GOP GOVER­NORS KEEP WIN­NING

2010’s wave of elected Repub­li­cans still de­liv­er­ing what Congress can­not

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SALLY PER­SONS

Su­sana Martinez and Brian San­doval were swept into of­fice as part of the 2010 GOP wave — two His­panic gover­nors in Western states who each had the po­ten­tial for po­lit­i­cal star­dom.

Ms. Martinez has strug­gled in New Mex­ico, ful­fill­ing her cam­paign prom­ise of fight­ing against tax hikes but fail­ing to get the state’s econ­omy mov­ing again. The un­em­ploy­ment rate has fallen just 1 per­cent since she took of­fice in 2011 and is among the bot­tom third of the coun­try.

Mr. San­doval, mean­while, is rid­ing high in Ne­vada, po­lit­i­cally speak­ing, de­spite — or per­haps be­cause — he broke his no-new-taxes prom­ise. His state’s un­em­ploy­ment rate, which topped out at nearly 14 per­cent in 2011, is now un­der 5 per­cent, and he’s man­aged to score some con­ser­va­tive vic­to­ries on so­cial poli­cies like school choice.

Seven­teen new Repub­li­can gover­nors were elected in 2010 as part of the na­tional GOP wave, and like their con­gres­sional coun­ter­parts, they promised to usher in a new era of boom­ing economies, slim­mer govern­ment and a bul­wark against Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Most have been suc­cess­ful in re­viv­ing their economies, and many made ma­jor strides in con­ser­va­tive poli­cies such as lim­it­ing the power of pub­lic em­ployee la­bor unions. But they’ve not al­ways been re­warded by their own vot­ers.

“The class of 2010 did very well. They put in place some sub­stan­tial tax cuts,” said Chris Ed­wards, who stud­ies state gover­nors for the Cato In­sti­tute. But he added: “States get into fis­cal trou­ble be­cause of a lot of things out­side of their con­trol, like oil prices in a state that’s de­pen­dent on oil, like Ok­la­homa. Some­times they have to do things that are un­pop­u­lar to bal­ance that.”

The wave of new GOP gover­nors in­cluded a dozen who cap­tured seats from

Democrats or in­de­pen­dents, in­clud­ing the big states of Florida, Ohio, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia. Five other GOP gover­nors won seats that had been held by a Repub­li­can who was term-lim­ited or lost in a pri­mary.

Jon Thomp­son, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the Repub­li­can Gover­nors As­so­ci­a­tion, said it was Repub­li­can gov­ern­ing in these states that helped Pres­i­dent Trump take the White House.

“With­out Scott Walker’s suc­cess in Wis­con­sin, Rick Sny­der’s suc­cess in Michi­gan and John Ka­sich’s suc­cess in Ohio, it would have been a lot tougher for Don­ald Trump to win these states in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. These gover­nors ush­ered in a new wave of Repub­li­can power, and it cul­mi­nated with the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump to the White House in 2016,” he said.

Gover­nors shot out of the blocks with a se­ries of big prom­ises.

In Wis­con­sin, Mr. Walker promised to bring the pub­lic sec­tor la­bor unions to heel af­ter a bit­ter bat­tle that saw him have to win in the leg­is­la­ture, then in the courts, and then sur­vive a re­call elec­tion. Gov. John Ka­sich won a sim­i­lar show­down in Ohio, though vot­ers later over­turned his new law.

In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad promised 200,000 new jobs by 2016. He and his crit­ics de­bate whether he’s reached that goal, but as Mr. Branstad de­parts for a new job as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s am­bas­sador to China, there’s lit­tle doubt the econ­omy is hum­ming: Un­em­ploy­ment in the state has shrunk from 5.6 per­cent to 3 per­cent.

Gov. Rick Scott also promised 700,000 jobs would be cre­ated in Florida, and he’s nearly dou­bled that, with 1.3 mil­lion pri­vate-sec­tor jobs added be­tween Jan­uary 2011 and Jan­uary 2017. