Governors issued 1,514 executive orders last year—fewer than in 2022

Welcome to the Tuesday, January 16, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. 2023 wrap-up: gubernatorial executive orders and state supreme court opinions 
  2. State education officials issued the most school board endorsements in 2023 
  3. Three minor-party candidates received more votes than the margin of victory in their race in 2023

2023 wrap-up: gubernatorial executive orders and state supreme court opinions 

Throughout 2023, we brought you regular updates on two important but often undercovered state government actions—gubernatorial executive orders and state supreme court opinions

Our typical updates were based on bi-weekly data—now, let’s look back at the year as a whole. 

Executive orders

In 2023, governors issued 1,514 orders—fewer than the 1,575 in 2022. Governors issued an average of 29 orders per week last year, compared to 30 in 2022. 

Governors use executive orders in various ways, including creating commissions, declaring state of emergencies, and managing administrative agencies.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) issued the most orders, at 525. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) came next, with each issuing 242 and 145 orders, respectively. 

In 17 states, governors issued fewer than five orders. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) was the only governor to sign no orders. 

Georgia and Florida led the field for two reasons. Unlike in most states, Georgia’s governor uses executive orders to appoint and reappoint members of state boards and judges. Florida governors use executive orders for state attorney executive assignments.

Let’s compare the 2022 and 2023 numbers. 

In 2022, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R), Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, and Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) were the only governors to issue no orders. However, in 2023, Ivey issued 13, Reynolds issued one, and Ige’s successor, Gov. Joshua Green (D), issued eight. 

Aside from those cases, here are the five states in 2023 that had the biggest percentage increase in orders over last year:

  • Arizona: Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) issued 27 orders, a 440% increase from the five orders her predecessor, Doug Ducey (R), issued in 2022.
  • Pennsylvania: Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) issued 22 orders, a 340% increase from the five his predecessor, Tom Wolf (D) issued in 2022.
  • Arkansas: Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) issued 28 orders, a 300% increase from the seven her predecessor Asa Hutchinson (R) issued in 2022. 
  • Vermont: Gov. Phil Scott (R) issued five orders in 2022 and 15 orders in 2023—a 200% increase. 
  • Maryland: Gov. Wes Moore (D) issued 20 orders, a 186% increase from the seven his predecessor, Larry Hogan (R) issued in 2022. 

Aside from Alaska, where Dunleavy issued no orders in 2023 and 10 in 2022, the five states in 2023 that had the biggest percentage decrease over last year are:

  • Connecticut: Gov. Ned Lamont (D) issued seven orders in 2022 and one order in 2023, an 86% decrease. 
  • Virginia: Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) issued 24 orders in 2022, his first year in office, and five orders in 2023—a 79% decrease. 
  • West Virginia: Gov. Jim Justice (R) issued nine orders in 2022 and two in 2023, a 78% decrease. 
  • Kentucky: Gov. Andy Beshear (D) issued seven orders in 2022 and two orders in 2023, a 71% decrease. 
  • Rhode Island: Gov. Daniel McKee (D) issued 37 orders in 2022 and 11 orders in 2023, a 70% decrease. 

In states with a Republican trifecta, governors issued 966 orders, while governors in states with a Democratic trifecta issued 389. A trifecta is when one political party holds the governorship and majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. In states where neither party holds trifecta control, governors issued 159 orders. 

Click here to read more about gubernatorial executive orders. 

State supreme court opinions

Last year, state supreme courts issued 6,722 opinions. That’s less than the 7,423 opinions they issued in 2022 and the 8,320 they issued in 2021. State supreme courts issued an average of 129 opinions every week. 

The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia led the field with 528 opinions, followed by Texas with 446 and Delaware with 435. 

Supreme courts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Texas, and Delaware regularly end the year as some of the country’s most active courts. Collectively, they accounted for 26% of all opinions issued in 2021 and 2022, and 27% in 2023.

The New Mexico Supreme Court had the largest percentage increase in opinions issued between 2022 and 2023. The Court issued 27 opinions in 2022 and 71 in 2023, a 162% increase. At the other end of the spectrum, North Carolina’s supreme court issued 145 opinions in 2022 and 51 in 2023, a 64% decrease. 

In absolute terms, courts in West Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Delaware issued the most opinions in 2021. In 2022, West Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Delaware, and Mississippi courts issued the most opinions. In 2023, courts in West Virginia, Texas, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi topped the list. 

