In 2018, 36 out of the nation’s 50 states held elections for governor, and 20 new governors took office in 2019 as the chief executives of their states.
But the gubernatorial elections were historic outside of the sheer number of referendums. A record-shattering 16 women were major party nominees for governor, nine of which were successful and are currently in office. The number of female governors is currently tied with the all-time high number in 2007. Several governors, including Maine’s Janet Mills, South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, and Iowa’s Kim Reynolds are the first women to be elected governors of their respective states.
The LGBTQ+ community also made historic strides in last year’s election. Colorado’s Jared Polis became the first openly gay male to be elected governor in the United States, and Oregon’s Kate Brown, who is bisexual, was reelected in her state.
All in all, Republicans picked up one gubernatorial seat in Alaska, while Democrats picked up Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.
The role of a governor is an important one to pay attention to when analyzing the future and current political landscape of a state. As the highest-ranking state official, a governor is responsible for signing bills into law, commanding the state’s National Guard, appointing figures to various roles, and calling special sessions of the state legislature.
While all 50 governors bring with them experiences from different walks of life, some share several commonalities. A total of nine current governors have served in the military, and 13 were at one point the lieutenant governor of their state. Nine governors previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives, while just one was a former U.S. senator.
Most of the current governors in the United States will be sticking around even after the 2019 election, too. Just Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisia will hold gubernatorial elections this year, and in Kentucky and Louisiana, the incumbent governor is eligible for reelection.
Stacker analyzed the former roles every current governor had before taking office and found varying resumes, from positions as cabinet secretary to the CEO of an ice cream company. Read on to find out where each state governor developed and honed their leadership that propelled them to public office.
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Though Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey grew up working on her family’s farm, she became a high school teacher after graduating from Auburn University in 1967, and then became a bank officer before starting her career in politics. In 2002, she was elected to the position of state treasurer and successfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2010, where she was the first Republican woman to hold the role in the history of the state.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy long dreamed of becoming a teacher, but after coming to Alaska in 1983, he first held a job at a logging camp in the southeastern region of the state. He then pursued his master’s degree in education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and spent about 20 years in northwest Alaska working first as a teacher, and then a principal and superintendent.
While Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey got his start in the workforce with a job at Procter & Gamble, he is better known for his time working at Cold Stone Creamery, where he became CEO and grew the chain to 1,440 locations worldwide. He and his business partners sold the beloved ice cream chain in 2007, and he went on to run for the position of Arizona state treasurer, which he won in 2010.
Before Asa Hutchinson was governor of Arkansas, he practiced rural law in the state and was nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan to serve as a U.S. attorney for the Western District of Arkansas at the age of 31, making him the youngest U.S. attorney in the country. From 1997 to 2001, Hutchinson served as a member of Congress before President George W. Bush named him as the under secretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom originally jump-started his career investing in wineries, restaurants, and nightclubs. He entered the political universe in 1995, supporting Willie Brown’s campaign for mayor of San Francisco. He then spent six years on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and then rose to the position of mayor. In 2011, he became California’s lieutenant governor.
As a college student, Jared Polis already had ambitious career goals, starting a company called American Information Systems out of his dorm room and going on to found ProFlowers. He also co-founded a startup program to mentor fellow entrepreneurs called Techstars, and Patriot Boot Camp, which assists veterans in piloting small businesses. Later, he started several public charter schools and served as the superintendent of the New America School, which caters to young immigrants.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont founded telecommunications company Lamont Digital Systems, which operated the college campus television service Campus Televideo. While he sold the company before he ran for governor in 2018, it wasn’t his first foray into politics. In 1987, he served on the Greenwich Board of Selectmen and launched several unsuccessful political campaigns, including a run for state senate and the U.S. Senate.
Before entering politics, Delaware Gov. John Carney coached football at the University of Delaware while earning his master’s degree in public administration. From there, he went on to serve as chairman of the Delaware Healthcare Commission and the Criminal Justice Council. Carney also served as lieutenant governor before he was elected to the House of Representatives, where he successfully introduced legislation to prevent shortages of prescription drugs.
