-building effort, this study does not examine
gubernatorial rhetoric in a historical context, but we intend to carry this forward. The current study is limited in that it takes a snapshot rather than longterm analysis of state leadership, serving as our exploratory platform to refine
The governors delivered SOS addresses to their legislative assemblies
around January of that year. These annual speeches combine broad policy
priorities and specific legislative goals and reflect a governors leadership
style, strategy, or philosophy of governing, ideological stance, and approach
to communicating with the public (see Coffey, 2005; Dileo, 1997; Ferguson,
2003; Jackson & Kingdon, 1992; Segal & Cover, 1989; Van Assendelft,
1997). For this article, the 2009 speeches are treated as artifacts that captured
portraits of accountability and learning at a pivotal moment of fiscal leadership. Words matter (Crew & Lewis, 2011) and understanding political
leadership also calls for looking at the way solutions are sought for the states
problems (Crew, 1998). In this article we ask, how were accountability and
learning expressed during fiscal stress? Were budget lessons imbibed,
framed, communicated to the public, and/or applied as policy response?
Were personal, political, and institutional variables associated with these
Accountability During a Fiscal Crisis
Our research framework inquires about gubernatorial claims of control over
solutions for local budget or economic challenges. Accountability, however,
presupposes powers or control over the factors that would allow one to
Joaquin and Myers 1017
account for performance. Scholars have noted the weak control that governors wield over the economic conditions of their state (Forsythe, 2004;
Rosenthal, 2013), which the Great Recession put on display. The National
Council of State Legislatures found that the recessions impact on revenue
collections contributed to state deficits totaling $62.4 billion (Conant, 2010b).
States are often seen as surfing good or bad national (and increasingly
global) economic waves (Forsythe, 2004). Phil Bredesen, Tennessees governor, invoked this in his 2009 speech with the sailors adage, You cant control the wind, but you can adjust your sails. We cant control the national
economy, but we can make the adjustments that let us ride it out. Globalization
has also weakened fiscal policies and reduced governmental actors control
within their geographical boundaries (Brand, 1992). Past miscalculations by
officials also do not help: the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes
that economic problems tend to be magnified by structural weaknesses
caused by poor decision making in the past (as cited in Conant, 2010b).
Accountability for righting the deep imbalances in the states budget positions calls into review gubernatorial powers as described in the literature.
Some argue that the institutional, organizational, and popular advantages of
the governorship may exceed those of the U.S. President and that governors
have amassed more power over time, due to devolution (Heidbreder, 2012).
The work of Ferguson enjoins us to view gubernatorial action and efficacy
within a larger framework of powers that the institution confers upon state
leaders. Ferguson (2013) defines institutional power as
those powers given to the governor by the state constitution, state statutes, and
the voters when they vote on constitutions and referenda . . . these powers are the
structure into which the governor moves after being elected to office. (p. 220)
To Ferguson (2013), institutional power may be indexed by combining the
tenure potential of the governor in office, appointment power, budget power,
veto power, party control, and whether officials of the state government are
separately elected. This framing later on helps in the design of our research.
Each variable is important, and with the context of the Great Recession, we
here focus on the fiscal or budgetary powers of the governor, and the role that
rhetoric may play in this repertoire of powers, when times become more
Traditionally, governors are viewed as chief legislator in political science literature (Bernick & Wiggins, 1991, as cited in Heidbreder, 2012).
Governors are seen as having more authority in state fiscal policy than state
legislators (Anton, 1966; Howard, 1973; Schick, 1971, as cited by Hale,
2013), in large part because they tend to be more visible and seen as being out
1018 Administration & Society 47(8)
front in the development of the legislative agenda (Bernick & Wiggins, 1991,
as cited by Taylor, 2012).
Power can come from having the sole authority to produce revenue and
expenditure estimates in the state (Lauth, 2010) compared to other places
where governors must collaborate with legislatures (Wallin & Snow, 2010)
to trim allotments to agencies in response to lower revenues or higher expenditures (Dautrich, Robbins, & Simonsen, 2010) and to make course corrections to the budget in the midst of the budget biennium (Conant, 2010a). The
as well as gubernatorial potential to remain in office for
longer periods of time were previously associated with a governors ability to
accomplish outcomes (Sharkansky, 1968, as cited in Crew & Lewis, 2011).
While gubernatorial leadership is important, fiscal responsibility can only be
achieved in a bipartisan environment (Hale, 2013). Lacking such an environment, governors may turn to tactics to dodge fiscal accountability (Krause &
Rhetoric in the Repertoire of Gubernatorial
In trying to improve the fiscal health of the state, governors can turn to
another medium: the bully pulpit (Heidbreder, 2012), under which we can
place the SOS speeches. For many citizens in a state, the governor is the
face of the government (Gross, 1991; Herzik & Brown, 1991; Rosenthal,
1990, as cited in Carpenter & Hughes, 2011). Governors hold a number of
advantages when it comes to using the pulpit: They can put issues on the
agenda, mobilize media access, and create a shift in public awareness (Kunin,
1990; Mazzoni, 1995, as cited in Carpenter & Hughes, 2011).
