Hayden was chosen as chair of the Republican Governors Association. His term saw tax cuts and programs to combat substance abuse. A split in the Kansas Republican Party between moderates and conservatives considerably reduced other accomplishments. He was perceived as a moderate; on abortion, for instance, he took a pro-choice position. Because of the legislative gridlock, he did not reinstate the death penalty. He lost his re-election bid primarily because of voter passage of a property reclassification amendment in Kansas which resulted in property reappraisals – the first in some cases in 20 years – and the resulting property tax increases when market values were applied to properties for tax purposes.
State Treasurer Finney was elected governor over Hayden in 1990, giving Hayden the distinction of being the first incumbent governor of any state to lose to a woman. In addition to being Kansas's first female governor, she was Kansas' oldest governor (65) until Laura Kelly in 2019 at age 68, Kansas' first Roman Catholic Governor, and one of the few pro-life Democratic Governors at the time.