Every state and the District of Columbia has at least one supreme court, known as a court of last resort. Oklahoma and Texas have two courts of last resort, one for civil cases and one for criminal proceedings. In 2020, we conducted a study identifying the partisan balance in every state supreme court. You can find that research here. We also identified which justices ruled together most often in our Determiners and Dissenters report found here.

Click below to read more about state supreme court opinions. 

Keep reading

State education officials issued the most school board endorsements in 2023 

Continuing our theme of looking back at 2023, here’s a story about school board endorsements that ran in last week’s edition of Hall Pass, our weekly newsletter on school board politics and education policy. Subscribe here

School board elections have increasingly drawn the attention of those far removed from district boundaries—including state-level officials and national organizations. In 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) endorsed a slate of school board candidates. His opponent in that year’s gubernatorial election, Charlie Crist (D), responded in kind with his own list of preferred candidates. These types of endorsements represented a new development compared to previous election cycles.

Since then, as part of our ongoing effort to provide voters with helpful insights into the ideological positions and policy stances of school board candidates, we’ve cataloged all state executive officials—or candidates—who’ve issued endorsements in school board races.

In 2023, we identified 31 such endorsers who made 111 school board endorsements. That’s more endorsers than the seven in 2022 but fewer than the 114 endorsements that year.

State education officials, including state superintendents and members of state boards of education or regents, were the most active endorsers. Fourteen of them, spread across five states, issued 36 endorsements in 2023.

Governors and gubernatorial candidates were less active in 2023 than in 2022. We identified 51 such endorsements in 2022, compared to 10 in 2023. Four governors endorsed either one or two school board candidates in 2023: Mike Dunleavy (R-Alaska), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-Ark.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), and Kevin Stitt (R-Okla.).

While he did not endorse any candidates outright, last February, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) donated $500,000 to the state Democratic Party to support school board candidates.

The top five endorsers overall were:

  1. Ohio Auditor Keith Faber (R), with 25 endorsements, 13 of whom won (52%)
  2. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who is running for the U.S. Senate this year, with 14 endorsements, five of whom won (36%)
  3. Colorado Board of Education Member Steve Durham (R), with seven endorsements, six of whom won (86%)
  4. Colorado Board of Education Member Kathy Plomer (D), with seven endorsements, five of whom won (71%)
  5. Colorado Board of Education Member Stephen Varela (R), with seven endorsements, six of whom won (86%)

We’ll continue tracking state executive endorsements in school board races through 2024.

Click below to read more about state executive officeholder and candidate endorsements in school board elections.

Keep reading 

Three minor-party candidates received more votes than the margin of victory in their race in 2023

Let’s close out this edition of the Brew with a quick look at minor-party or independent candidates last year who received more votes than the margins of victory between the winning candidates in their elections, potentially altering the outcome. The following analysis is limited to offices in our coverage scope

On Nov. 7, three such candidates received more votes than the margin of victory—an independent state-level candidate, a local Green Party candidate, and a local Libertarian Party candidate. 

Margins of victory can be used to measure electoral competitiveness or political party or candidate strength.

  • In Virginia State Senate District 27, independent candidate Monica Gary received 3,219 votes. The margin between winner Tara Durant (R) and Joel Griffin (D) was 1,527 votes.
  • The other two such races took place locally, with one each for the Fort Wayne City Council and the Hartford Court of Common Council. In the latter, Green Party candidate Mary Sanders received 393 votes—98 times the four votes separating winner John Gale (Hartford Party) from runner-up Tiana Hercules (Working Families Party). 

In 2022, there were 56 such candidates. These candidates ran in four U.S. House or Senate elections, eight statewide elections, 25 state-level district elections (such as for state legislature), and five local elections within Ballotpedia’s coverage scope, including:

  • In Nevada, where incumbent U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) defeated Adam Laxalt (R) by 7,928 votes. Independent candidate Barry Lindemann received 8,075 votes.
  • And Wisconsin, where two candidates received more votes than the margin of victory in the Wisconsin Secretary of State election. Incumbent Douglas La Follette (D) defeated Amy Loudenbeck (R) by 7,442 votes—0.3% of the total votes cast. Neil Harmon (L) received 2.1% of the vote, and Sharyl McFarland (G) received 1.6%.

Click below to learn more about minor party or independent candidates receiving more votes than the margin of victory.

Keep reading