SOS speeches, our focus on this article, often contain a combination of
broad policy goals and specific legislative goals, and also reflect the governors style of leadership, strategy or philosophy of governing, ideological
position, and approach to communicating with the public (see Coffey,
2005; Ferguson, 2003; Jackson & Kingdon, 1992; Segal & Cover, 1989;
Van Assendelft, 1997). They tend to be valid indicators of gubernatorial
ideology on economic and social issues, within and across parties (Coffey,
Gubernatorial addresses have been found to forecast validly the type of
policy later pursued (Carpenter & Hughes, 2011; Ferguson, 2003). Placement
of agenda items on the speech also indicates what governors considered more
important (Crew & Lewis, 2011). In addition, rhetoric that emphasizes enthusiasm and activity increase gubernatorial potential for legislative support and
overcoming political and institutional barriers (Crew & Lewis, 2011).
Joaquin and Myers 1019
One author who believes that SOS speeches are inadequate proxies for
studying the real agenda of governors is Rosenthal (2013): In his view, some
agenda items may not have been formulated by the time of the governors
address, some items are included for strategic purposes, and, the long address
lends itself to very general enunciation of policy initiatives. Some of those
items serve as political or symbolic weight (Rosenthal, 2013, p. 91).
Nonetheless, symbolism can be powerful in a time of crisis.
While governors continue to possess a number of advantages, a trend of
erosion in gubernatorial powers over the last few decades has been observed
(Abney & Lauth, 1998; Dometrius & Wright, 2010; Goodman, 2007; as cited
in Krause & Melusky, 2012). Political and economic conditions constrain a
governors ability to get something on the agenda or keep attention on it
(Heidbreder, 2012). This can lead governors to increasingly rely upon political rhetoric to bolster the perception of their power, or avert blame during
dire economic situations. The allure of demonstrating relevance is observed
to be often behind actions engaging in symbolic politics, credit claiming, and
position taking (Hansen, 1999). Governors routinely use SOS speeches to
claim credit for positive developments or to distance themselves from mistakes (Heidbreder, 2012). Reforms may be floated to provide political cover.
These prompt us to explore if symbolic or rhetorical accountability compensates for a perception of weak control during a time of recession and
political polarization, if accountability leans outward, and if lessons learned
are effectively expressed. Rosenthal (2013) seems to argue that budget
addresses in and of themselves are an exercise in symbolism over substance.
Our study is an attempt to determine to what degree the governor attempts to
utilize the speeches to account for and/or propose actual goals.
The theme of learning is pursued here as well due to the dearth of empirical studies that tell us how governors conceive of their jobs as they perform
them and how they learn as they lead. In Rosenthals (2013) book, we see
glimpses of formers governors recalling, in memoirs, that nothing really prepared them for the job; that they all learned on the go.
Ideally, leaders learn, over time, what fiscal measures work or do not work
for the states, and their personal ways of finding solutions. That is in turn
assumed to be communicated to the public to show that leaders cultivate
wisdom in laboratories of innovation and democracy. Governors must educate, especially when creating public understanding of the gubernatorial
agenda could give them some political advantage over the legislature in
negotiations over budget directions (Rosenthal, 2013, p. 156).
With this basis in literature, this study examines the rhetoric of U.S. governors in the year 2009 for references to accountability, leadership, and learning, as they respond to an enormous crisis. If governors were ever in need of
1020 Administration & Society 47(8)
rhetorical strategies to bolster the perception of their power, it was during the
Research Data and Methodology
The analysis was conducted in two stages. The first involved the qualitative
coding of the speeches (Stateline.org, 2009) based on themes and unique
subject areas, to make sure we had a full understanding of our data and how
it might be used for the purpose of content analysis. Once it was established
whether and to what degree such themes were present, we were able to
engage in a more quantitative analysis of rhetoric and gubernatorial characteristics. Establishing the presence of the coded themes and how we conceptualized them will allow the reader to better evaluate the statistical findings
once they are presented.
We loaded the 2009 SOS speeches from all 50 governors into the Provalis
Research QDA Miner program and coded for the themes. Table 1 shows how
the themes were defined, based not only on the literature but also how they
emerged, in context, from the data, as qualitative research method requires
(Rubin & Rubin, 2011). These were then elaborated into categories or subthemes to code the sentences in the speech.
