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The Difference between a Member of Congress and a Governor

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Very visible politicians are often the most powerful elected officials in a state. But their roles, responsibilities and political futures may be quite different, depending on which jobs they hold. A governor is basically the boss who runs the state. A member of Congress plays a dual role on the national stage and at home, dealing with local constituents and national and international issues.


A governor is the chief executive of a state, a role analogous to the president of the United States in its function, if not in the breadth of its responsibility. The governor makes executive decisions for her state; depending on the circumstances of the state, she may not be actively involved in issues of national politics. Governors work to improve the services and economies of their states; implement, propose, veto and sign state laws; set policies in response to social issues and community needs; appoint state court judges; and manage crises, including disasters. The governor's authority does not extend to national politics or legislation but her influence may well affect national policies and decisions. Governors are directly elected by the citizens of their states, serve the interests of those citizens and are answerable to them and to the president. The role of governor is a high-profile position and a governor is not outranked by any member of Congress.


The United States Congress is a bicameral elected body consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Members of Congress are elected by the citizens of their states -- senators in statewide elections and representatives in district elections -- to act within the legislative process on matters of national importance and in the interests of their individual states. Each state has two senators who represent the entire state for a 6-year term. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives who stand for the districts that elect them to a 2-year term. A state's population determines its number of House members. Members of Congress propose and vote on legislation on matters of national policy; the House proposes revenue legislation and the Senate approves treaties and confirms presidential nominees. To enact legislation, both houses must vote identical bills into law.

Staffs and Support

Members of Congress have staffs who are typically highly qualified to advise on and craft legislation, liaison with constituents in the state, manage the complexities of the office and work behind the scenes to help shape and pass legislation. Governors have a lieutenant-governor, appointed cabinets, expert and influential staffs, and the responsibility to appoint state agency and department heads, the people who carry out and often propose state policy and implement state laws. Governors may also call special state legislative sessions.

Political Advantage

Governors may have the advantage when they set their sights on running for president. The governor's job is most like that of the president's: exercising varied skills as the chief executive responsible for making executive decisions; running a complex staff and many government agencies; proposing annual budgets and summing up the state business annually in the State of the State address before both state legislative houses; tending to the business of politics and reelection while running a day-to-day government; raising funds; proposing policies and working to sway popular opinion in favor of them. "The New York Times" points out that twice as many governors as U.S. senators have won their party's presidential nomination and that governors outperform their polling more successfully, logging more votes than members of Congress, whether representatives or senators.


Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .

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