After graduating from Harvard Law School, now-Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis served on the Navy SEAL Team One in Iraq, where he earned a bronze medal of honor for his service. He then put his law degree to use as a U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida before running for Congress. While in the House of Representatives, DeSantis chaired a congressional subcommittee on national security.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp owns a small real estate investment and property management business called Kemp Properties, and he was previously the president of the Athens Area Home Builders Association. From 2003 to 2007, he served as a state senator and ran to be state agriculture commissioner in 2006 but lost the primary election. He served as the secretary of state of Georgia from 2010 to 2018, when he won the gubernatorial election.
A native Hawaiian, David Ige spent 18 years working for GTE Hawaiian Tel, a telecommunications company. He earned a master’s degree in decisions sciences at the University of Hawaii Manoa and eventually devoted a 34-year career to being a dedicated electrical engineer. But in 1985, he was named by the Hawaiian governor to fill a vacant seat in the state’s House of Representatives, which kicked off his political career.
After graduating college, Idaho Gov. Brad Little returned home to his family’s ranch and eventually expanded into the business of livestock production. In the 1990s, Little served as president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association and as chair of the American Sheep Industry’s Public Lands and Governmental Committees before selling his sheep business. In 2001, he was appointed by the Idaho governor to serve in a vacant state senate seat.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker was a leader in the creation and construction of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center as a descendant of Jewish refugees from Europe. Before elected governor, Pritzker also founded an organization called 1871, a small business incubator that fosters the growth of entrepreneurs and their various ventures. In 2014, he organized the White House Summit on Early Childhood Education.
Although Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb earned his college degree in U.S. history, he’s spent most of his career working in the political realm. He worked as a campaign manager and district director for a Republican congressman. From 2003 to 2011, he worked for then-Gov. Mitch Daniels. In 2015, he decided to run for the U.S. Senate but quit the race when then-Gov. Mike Pence asked him to be Indiana’s lieutenant governor.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ first job was as an assistant to an independent pharmacist, followed by a role as the motor vehicles clerk in the Clarke County Treasurer’s Office. Four years later, she was elected county treasurer, launching her political career. She spent 14 years in the Treasurer’s Office overall before she ran for state senate.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly was the real Leslie Knope, heading the Kansas Recreation and Park Association before she ran for the state senate. After she won, she was appointed to be the ranking minority member on the state’s Ways and Means Committee. While there, she worked to establish a “state savings account” in the midst of the financial crisis so that Kansas would be prepared in future economic recessions.
After graduating from college, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin served as an officer in the Army and eventually ascended to the role of captain. Upon returning to civilian life, he established a number of companies in Kentucky and invested in businesses in the manufacturing, software, investment, and medical industries. Bevin also served as the chairman of the board for the American Red Cross’ Louisville area chapter.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards entered the military as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army after graduating from West Point in 1988 and eventually retired from the Army as a captain. After returning home, he went to law school and opened a civil law practice in his hometown. In 2008, he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills entered the workforce while still in high school, delivering newspapers and waitressing at her local diner. After graduating from the University of Maine School of Law, Mills became an assistant attorney general and then was elected district attorney for Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford Counties. She was the first woman to be elected to the district attorney position in New England.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had never held elected office before winning the gubernatorial race in the state in 2014. Over his 25-year career, he worked to build up and create small businesses. He created Change Maryland in 2011, the largest nonpartisan organization in the state, which works to instill fiscal responsibility and accountability.
Before entering politics, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker was the CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, taking the helm of the company just as it was experiencing financial distress and eventually transformed the organization to the nation’s number one health care provider for member satisfaction. Baker was also the cabinet secretary for Governors William Weld and Paul Cellucci.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer entered the workforce at age 14 with a job at Burlingame Lumber and also worked early on at Target and the Royal Fork Buffet. In 2016, she became a prosecutor for Ingraham County, where she established a new domestic violence and sexual assault unit. Later, she taught at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.