As an exploratory study, we incorporate our assumption, based on the literature that some independent variables may be associated with the governors speeches, but rather than testing causation and directions of influence,
we are merely interested, within certain parameters, in finding what relationships would emerge. Considering the environment in which governors must
exhibit leadership qualities, it is possible that some political variables are
associated with their responses to the crisis. These variables are enumerated
in Table 2.
This research utilized two qualitative analysis software programsQDA
Miner and Sim Stat. The QDA Miner program allows researchers to more
easily explore texts to code the texts for particular themes. Variables can be
computed based on the frequency with which a code appears in a document,
the number of words used to discuss a particular code in the document, and
the percentage of the total words in the document used to discuss a particular
code. We focused on computing the frequencies with which the code segments appeared in the document, and used them to further draw some insights
on gubernatorial accountability and learning.
Statistical analysis on coded data was made possible through the Sim Stat
program. While correlation is not indicative of causation and this study only
measures the messages of U.S. governors at one particular moment, the twopronged approach of qualitative analysis of the speeches and correlation
Joaquin and Myers 1021
analysis of coded segments with gubernatorial characteristics provides, in our
view, a meaningful assessment of state leadership at a time of national
The results of the quantitative analyses are provided in Tables 3 and 4.
Throughout the findings sections that follow, we will highlight the statistical
results that have significance after discussing the broader context of the different themes that emerged from the qualitative analysis.
Table 1. Code Segments Used in Content Analyzing the Speeches.
Variables Code segments
Accountability Blame avoidance; blaming Washington,
the private sector, the market cycle,
the public, bureaucracy/unions, previous
governors, legislature, special interests,
the media, the courts, partisanship, or
the state revenue structure
Accountability is owning up to
responsibility and/or attributing the
blame to someone or something else
for the states fiscal troubles
Leadership Defining leadership in crisis situations;
calling for non-partisanship/
compromise; calling for private sector
responsibility and citizen initiatives;
framing proposals as bold
Leadership involves defining the job
of leaders at a crucial moment,
calling for bold initiatives, rising up
to the challenge, and overcoming
Policy learning Acknowledging mistakes or failures;
understanding gravity of the challenge;
comparing previous challenges met;
comparing solutions with other
states; policy learning and education
of constituents; reforming budgeting
philosophy or culture
Learning involves acknowledging
mistakes, understanding historical
differences, searching for workable
solutions, educating constituents,
understanding and communicating
cultural change and fiscal reform
Policy response includes identifying
specific solutions to address state
government deficits and debts, and
defining the role of government at a
time of uncertainty
Defining the role of government;
better revenue collection and use;
revenues; greater spending scrutiny;
capping spending; various spending
cuts; tapping rainy day funds; delaying
projects; borrowing; reforming pension;
reorganization; economic development
incentives; stimulus grants/loans; passing
responsibility to other governments;
cutting local aids; privatization;
loosening regulations; tax freeze/cuts/
1022 Administration & Society 47(8)
The Anatomy of Blame and Accountability
Budgeting is conflict ridden; in this context, we attempt to find how worldviews, leadership, and learning processes were expressed; what kind of control and responsibility governors perceived they had; and whether they
blamed forces outside themselves.
Blaming Other Governments, Sectors, and Actors
According to Rosenthal (2013, p. 73), One reason that governors assume
responsibility is that they cannot escape it, and that when it comes to fiscal
policy, in particular, the governor will be blamed (not the legislators). Yet in
2009, the White House and federal actions loomed large in the national political psyche. Many governors blamed Washington, D.C., or the federal
Table 2. Descriptions of Gubernatorial and State Variables.
Variable Description, coding, and source of data
Party Is the governor a Republican or a Democrat?
0 = Republican, 1 = Democrat
National Governors Association, http://www.nga.org/cms/
Previous Term Has the governor served a previous term in office?
0 = no, 1 = yes
National Governors Association, http://www.nga.org/cms/
Measure of a governors official power in comparison to the
legislature (1 = lower level; 5 = higher level)
Tax Progressivity Does the state have a progressive income tax system?
0 = no, 1 = yes
Did the governor have previous experience in the state
legislature or Congress? (0 = No, 1 = Yes)
National Governors Association, http://www.nga.org/cms/
Does the state have an annual or biennial budgeting process?
(0 = Annual, 1 = Biennial)
Did the governor have previous executive experience in state
government? (i.e., Attorney General)
National Governors Association, http://www.nga.org/cms/
Table 3. Correlations Between Gubernatorial Variables and Accountability Themes.
