Who is the most powerful governor in California history?
The next one.
Our state’s governorship has grown so great in reach and power that it now constitutes a second American presidency.
California governors now routinely sign international treaties. They head a state government that operates as a fourth branch of American government — employing regulations, lawsuits, and the size of the California market to check the president and Congress. Here at home, our governors dominate politics, policy, and California’s civic conversation itself.
California’s centralized executive power contrasts with the state’s image as complex and diverse, with a progressive culture and innovative technology bent on disrupting existing structures. But this diversity and complexity — and the resulting frustration about getting anything done — is at the heart of the governor’s power. Precisely because it’s so hard to get attention and to orchestrate policy among so many unruly constituencies, Californians are often desperate to find someone — anyone — with the agency to make a decision and accomplish what they want. That person is usually the governor.
For the past 40 years, the governor’s authority has grown as power was transferred from local governments to Sacramento, via state court decisions (notably equalizing school funding) and by ballot initiatives (like Prop. 13, which restricted local taxation).
As Sacramento made more decisions for Californians, governors boosted their office’s power. Pete Wilson pioneered the use of executive orders for vital policy changes. Gray Davis intervened with new aggression in the legislative process, declaring of legislators: “Their job is to implement my vision.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger devised ballot initiative campaigns to give him greater leverage with the legislature. He also pushed through climate change legislation that empowers the state’s regulatory agencies to enforce one of the world’s most…