United States governors have resigned before finishing their terms for several reasons. A governor may resign to take a political appointment at the federal level. Governors also have been unable to complete their terms due to illness or personal reasons. At the time of publication, since 1900, five U.S. governors have resigned before completing their first terms. While one governor left due to health problems, and another cited personal and political reasons for resigning, the remaining three exited with clouds of scandal in their wake.
A Question of Ethics
By the time he was elected governor of New York in 2006, Eliot Spitzer had developed a reputation as a crime-fighting prosecutor and a state attorney general unafraid to investigate Wall Street's biggest players for ethics violations. In March of 2008, however, it was revealed that Spitzer had some ethics issues of his own. A wire-tap indicated that Spitzer, a married father of three, had spent more than $4,000 arranging for a prostitute to join him in Washington, D.C., where he was meeting with Congress. Further investigation showed that since his days as state attorney general, Spitzer had paid $80,000 to a prostitution ring. Under threat of impeachment, Spitzer resigned on March 17, 2008.
Leaving Before Lame
Sarah Palin was the youngest and first female governor of Alaska when she took office in 2006. In 2008, while still in office, Palin was the Republican vice-presidential nominee and running mate to Senator John McCain. Following her election loss, Palin returned to Alaska to finish her term. In 2009, Palin announced her resignation from office and her decision not to run for re-election. At the time, Palin had 15 ethics charges filed against her. She cited the state's costs for defense of the charges as one reason she was stepping down. She also expressed her unwillingness to be a lame duck governor. Palin was ultimately cleared of all charges.
The Truth Comes Out
Unlike the scandalous events surrounding Eliot Spitzer's resignation, which took about a week to unfold, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevy stunned the general public when, on the afternoon of August 12, 2004, he announced his intended resignation and then stated, "My truth is that I am a gay American." McGreevy, who was elected governor in 2002, admitted to an extramarital affair with another man, later identified as Golan Cipel, McGreevy's former homeland security adviser. McGreevy's wife, Dina Matos McGreevy, has said she did not know her husband was gay until he handed her a copy of his speech an hour before his news conference.
The Truck Stops Here
Former Louisiana Governor Richard W. Leche served as the campaign manager and protégé of former Louisiana governor and U.S. State Senator Huey Long. In 1936, after Long's assassination, Leche was elected governor with the help of Long's supporters. His famous quote, "When I took the oath of office, I didn't take any vow of poverty," might have given Louisiana residents a clue as to which direction Leche's moral compass pointed. In 1939, his third year in office, Leche was found to be involved in a truck-selling scam. Leche resigned and the following year he was convicted of mail fraud. He is the only Louisiana governor to be sentenced to prison.
Too Ill to Serve
Plagued by health problems, John Sebastian Little attempted to bow out of the Arkansas governor's race just months before the 1906 election, his supporters convinced him to persevere and Little went on to win the election. Despite rumors of severe illness and even death just days before his inauguration, Little became the state's 21st governor on January 18, 1907. Within two days, however, Little returned home, leaving his son -- who served as his secretary -- to oversee his affairs. In May, it became clear Little was not returning to office and the state senate president became acting governor.
- PolitickerNJ: America's Top 53 Political Scandals
- Louisiana Secretary of State: Governors from 1877
- Biography.com: Eliot Spitzer
- Biography.com: Sarah Palin
- NJ.com: After a Calm Morning, A Thunderbolt
- NYTimes.com: Opinions: Stand By Yourself
- National Governors Association: Louisiana Governor Richard Webster Leche
- The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture: John Sebastian Little (1851-1916)
Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.