Party Prev term Inst power Tax progress Leg experience
.3168* (.543/.041) .0349 (.244/.3076) .0990 (.183/.3641) .0768 (.345/.2042) .0118 (.287/.2651)
Blame Wash .3716** (.585/.103) .2846* (.0064/.5177) .1277 (.389/.1549) .0363 (.309/.2425) .2267 (.055/.4713)
Blame Priv Sec .0185 (.293/.259) .1008 (.366/.1822) .3568* (.0858/.5736) .2943* (.525/.017) .1082 (.174/.3720)
Blame Bur .3031* (.532/.026) .0888 (.355/.1928) .2173 (.464/.0647) .1819 (.434/.1010) .0783 (.346/.2028)
Blame Courts .1612 (.417/.1218) .0869 (.195/.3536) .0108 (.266/.2858) .1696 (.113/.4242) .1548 (.128/.4118)
Blame Econ .0685 (.337/.2121) .2382 (.481/.0430) .1163 (.166/.3790) .1360 (.396/.1498) .1444 (.138/.4030)
.0748 (.206/.3429) .1150 (.378/.1674) .2003 (.082/.4497) .0561 (.224/.3265) .3212* (.546/.046)
Blame Rev Str .1074 (.371/.1747) .3604* (.576/.090) .1508 (.132/.4084) .1130 (.169/.3762) .0401 (.312/.2388)
.0356 (.308/.2430) .1793 (.104/.4323) .3945** (.602/.129) .0224 (.255/.2963) .0237 (.254/.2974)
Table 4. Correlations Between Gubernatorial Variables and Learning and Response Themes.
Party Annual/Biennial Bud Prev Term Tax Progress Exec Experience
Comparing Solutions .3158* (.542/.040) .0220 (.296/.2557)
Calling Priv Sec Responsb .2385 (.043/.4808) .3356* (.557/.062)
Calling Citizen Initiative .1612 (.417/.1218) .1166 (.379/.1658)
Defining Leadership .1703 (.113/.4248 .0139 (.263/.2886)
Reforming Culture .1606 (.417/.1223) .3690** (.583/.100)
Government Matters .0104 (.285/.2664) .1581 (.415/.1249) .2966* (.527/.019) .0950 (.361/.1868) .0104 (.285/.2664)
Interorg Partnersp .1466 (.136/.4049) .1760 (.107/.4295) .0712 (.210/.3398) .3835** (.594/.116) .1428 (.402/.1401)
Reorganization/Cons .0276 (.301/.2505) .1244 (.158/.3860) .3106* (.0346/.5381) .0768 (.204/.3448) .2835* (.517/.005)
Rainy Day Use .2147 (.461/.0674) .1065 (.371/.1757) .1360 (.147/.3958) .2807* (.0021/.5145) .1772 (.431/.1057)
Borrowing .0356 (.308/.2430) .0903 (.357/.1913) .0548 (.225/.3253) .0835 (.351/.1979) .3327* (.555/.059)
Pension Reform .0647 (.216/.3341) .2035 (.452/.0789) .0954 (.186/.3610) .2006 (.450/.0819) .3258* (.550/.051)
Econ D Incentives .1463 (.405/.1367) .2813* (.0198/.5274) .0545 (.225/.3251) .1207 (.383/.1618) .0447 (.316/.2346)
Fiscal Stimulus .1254 (.157/.3868) .2118 (.459/.0704) .3389* (.560/.066) .1201 (.382/.1624) .2415 (.039/.4833)
Freeze Taxes .3303* (.553/.056) .2012 (.081/.4504) .0629 (.217/.3325) .1050 (.369/.1772) .2200 (.466/.0619)
Local Gov Transfers .0782 (.346/.2029) .2970* (.0198/.5274) .1475 (.135/.4056) .1101 (.374/.1722) .2736 (.509/.0055)
Joaquin and Myers 1025
government for their budget and economic difficulties. Some attributed the
origins of the economic woes to Wall Street or private corporations and the
boom and bust market cycle. Other entities that were linked to budget woes
were employee unions/bureaucrats, and local governments, including school
districts. The recession also provided some governors grounds to tie anti-tax
sentiments to anti-bureaucratic sentiments. For example, some governors
decried the growth of school administrators/staff count relative to student
enrollment; the ratio of overhead budget to teaching budgets; the lack of
accountability among school heads; and the un-sustainability of the benefits
of unionized teachers and other public employees. Some governors linked the
fiscal problems to previous sets of officials (governors and/or legislators).
Some also blamed previous governors and previous legislators, confirming
the partisan split in state houses and capitols across the nation.
Correlation analyses provide support for the notion that personal and institutional variables were associated with the use of particular rhetoric. Political
party was significantly correlated (negatively) with Blame Avoidance,
Blaming Washington, and Blaming the Bureaucracy (indicating that
Democrats used this rhetoric less than Republicans). Whether the governor
was new or had served a previous term had a positive association with
Blaming Washington, indicating that governors with more experience were
more likely to hold the federal government accountable for economic conditions. The level of institutional power a governor possessed in his or her state
relative to the legislature was positively associated with blaming budgetary
problems on the private sector, indicating that possessing higher levels of
constitutional and statutory power did not mean that some governors did not
look for others to blame. However, a negative association showed between
the institutional power and Blaming Special Interests. Previous legislative
experience in the state legislature or Congress was negatively associated with
Blaming the Previous Administration for the budget crisis.
