Contrary to popular belief, North Carolina’s governor isn’t completely powerless.

The Old North State might have a relatively weak governor compared with other states, but the position does still have some authority.

[Longleaf story: Everything you need to know about North Carolina’s governor]

The North Carolina Constitution currently delegates 22 powers to the office of the governor, according to our count. Longleaf Politics pored through them all to determine which are the most important.

Here’s our ranking of the most important ones.

The governor of North Carolina has the power to:

  1. Call out the National Guard to “execute the law, suppress riots and insurrections, and repel invasion.”
  2. Hold the executive power of the state. Courts have broadly interpreted this power.
  3. Track tax revenue and report on expected income. This sets the overall budget picture that lawmakers must work within.
  4. Declare emergencies.
  5. Veto bills.
  6. Make all other appointments not prescribed by law. This still includes many important offices, but this is also the one that the General Assembly has been steadily chipping away at since 2016.
  7. Create a recommended budget.
  8. Administer the General Assembly’s approved budget.
  9. Convene special sessions of the General Assembly.
  10. Appoint 11 members to the State Board of Education.
  11. Grant pardons and commutations.
  12. “Take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” or serve as chief law enforcement officer.
  13. Appoint judges to fill vacancies. This power is on the chopping block under one of the constitutional amendments voters will weigh this fall.
  14. Reorganize the state’s administrative departments.
  15. Sign bills into law.
  16. Appoint members to fill vacancies of the State Board of Elections, with these picks not subject to General Assembly confirmation.
  17. Appoint an interim Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Labor or Commissioner of Insurance in the case of the elected official’s death or resignation.
  18. Recommend consideration of bills to the General Assembly.
  19. Require budget cuts of state departments.
  20. Serve as “Commander in Chief of the military forces of the State.”
  21. Reconvene the General Assembly to consider vetoed bills.
  22. Keep and use “The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina.”
The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina

Then there are hundreds of other smaller powers conferred by state law.

It would be incredibly difficult to round all these up. A search of the General Statues finds nearly 1,200 sections that mention the office of the governor.

Here is a sampling of powers of the governor delineated by statute.

  • Marshall state resources to respond to emergencies.
  • Approve applications for grants from the federal government.
  • Hire a personal staff.
  • Secure federal highway money.
  • Name and locate state buildings and monuments.
  • Enter into gaming compacts with Native American tribes.
  • Launch an investigation of mob violence.
The Executive Mansion. Photo by NAVFAC via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Here are 3 powers that the North Carolina governor does not have that other states grant its chief executive.

  1. Line-item veto.
  2. Nearly complete budget authority, as in Maryland. Their legislature can only cut the budget, and cannot add to it or rearrange money in it.
  3. Appoint country prosecutors, as in New Jersey. These are elected in North Carolina.


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