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Was Jimmy Carter a Good Governor?

Updated on May 11, 2015
This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b52090.
This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b52090. | Source

President James Earl Carter, Jr., more popularly known as Jimmy Carter, has often been charged as the worst president in modern history. Factually, there were many failures with regards to foreign affairs. While some of the turmoil that occurred during his presidency was not his fault, he was an ineffectual leader who was elected only for one term. However, was President Carter a better Governor than President? In this research paper, I will examine economic data, find the various public works projects completed and started during his governorship, and research for public opinions on Governor Carter in order to determine whether he was successful as a State Governor.

For former President Carter, he considers his successes to be his reorganization of the Georgia state government, his education reforms, and his judicial reforms (Henderson, Roberts 1988 p. 249). Carter acknowledges he had some failures, but the successes and failures that Carter acknowledges are in line with most Georgia historians (Henderson, Roberts 1988 p. 244, 245). His successes are mainly in reforming the state government, which were popular with the citizens, but not with the General Assembly (Henderson, Roberts 1988 p. 244, 245).

 Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons | Source

A key reform was his reorganization of the state government. According to Henderson and Roberts, the reorganization of the state government, like the judicial reforms, was “highly visible and relatively low cost” (1988 p. 240). According to Dr. T.M. Simpson III, 300 agencies, boards, and bureaus were abolished, merged, or downsized to reduce the size of the state government (Dillin, 1976 p. 14). While it is argued by his opponents that his reorganization efforts did not actually save any money (Dillin, 1976 p. 14), the reforms simplified the government in a way that made government-citizen interaction easier (Dillin, 1976 p. 14).

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His judicial reforms were aimed at the criminal justice system in Georgia. These reforms received less publicity than the government reorganization reforms (Henderson, Roberts 1988 p. 239 - 240), but they drastically changed the court system in Georgia. The reforms “initiated the movement toward a unified court system, a merit system for the selection of judges, and a constitutional method of regulating judicial conduct” (Henderson, Roberts 1988 p. 240). What this means is that Carter took an outdated system of government, and reorganized it in his typical style of low-cost, high-visibility reforms (Henderson, Roberts 1988 p. 240)

Department of the Navy. Naval Photographic Center - This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration
Department of the Navy. Naval Photographic Center - This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration | Source

Governor Carter was very notable for his reform of the Georgia state education system. In his efforts to reorganize the state government, he also instituted changes that have been long lasting to the education system in Georgia (Henderson, Roberts 241). Carter’s APEG (Adequate Program for Education in Georgia) system replaced Herman Tallmadge’s minimum education system. (Henderson, Roberts 1988 p. 241). With APEG, he increased the state’s commitment to pre-kindergarten education, provided funds for vocational schools, and started a campaign for a statewide kindergarten program, among other innovations (Henderson, Roberts 1988 p. 241). According to Deanna L. Michael(2006), the reform of the education system was in line with his state government reorganization efforts in a drive for the maximization of efficiency (p. 220). In order to accomplish this effort, he implemented a statewide testing program to judge the individual needs of each school and community. (Deanna, 2006 p. 220).

While Carter had his victories, many of the same problems that prevented a successful presidency prevented a successful governorship. Those problems all relate to his administrative skills. Henderson and Roberts find that he was a poor communicator, and had problems with his interpersonal skills (1988 p. 244, 245). While he had a few allies in the general assembly, he mainly had to appeal to the public to actually enact his reforms as the state representatives by and large were not sympathetic to him personally (Henderson, Roberts 1988 p. 246).

In conclusion, Governor Carter made a huge impact on the state government of Georgia. While it would take a far more robust assessment than this paper can provide in order to fairly judge whether or not Carter was more successful and effective as state Governor, we can see that he did in fact have many long lasting accomplishments and fewer humiliating failures. Still, one can see the character and personality problems arise as Governor that would later impede him as President. In effect, his success as Governor lies in the fact that he had a smaller government and as such fewer chances for his personality flaws to be visible to the public.


Henderson, H. P., & Roberts, G. L. (1988). Georgia governors in an age of change: From Ellis Arnall to George Busbee. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Michael, D. (2006). Educational reformers or keepers of the status quo: Governors Reubin Askew and Jimmy Carter. Paedagogica Historica, 42(1/2), 211-224. doi:10.1080/00309230600552146

Dillin, J. (1976, July 19) Carter: His record as governor. Christian Science Monitor, pp. 14


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