Blaming the System
The use of the passive tone (blame avoidance) by the governors involved
talking about this systemof uncontrollable mandates, external economic
forces, uncontrollable debt and spending, service demands, and inflexible
rules. Some spoke of government in the third person, extricating themselves,
such as: . . . in these difficult times, they are skeptical of the ability of government to solve the very real problems they read about and are living with
every day (OR).
Statistical analysis indicates that whether or not a state has a progressive
income tax system was negatively associated with Blaming the Private Sector.
1026 Administration & Society 47(8)
This could be interpreted in a couple of ways. One interpretation could be
that in states with more progressive systems, there is a greater perception that
the wealthy do pay their fair share. Another interpretation would be that, in
times of economic hardship, governors choose not to antagonize those that
could potentially help spur the economy.
The theme of Blame Avoidance consists of some sub-categories of the
justifications (Figure 1).
a. The state as a victim. Some conjured the image of hapless citizens
swept by an economic tornado through no fault of their own. This
rhetoric removes the role of the state government in creating or preventing the problem.
b. Path dependence and lack of ownership. The speeches were dominated
by the passive voice blaming forces that were set early on, problems
that had accumulated from the time of their predecessors, the publics
cultural stubbornness, or the insatiable demand for spending. This suggests that failure in budget stewardships either rests on everyone or on
none at all; and the governors office is an obscure player in systemic
c. Lack of control over the economy. Some emphasized the relative weakness of their states economy given the larger environment, telling their
audience that we are not immune from the global economic downturn (ID); the bottom fell out of the national economy (MI); and we
THE STATE AS VICTIM
through no fault of their own
this downturn was not caused by any of us
our people did not cause this meltdown, its causes are
beyond their control, and are naonal, global in scope
our problems are largely not of our own making
our state didnt make this economic crisis
PATH DEPENDENCE & STRUCTURAL REASONS
in the last 20 years, only 4 budgets have been on
corrupon has damaged our polical reputaons and
deeply hurt our cizens
Hoosiers have been resisng change since the first
the forest of debt and spending has Grown over the
past 20 years
an instuonal momentum that demands more
resources regardless of taxpayers ability to support
even before the current financial crisis, we were
already in a deep compeve hole
the accumulated problems that arose during the last
several decades when there was no money
people believed State was recession-proof
LACK OF PREDICTION, OR CONTROL
these are the worst financial mes any of us can
circumstances that even seasoned experts could not
the strength of our state being tested in ways not seen
economic challenges as steep and stubborn as any in
the people are up against the worst weve seen in a
these budget problems are the result of an
internaonal, not just naonal recession
challenges our state has not seen since the Great
Figure 1. Blaming the system: Three facets emerging from the speeches.
Joaquin and Myers 1027
were dealt a terrible hand by forces beyond our control (WA). They
highlighted the historical magnitude of the collapse as causing the deficits. Our correlation analysis found that an incumbent governor was
less likely to blame the revenue system for budget troubles, perhaps
because after a term they had come to accept the system as it is.
d. Other passive accounting. By saying that other states and business corporations were also struggling, governors further removed themselves
and their previous actions from accountability. A few hid behind the
letters of the law in explaining their budget deficits: They were made to
do things by federal mandate, or by state constitutions or other budget
Lessons in Deliberative Democracy
Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
Arkansas Governor (2009)
Policy Learning: To Learn, Acknowledge. To Master, Teach
Governors are said to be good presidential material because they gain lessons
from leading the laboratories of democracy. The 2009 speeches were
replete with passive acknowledgment of leadership shortcomings and active
admission that mistakes were made in certain areas (Figure 2). An important
aspect of learning is being able to communicate the lessons. We found evidence of governors trying to educate citizens and elucidating their understanding of budgeting. They appeared to want to impart three major lessons:
on budgeting complexities in a democracy, adaptation challenges, and the
intricacies of the budget rules themselves. Notably, only eight governors,
with Wyomings being the most notable, included these kinds of lessons in
their speeches. It would be interesting to see if future addresses come back to
these themes as it would indicate whether governors really are internalizing
lessons learned or if it is rhetoric for temporary political benefit.
Policy Learning: The Search for Policy Ideas
An important learning aspect is efficiency and resourcefulness in identifying
where potentially vital information lies (Simon, 1947). Gubernatorial legislative success has been linked to their information-gathering resources or
enabling resources (Dilger, Krause, & Moffett, 1995). In 2009, governors
provided clues to what they deemed as important sources of policy ideas
(Table 5) and the reasons why governors might be open to certain ideas. We
1028 Administration & Society 47(8)
grouped the sources of ideas according to the entities and strategies involved.
