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How to Tell What’s on the New Governors Minds

[Photo: Oregon Governor Tina Kotek]

Generally, gubernatorial executive orders get scanty press attention. But we’ve found they’re one of the best ways to scope out both management and policy priorities before any new legislation winds its way through legislatures. They’re particularly interesting for the nine new governors as these just-after-oath-of-office actions show what’s top of the mind as their four-year stint in charge begins.

By January 25, the new governors had already produced 31 executive orders. The median number is 2.5, with the record holder for executive order production found in Arkansas, where new Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who took office on January 10, had already signed 14 by January 25.

Some of the issues that these new governors grabbed onto reflect both campaign promises and issues dear to them, their own background, current controversies, and headline-grabbing national problems. The choices often reflect their political party’s policy dreams and priorities, as well as their approach to governing.

On her second day in office, Oregon’s new leader, Gov. Tina Kotek signed three executive orders, all focused on escalating homelessness. The most comprehensive order declared homelessness in Oregon an emergency that requires emergency actions (for example the suspension of some procurement rules). It repurposes $40 million to deal with the problem and focuses attention on a number of regions in the state, including the Portland metro area. Two other orders direct the state’s agencies to prioritize ending homelessness and sets an “annual housing production” goal of 36,000 homes.

The creation of both new governmental offices and commissions are always an executive order staple and the batch emanating from the new governors is no exception. Massachusetts’s Gov. Maura Healey’s initial focus has been on climate change, with an executive order , signed on her second day in office, January 6, to create the Office of Climate Innovation and Resilience to be housed in the Governor’s office. Other newly created entities include Maryland Gov. Wes Moore’s new Department of Service and Civic Innovation ; Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen’s creation of the Office of Broadband Coordinator, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobb’s creation of an independent prison oversight commission , and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s order creating the Pennsylvania Office of Transformation and Opportunity , with a mission to “facilitate the implementation of transformational economic development projects.”

Multiple advisory councils and task forces were also set up. In line with her focus on homelessness, Gov. Kotek established the Governor’s Housing Advisory Council and Gov. Healey created a working group to assess the potential for creating a Housing Secretariat ; Gov. Sanders created an advisory council to advise her on outdoor recreation and Arkansas’s “outdoor economy” ; Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs created and/or reinstated three advisory bodies on homelessness and housing , elections , and water policy .

The gubernatorial pen that has used the most ink belongs to Arkansas Gov, Sanders, who signed seven executive orders on her first day in office, January 10. These included an immediate hiring and promotion freeze , several orders aimed at reducing government rules , regulations and wasteful spending, one prohibiting indoctrination and critical race theory in schools , and one eliminating the word “Latinx,” “latinx,” “Latinxs,” or “latinxs” from official use in government

A week later, she repealed a variety of Covid related executive orders, an action also taken by Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo , who also directed his Department of Administration to review the state’s hiring, retention and promotional rules and to work with executive branch agencies to move the workforce to “pre-pandemic, normal and customary office conditions by July 1, 2023.”

The public sector workforce, currently plagued by a shortage of applicants in multiple states, also received attention, with an order from Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro to downplay the importance of college degrees , saying that Pennsylvania job postings would “lead with experience needed rather than degree requirements”. Gov. Hobbs first executive order focused on eliminating barriers to employment and combatting job discrimination , while Gov. Moore signed one creating guidelines for professional and ethical behavior, while also promoting respect for employees and the prevention of discrimination.

To check out what’s happened this January in other states, you’ll find an interactive map on this website that provides links to the governor’s executive orders. Also, for more on the demographic shift that’s taken place with the new governors, see our blog post from January 5.


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