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The end of the imperial governorship

Published on April 14, 2021 11:37 AM
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STORY BY NICK NIEDZWIADEK

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Lawmakers across the country want to curtail the sweeping powers of state executives after the pandemic

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One of the first things on the agenda this year for Kentucky Republicans was figuring out how to kneecap Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. They dropped legislation in January that placed new limits on the governor's emergency executive powers, quickly passed the bill, overrode his veto and then fought him in court.

In the months that have followed, lawmakers across the country — from Maine to California, Oregon to Florida — have proposed and, in many cases, passed similar measures to curtail the sweeping powers bestowed on their state executives.

The tug-of-war between legislators and governors has the potential to shape the boundaries of gubernatorial authority for years to come and raises substantive questions of how much leeway the state leaders should have during prolonged crises.

Fiery debates over things like mask mandates and other economic restrictions were frequent last year, particularly in battleground states and those with divided state governments, as public health debates were imbued with election-year considerations. But the conflict over the power of the executive transcends ordinary politics, playing out in states both red and blue, and even where one party controls both branches.

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