As an inspiration for gubernatorial policy, the most prominent in use were
task forces and commissions, presumably created by executive order or with
legislative participation. In comparison, scarcely mentioned were experiments (pilot programs) or initiatives that were borne out of the results of
experiments. As evidence to back up some of the governors proposals to
address their states problems, they hewed to reasoning such as the strategies
had worked in the past, or they had received awards and media coverage, or
other states had even borrowed their ideas (Table 6).
Having to cut back, or withhold promised
Having a voters iniave pass that would
constrain service capacity
Leng investments deteriorate
The use of budget/ financial gimmickry
Overspending when mes are good
Incenvizing the wrong care in the wrong
seng at the wrong price in health care
Investment and economic development
programs that do not work
Inability to pass a balanced budget
Ranking low across the naon in educaonal
performance, health insurance
Bi-parsan betrayal of the public trust
Out of control spending under both pares
A shameful mountain of unpaid bills
Bierness and fricon
Shaering the recession-proof image of the
state; false sense of immunity
Failing relaonship with other local
Lack of polical will, failing to take advantage of
favorable policies and matching funds
Deficit of ethics
Denial of state of affairs
Failure of fiscal restraint
AREAS WHERE LESSONS ARE LEARNED
Budgeng in a democracy
The budget document does not always reflect the conflict behind the scene GA
How disclosure is vital SC
Budgeng as the fundamental task of governing PA
Adaptaon in budgeng
How state government can weather recession beer VT
The effect of economic cycle on state budgeng WI
The states paern of entering recession late and exing late WY
Cizens must be educated about expectaons during downturns WY
Paence in decision making so that short-term needs are not met by long-term hardships – GA
Revenue forecasng is error-prone – IN
How budget cuts are done historically MO
How budget balance is done historically VT
It is not a failure if the legislature does not pass a law WY
Figure 2. Mistakes and lessons in fiscal leadership.
Joaquin and Myers 1029
Table 5. Sources of Policy Ideas and Learning.
Sources of ideas Key phrases from the speeches
1. Elective Officials Other governorsPA
South Carolina Policy Council group to advocate
for greater spending, income, and lobbying
Analysis of the penal code
2. Administrators State employeesCO
Research and development function within the
Green Jobs Cabinet to study clean energyNM
3. Academic Scientists in the State UniversityKS, KY, VA
Trusting education research even if not perfectOH
External organizations that studied the state
Economists around the worldPA
Contracting with McKinsey and Company for datadriven evaluation of state managementME
5. Work Groups, Task
Work groups to examine local government
Health and Human Services Task ForceGA
Task Force on early childhood developmentKY
Task Force on access and affordability of education
Sustainable Water Infrastructure Task ForcePA
Tax Commission (SAGE) to study tax on tobacco
Automotive Jobs Task ForceMS
Upstate research consortium on hybrid electric
Energy Policy Institute to coordinate knowledge
Tax Policy GroupPA
Vermont Blueprint for HealthVT
Interagency Task Force for Energy Project
Public Service Commission and Environmental
Quality department to evaluate energy use and
Legislative commission to right size school districts
Commission on Strengthening Utahs Democracy
1030 Administration & Society 47(8)
The correlation analysis indicates that Republican governors, in keeping
with their partys focus on state-level solutions, devoted significantly more
rhetoric to Comparing State Solutions to the fiscal crisis than the Democrats.
However, overall the focus on innovative and new approaches was limited.
This may be indicative that a time of economic crisis was not the best time to
talk about innovation, or results of innovations. Was it more critical to examine mistakes, lessons, and accountability?
Sources of ideas Key phrases from the speeches
public participation Commonwealth Transportation
Board to rewrite construction planVA
Tax Commission to track the sales of automobiles,
tires, and autopartsID
Select Commission of health-care expertsID
Commission on Sentencing ReformNY
Commission on Education ImprovementND
6. Citizens and
Previous citizens initiativesAL
Listening to citizens, holding additional hearingsAL
Listening to teachers and parentsDE
Consulting stakeholders in developing natural gas
Coalition of private groups to evaluate a state law
7. Pilot Programs Piloting programs for after-school and summer
Piloting health-care reformWY
Testing the system with 15 medical practicesME
Embracing an evidence-based education approach
8. Personal Strategies Careful deliberationNH
Learning by doing, by leading by exampleDE
Reading the previous years speechMS
Asking for the best minds and ideasVT
Anywhere outside the halls of the governmentMS
9. Audit Reports Government auditSC, WV
Insurance advocate report on auto insuranceMI
Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation to
investigate health insuranceMS
Table 5. (continued)
Joaquin and Myers 1031
Table 6. Sources of Evidence to Support Policy Ideas.