Upon graduating from Chadron State College in 1989, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz taught high schoolers in China thanks to an opportunity from Harvard University. After returning home, Walz served in the Army National Guard. In 1996, he accepted a position teaching social studies in Mankato, where he also coached football. Walz was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, representing Minnesota’s first congressional district.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant became a deputy sheriff after graduating college, followed by a role as an insurance investigator. In 1991, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for five years before he was appointed state auditor. From 2008 to 2011, Bryant was Mississippi’s lieutenant governor.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was raised on a farm, and remains a farmer today, operating a cow and calf farm in Bolivar. Parson is also a small business owner, a veteran of the U.S. Army, and the former sheriff of Polk County. He began his political career in the Missouri General Assembly and went on to serve as the state’s 47th lieutenant governor.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is an experienced lawyer who worked for a law firm in the nation’s capital before becoming an adjunct law professor and opening his own law firm in Montana. In 2008, he was elected Montana’s attorney general, where he became known for his efforts to crack down on dark money in politics. Bullock is currently a Democratic candidate for 2020 president.
After earning his master’s degree from the University of Chicago, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts returned home to work for Union Pacific, before taking a job as a customer representative for his family’s business that would eventually become known as Ameritrade. He rose to a number of roles within the company, including the chief operating officer. Ricketts also founded Drakon, a company that supports entrepreneurs, and sat on the board of the Chicago Cubs.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak founded his own communications business based in Las Vegas before entering public service. He served on the Nevada Board of Regents for 10 years before he was elected to the Clark County Commission, where he served as chairman and maintained the county’s budget during the financial crisis.
Harnessing his passion for the environment, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu led a 10-year career as an environmental engineer where he helped orchestrate the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. In 2010 while serving as the CEO of the Waterville Valley Resort, he was tasked with a vast expansion of the resort in tandem with the United States Forest Service. Sununu then went on to serve three terms on the New Hampshire Executive Council.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy began his career leading organizations that worked on behalf of survivors of domestic violence and eventually became New Jersey’s representative on the board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He also served as the finance chair of the Democratic National Committee. In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Murphy to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Germany. When he returned home in 2013, Murphy and his wife created New Start New Jersey to boost the state’s economy.
After graduating with a law degree from the University of New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham worked as an attorney for the Lawyer Referral for the Elderly Program of the State Bar of New Mexico and then co-founded the Delta Consulting Group. As she transitioned to the public sector, she served as the Bernalillo County commissioner and was appointed chief of the New Mexico Department of Health. From 2013 until she was elected governor, Lujan Grisham served in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she chaired the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
As a second-generation politician, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s career has been rooted in public service. Upon graduating from law school, Cuomo headed the transition committee for the governor-elect of New York, who happened to be his father, Mario Cuomo. He also founded a nonprofit called the Housing Enterprise for the Less Privileged, or HELP, and then served as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper practiced law in Nash County after graduating with a law degree, all while teaching Sunday School and tutoring students. In 2000, he was elected as attorney general of North Carolina, focusing particularly on consumer protection and cracking down on predatory lenders. He also served in the North Carolina House and Senate.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum launched Great Plains Software in 1983 to a blooming tech firm in his home state, and as CEO of the company, led it through its initial public offering and eventual acquisition by Microsoft. He stayed at Microsoft as senior vice president until 2007. Burgum also founded a real estate development firm called Kilbourne Group and Arthur Ventures, which is a venture capital firm that invests in software companies. His gubernatorial run was his first foray into public office.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s political career started just four years after he graduated law school when he was elected county prosecutor after serving as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Greene County. From there, DeWine was elected to the roles of state senator, U.S. congressman, lieutenant governor, and U.S. senator. He lost his reelection bid for Senate in 2006 to Sherrod Brown.
With just $1,000, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt founded Gateway Mortgage in 2000, which has grown into a nationwide mortgage company that has offices in 41 states. While still in college, Stitt earned money for his tuition by selling books with the Southwestern Company. He campaigned for governor on his business expertise, promising to end “politics as usual” in Oklahoma.
Kate Brown, Oregon’s 38th governor, started her career as a family law attorney, and later worked with the Juvenile Rights Project and co-founded the Oregon Women’s Health & Wellness Alliance. Brown also taught at Portland State University. In 2004, Brown became the first woman to serve as Oregon’s Senate Majority Leader, culminating 17 years representing Oregonians in the legislature. From 2009 to 2015, she was Oregon’s secretary of state.
