story by Michael Tilley
If former Democratic Congressman Mike Ross is elected Arkansas governor in 2014, he’ll be the third consecutive Arkansas governor named Mike.
Based on admittedly superficial estimates by The City Wire, the odds of Arkansas having three consecutive governors named Mike ranges from 1 out of about 15,600 to 1 in 196 million.
A Ross victory in 2014 – and he is considered a frontrunner – would result in Arkansas governors 44, 45, and 46 being, respectively, Mike Huckabee, Mike Beebe and Mike Ross – also respectively, a preacher, proctor and pharmacy owner.
If Ross loses the race, it may be considered an upset not unlike Frank White’s defeat of Bill Clinton in 1980. Maybe more so, because White partially benefited from the Reagan landslide over Carter.
With respect to consecutive names of duly elected governors, there was the 26th and 27th Govs. Thomas Chipman McRae and Tom Jefferson Terral, respectively. Until Mike Ross decided to re-enter the political world, that’s as close as it has come to a three-peat.
Arkansas has had 45 elected governors and 10 acting governors who took office following the resignation or death of the governor.
James is a first name that came close to being thrice consecutive. Arkansas’ 14th, 16th and 18th governors were, respectively, James Berry, James Eagle and James Clarke.
James is a common name for Arkansas governors. James Sevier Conway was the state’s first governor, and James Miller was the first territorial governor. Miller was appointed territorial governor by President James Monroe.
Possibly the most unusual name was that of Gov. Xenophon Overton Pindall. He wasn’t elected governor. He became governor in a series of successions that followed the resignation of Gov. John Sebastian Little, Arkansas’ 21st duly elected CEO. Little, from south Sebastian County, had a nervous breakdown less than a month after being sworn in on Jan. 8, 1907.
What are the odds of having Mike for a third consecutive time on inaugural invitations?
Linus Yu, associate professor and assistant department head of mathematics at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, provided three different calculations. (Yu made it clear his calculations were rough estimates, and provided knowing that The City Wire story was merely a thought exercise. An exhaustive – and possibly expensive – study would be required for a more definitive look at the odds. The estimates also exclude the factor of Ross succeeding in the primary and general elections.)
Using the U.S. Social Security website that lists top baby names by year, along with the percent of total births by name, Yu estimated that based on 2012 births (0.796% of births were boys named Michael), the odds of three consecutive governors named Mike is 1 out of 2 million.
But an Arkansan must be at least 30 years old to be elected. Using 1984 birth figures (3.61% of births in 1984 were boys named Michael), the odds narrow to around 1 out of 15,600.
Also, the Census Bureau has said there are at least 5,163 different first names in common use. Using that number, Yu estimated the odds are 1 in 196 million, but he was not comfortable with that approach.
“Usually the name Mike is way more common than Linus,” Yu said with a laugh, adding that commonality is different than frequency.
Also, the birth figures from the Social Security website reflect nationwide percentages, and are likely different for each state. Also, the figures do not reflect the transition over time; which is to say, the birth-death ratio of people named Mike could be different than those with other names.
There are some other numbers that may impact the odds of not having to change the first name on the door to the Arkansas governor’s office. In the recent quarter, Ross raised a record $1.97 million in campaign funds, and reported having $1.696 million in cash on hand. His presumptive GOP opponent, Asa Hutchinson, raised $378,795 during the quarter, and has just a little more than $725,000 in the bank.
During a July 10 interview with The City Wire, Ross was asked if the state was ready for three consecutive governors named Mike.
"To tell you the truth, I haven't really thought about it. I haven't given it any thought. Huh,” he said, and then laughed.