Categories of evidence Sample phrases from the speeches
1. Proven Strategy in the
Revenue diversification pulled state out of previous
Strategy worked before in balancing budgetsAL, IN
A good idea before the financial crisis could not be a
bad afterIN, NV
2. Media Coverage
Program was featured on Fox News ChannelAL
Governing Magazine honored the Public Official
of the Year for the overhaul of the child welfare
Pew Research Center cites decrease in correction
4. Dispersion of
Other states have borrowed their ideaKS
Ideas success in other statesID
5. Outcomes Achieved State climbed in ranking of the most competitive
states in the countrySC
Program bumped up the states ranking the Center
for Public Integrity for legislative disclosureLA
Statistics showed good outcomesAR, LA, MI, WV
Program contributed to broader community goals,
not just particular program goalsHI
Careful budgeting alleviated the crunchAR, CT,
6. Expert Analysis Bolsters
Multi-year budget forecastingWV
Report by Atlanta Federal Reserve Group on effects
of high taxesSC
Meta Learning and Process Learning
Learning is better when it involves process learning or meta learning
(increased feedback/self-awareness of habits and strategies). This was evident in California, when the governor explained the context and history of
budget negotiations in the state as a clue to what was unfolding. In Connecticut,
the governor explained to the audience the paradox of governments role
more families need government during crises when the government is also
strapped for funds, while in Delaware, the governor acknowledged uncertainty about some potential solutions. New Hampshires governor admitted
that the direction may or may not be right, but must be explored.
1032 Administration & Society 47(8)
Learning and the Three Pillars of Crisis Response
The crisis prompted governors to pepper their speeches with immediate and
long-range proposals. A three-pronged approach emerged from the governors explanations of the governments role and the reforms that they thought
must take place (see Figure 3).
The Need for Government
The magnitude of the financial collapse brought on some soul-searching
about governments role in both causing the problem and in finding a solution. Some governors carried the message that government can positively
affect the lives of their citizens. Those passages mostly speak to key areas
where government funding is needed, especially in critical times; the role of
the bureaucracy; the role of the market and individuals versus government;
and the federalist forms contribution to successful government.
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT IN PROBLEM SOLVING
The smulus bill will have a posive impact AL
Government policy can help AK
Government is not the answer, but government can help AK
The republic form of government and its instuons have
held this country together for over 200 years AR
Instuons can restore faith in leaders and government AR
States have a unique ability and a responsibility to
States regulatory oversight kept the state out of the riskier
and more volale situaons ID
Government has a posive contribuon to make KS
Without resources and workers from government, massive
undertakings for the common good would likely fail KS
To protect is the fundamental funcon of government KY
Now more than ever, the role of government is crical KY
We have a President and Congress who, rather than looking
at government as the enemy are commied to moving us
forward again as a naon
You cant have growth and prosperity without security MS
Government plays essenal roles MS
State foreclosure prevenon iniaves are a model for the
Government maers, government can play a construcve
role in peoples lives NJ
Governments job is to help PA
As with the economy, government acon is necessary to
protect the environment – VA
REFORMING GOVERNMENT IMAGE
Building confidence in the state government
Restoring faith in state government
Restoring peoples faith in their government
The republic form of government can restore the faith in our leaders and in our government
Toward more than just the percepon of biparsanship
Inslling a more customer-focused culture
We will restore our states financial integrity
State government can and should be a beacon of hope and tool for progress
I ordered reform to change the face of state government
We must restore trust. We must restore confidence. We must reach outto reinvigorate the democracy they will inherit
REFORMING FISCAL ADMINISTRATION
Budget decision making transparency
Avoiding inflated revenue projecons
Fiscal discipline not violang purposes of funds
Recurring revenues for recurring spending
More budget transparency
Beer targeng of expenditures
Avoiding inter-fund transfers
Rejecng budget gimmickry
Extra spending to be met by extra cut or extra revenue
Reforming state and local government structures
Greater budget flexibility
Zero base budgeng process
More equitable budget cuts
Freeing up funds locked in by statute or constuon
Lump sum for greater managerial flexibility
Contracng out to save on costs
Changing budget allocaon formulas
Cizens voice on borrowing
Ending dependence on one shots
Reforming school aid
Consolidang health care benefits
Understanding & controlling budget drivers
Doing away with legislave earmarks
Creang the office of Comptroller
Posng of expenditures on the internet
Posng of contracts on the internet
Figure 3. Governmental reform: Three facets emerging from the speeches.
Joaquin and Myers 1033
The statistical analysis found that Term of Office was negatively associated with the speech theme of Government Matters, indicating that governors
that had held office for a longer period of time were less likely to actively
defend the role of government.
