Holy Cow! One-fourth of Governors Weren’t Born in the State They Govern



In spring 2005, I taught 11th grade history at Wetumpka High School. This was part of my student teaching to get a Masters in secondary education. A student once asked, “How come we have never had a president who was not born in the United States?” I replied, “That’s not true.”

The first seven presidents were not born in the U.S. as it didn’t even exist! Martin Van Buren of New York was the first president born here. The Constitution says: “No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President…” It further stipulates that no one under age 35 or who does not have residency for at least 14 years can become the country’s leader.

Of the 54 governors, since Alabama became a state in 1819, thirty-one were born in this state. Seventeen came from Southern states (South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina). The other four were born in Ohio, California, New York and the country of Scotland. The last third of the governors largely came from Alabama.

Of the 50 states, 13 are run by governors born somewhere else. For example, Mike Dunleavy, governor of Alaska, was born in Pennsylvania. Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona was born in Washington, DC. Greg Gianforte started his life in California but he is now the top constitutional officer in another state, Montana. (Governor Kay Ivey bucks that trend as she lives in her birth state, after being born in Camden in Wilcox County.)

        The governors show in their biographies that most have had high-profile jobs such as CEO that require them to move a lot and travel plenty. They are compelled to assist society so when they retire from their primary work they want to “give something back” to their community. And one pleasure of living in a free country is that we can live wherever we want.

Some politicians may still have the ideologies and sensibilities that they had while growing up in their birth state. So they return to a state amenable to their philosophy and way of life. That makes sense: Moving with liberal attitudes of one state to seek a gubernatorial seat in dark-red Alabama is ill-advised. Or, but so is being transplanted with conservative views to New York hoping to win an election for U.S. senator.

It’s obvious from old debate videos that Mitt Romney was not as publicly conservative when running for Massachusetts governor in his victory there. He adapted to the campaign and like his father, George Romney in Michigan became a governor. Yet 17 years later, he had a struggle getting the GOP nod to gain a U.S. Senate seat in Utah. But he did win, again.

Concerning one’s birthplace, there was a short-lived controversy in U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign for president in 2016. Cruz was born in December 1970 in Calgary, Canada. His father, a Cuban immigrant, already had Canadian citizenship as well as the status of naturalized U.S. citizen in 2005.

Opposing Republican primary candidate Donald Trump suggested that Ted Cruz might not qualify in the contest because he was not a “natural born citizen” as the Constitution specifies. It was soon determined the senator’s birth in Canada by U.S. citizens (his parents) should not stop him from pursuing the White House.

While running against Senator Obama for president in 2008, there were a few rumors that “John McCain was not born in America.” That was an exaggeration and incorrect. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone, which is a U.S. area in Panama. He was in Central America because his father was based there, so he was a U.S. citizen when born.

Also in 2008, both major-party presidential candidates, and both the Democratic and Republican vice presidential candidates, had advanced in politics by representing states where they themselves were not born. Barack Obama was a senator from Illinois, despite being born in Hawaii. John McCain, as noted above, was born in the Panama Canal Zone but later was a senator from Arizona.

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was the sitting governor of Alaska, but came into this world in Idaho. Democratic vice presidential hopeful Joe Biden was born in Pennsylvania but served as a senator from Delaware for 36 years.

If someone asks me why Alabama has never had a governor born in North Carolina, I will revert to my teaching high school history 16 years ago. “That’s not true” I will say. “The third, fourth and fifth governors of our state began life in North Carolina.” They went from Tar Heels to Yellowhammers.

Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 12 years.  gm.markley@charter.net      


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