Missouri’s Harry Truman famously displayed a sign on his Oval Office desk: “The Buck Stops Here.” Nothing could have been clearer. In the end, the president is responsible for the nation’s well-being, regardless of the circumstances. Much the same is true for governors, who exercise similar authority, albeit in smaller domains.
This was driven home to me when I worked for Governor Kathleen Sebelius for calendar year 2005. No matter the issue, there was only one degree of separation between a citizen in Great Bend or Maize or Ottawa and the governor. Everything reached her desk, frequently with lightning speed. For better or worse, the buck stopped there, as she got both more blame and more credit than she deserved, whatever the policy outcome.
As a legislative scholar, I’ve grown more and more skeptical of steady increases in executive power, whether in Washington, D.C., or the 50 state capitols. Still, when disasters strike, executives must act, both administering policy and reassuring the public. Delays, per Herbert Hoover, prove disastrous. Immediate, forceful action, per Roosevelt in 1933 and 1941, can limit damage and pull people together, however imperfectly.