The Need for Government Image Reform
Most governors expressed that government lost a lot of peoples trust during
the recession. Of those who thought the image of government needed improving, many were on their first term. In comparison, those who had been in
office for a while must have learned what was broken in the budgeting system, so that an almost equal portion of them called for budget reforms.
Incumbency was positively associated with Reorganization and Consolidation,
suggesting that incumbent governors may turn to such strategies in the midst
of a budgetary crisis, rather than souring on that strategy after a long time in
office. The states tax progressivity correlated negatively with calls for
Intergovernmental Partnership. Intergovernmental Partnership can represent
a form of image reform, as such initiatives can serve to make the state appear
more collaborative with other levels of government and increase the perception that the state seeks to create efficiencies.
The Need for Fiscal Reforms
Whether or not governors expressed a positive role for government, many of
them did call for reforming budgeting, some in connection to their response
to fiscal shortfalls. Many of these proposals were about transparency and
removal of budget gimmickry that subverts discipline, to project figures
accurately, allocate wisely, and understand structural factors behind
From a statistical standpoint, rhetoric regarding fiscal reform correlated
with a number of variables. Whether a state has an annual or biennial budgeting system was found to be negatively associated Calling for Private Sector
Responsibility and Reforming Budgeting Philosophy and Culture. This could
suggest that governors in states that budget for 2 years are more focused on
setting a longer term strategy and making necessary adjustments to the budget than placing blame.
Governors with previous experience in the executive branch of state government devoted less emphasis in their speeches to Reorganization/
Consolidation of government or Reforming the Pension System. They also
devoted less discussion to the strategy of Borrowing to address the budget
crisis. This may indicate that these governors other professional experiences
1034 Administration & Society 47(8)
in the executive branch led them to form negative opinions of these policy
Because these proposals for change were advocated at a time of crisis,
future research can examine if reform rhetoric has ebbed and flowed after the
We found other results from the correlation analyses: a negative association between Party and Freezing Tax Rates supports the idea that
Democratic policy makers more often want to leave open the possibility
of additional revenue through tax rates. Term of Office was negatively
associated with advocating for Economic Stimulus to address budget
shortfalls: Incumbent governors appear to be more inclined toward belttightening as opposed to expenditure increases. Biennial budgeting was
found to be positively correlated with references in the speeches to
Economic Development Incentives and Local Government Transfers.
Perhaps due to their need to budget over a longer time frame, governors
wished to devote more attention to directly controllable areas (such as tax
incentives to attract business or increasing cost sharing with local
Conclusion and Future Directions
Policy or budget addresses create an opportunity for leaders to frame a crisis,
outline a way through it, and rally the legislature, the public, and special
interests to that path. Part of what may determine their success is the degree
to which governors are willing to take responsibility, exercise leadership,
communicate lessons that they have learned, and advocate for action.
Studying the degrees that governors did this during the Great Recession and
certain factors that related to those differences can offer us a window to
understand why some states weathered the recession better than others. This
can be gleaned in part by whether a governor focused on blame avoidance or
accountability, leadership, and learning. An initial step, this study suggests
the importance of such addresses to understand how the budgetary crises
played out across the states, and the perspectives of the leaders who would
steer the course.
This research aimed to show whether governors attempt to use their budget speeches at a pivotal time to open a learning conversation with legislators and the public and exercise leadership, or as a political opportunity to
distance themselves from public wrath. From hereon, a larger sample or a
longitudinal study (for example, looking at the decade of 2001-2010, spanning two huge recessions and contentious national elections) may answer
questions that go back to the roots of the educative nature of public office:
Joaquin and Myers 1035
Considering todays strong anti-government sentiments, how seriously do
state leaders take their roles of communicating with the masses what leaders perceive to be the evolving work and processes of government? Are
gubernatorial addresses forever locked into a legislative or political strategy, bereft of any educative role? What contexts enable this to change?
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
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M. Ernita Joaquin is an assistant professor of public administration in San Francisco
State University. Dr. Joaquins works on public management reform, bureaucratic
politics, organizational adaptation, performance and accountability movement, and
E-democracy have appeared in Administration & Society, Public Administration
Review, The American Review of Public Administration, Public Performance and
Management Review, International Review of Administrative Sciences, and in books
on digital civic engagement.
Nathan G. Myers earned a PhD in Public Affairs at the University of Nevada, Las
Vegas in 2009. His research interests include federal and state health policy, public
health policy and administration, program evaluation, and bureaucratic politics and
behavior. Dr. Myers has previously published research on the effectiveness of state
health care programs in Policy Studies Journal, Politics and Policy, the California
Journal of Politics and Policy, and the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law.
He is currently an assistant professor of political science and public administration at
Indiana State University.
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