In 1985, now-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf along with his cousins started the Wolf Organization, a company that distributes lumber and construction products. In 25 years, the company had more than quintupled in size, but Wolf sold the Wolf Organization in 2006 to become Pennsylvania’s secretary of revenue. However, he returned to the company in 2009 during the recession and led the group out of bankruptcy.
The first woman to serve as governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, clerked for U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood after graduating from Yale Law School. She then went on to co-found venture capital firm Village Ventures that invests in start-ups. Raimondo also co-founded Point Judith Capital in Rhode Island that helped launch several successful companies. In 2010, Raimondo was elected as general treasurer of Rhode Island.
After graduating from the University of South Carolina, now-Gov. Henry McMaster served in the U.S. Army Reserves until 1975, when he started his career in law. McMaster was the first U.S. attorney appointed by President Ronald Reagan and served as chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party from 1993 to 2002. He also was elected lieutenant governor, where he led the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging.
At age 22, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem dropped out of college and took over her family’s farm and ranch after her father died in a farming accident. She later opened a hunting lodge before she was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives in 2006. Noem ran for and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, where she served until she announced she would run for governor in 2018. She is the first female governor of South Dakota.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee returned home after graduating college to work for Lee Company, the family business that his grandfather had started that provided comprehensive mechanical construction services. Lee eventually became president of the company in 1992 and also represented Tennessee’s 7th congressional district in the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began his career working for a law firm in the private sector, but became politically active in 1993 when he was named a state trial judge. Then-Gov. George W. Bush appointed Abbott to the Texas State Supreme Court where he served for a number of years. After leaving, he returned to the private sector as an attorney before launching a successful bid for Texas attorney general.
The title of the nation’s longest-serving governor belongs to Utah’s Gary Herbert, who has been in office since 2009. But before he was governor, Herbert first served in the Utah National Guard, and eventually launched real estate brokerage firm, Herbert and Associates Inc. Herbert was also president of the Utah Association of Realtors and served as Utah county commissioner for 14 years. He also was Utah’s lieutenant governor for five years prior to running for governor.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott started his first business at age 18: a boat rental and lawn mowing service. Just a few years later, he opened a motorcycle shop and then went on to work for Dubois Construction, where he worked his way up. Scott and his cousin eventually bought the company, and the experience inspired him to run for Vermont Senate in 2000. In 2005, he started the Wheels for Warmth program, which allows people to donate old tires and uses the profits to fund heating fuel assistance programs.
Upon graduating college, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam became a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, where he served eight years and rose to the rank of major. Later, he attended medical school, where he was chief neurological resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He also became a doctor for the Army in Germany. Northam began practicing pediatric neurology in Norfolk before starting his own practice called Children’s Specialty Group.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee first worked as a private attorney and city prosecutor in Selah and became politically active just two years later when he was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives. In 1992, he won a race for the U.S. House of Representatives but was defeated after just one term. From 1997 to 1998, he was a regional director for the Department of Health and Human Services, before winning another congressional race.
After joining his family’s business in 1976, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice launched Justice Family Farms in Monroe County, which ballooned into Justice Farming Operations. The company today farms more than 50,000 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat. In 1993, Justice became the president and CEO of Bluestone Industries, Inc. and Bluestone Coal Corporation. He later rescued The Greenbrier resort from bankruptcy in the midst of the financial crisis.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ first job was teaching science in Baraboo and furthered his career as an educator when he became a high school principal. Later, Evers became a school district administrator and then the state’s deputy superintendent. In 2009, he was elected the Wisconsin superintendent of public instruction, where he served until 2019.
Since graduating college, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has been a rancher which he continues to do today with the help of his wife, Jennie. Gordon also launched several small businesses early in his career focused on outdoor recreation and tourism, before working in the oil and gas industry. From 2008 to 2012, Gordon served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and was appointed Wyoming state treasurer in 2012.