Gubernatorial Succession?

So I’m reading the Georgia Constitution. Article V, Section I says, in part:

Governor: term of office; compensation and allowances. There shall be a Governor who shall hold office for a term of four years and until a successor shall be chosen and qualified. Persons holding the office of Governor may succeed themselves for one four-year term of office.

Persons who have held the office of Governor and have succeeded themselves as hereinbefore provided shall not again be eligible to be elected to that office until after the expiration of four years from the conclusion of their term as Governor.

Legal language can be messy… attempts at precision open up whole new areas of imprecision.

First, I note that Roy Barnes would not have been eligible to run in the 2006 election, since the election would have been approximately 3 years and 10 months after the expiration of his single term… that’s not the intent of this language, but that’s my interpretation. (The constitution should have said “eligible to be sworn in” instead of “eligible to be elected,” but it doesn’t.)

More importantly, my interpretation is that, if elected this November, Barnes would not be eligible to run again in 2014 to “succeed himself” in a second consecutive (third lifetime) term.

A quick reading would lead you to think just the opposite is true. You get elected, you get re-elected, you sit out four (or, to be ultra-safe, eight) years, you get elected again, and you get re-elected again. That could theoretically make a single individual governor for 16 out of 20 (or 24) years. That may or may not be a good idea, but at least it’s defensible and self-consistent. And, if a two-term governor wanted to come out of retirement to run again, it would be legal.

But Barnes wouldn’t be able to do this, since he wasn’t re-elected after his first term. If elected in November 2010, the 2011-2014 term would count as the one where he “succeeded themselves as hereinbefore provided,” and he’d have to sit out one (or two!) election cycles before running again. To unmistakably clear the constitutional 4-year threshold, he’d have to wait until the 2022 election, by which time he’d be 74 years old. Probably not going to happen.

So… the letter, if not the intent, of the Georgia Constitution seems to state that, in electing Barnes, we’d be electing a one-term governor. Which, again, may or may not be a good idea, but I have heard zero discussion about it.

I’ve asked several people about this, and gotten conflicting answers, so I went to the source (Georgia Constitution). If anyone has contradictory data or interpretations, make a comment below!

Yes, I am a state employee. Let me remind you of my professional disclaimer.


  1. Stephen,

    All my con law friends say he is eligible for two terms. The first para says if your are \holding\ (present tense) you may succeed yourself for one term.

    Well, he isn’t holding presently.

    The second para deals with Gov’s who have held AND succeeded themselves — Barnes does not fall under that condition.

    Therefore, he is eligible to be elected now. And, in four years hence, he is eligible to succeed himself.

    That’s how I read it.

  2. Ah. This is why I’m not a lawyer. That makes sense.

    Hypothetical now, but do you agree that a strict reading would have mean Barnes was ineligible in the 2006 election cycle?


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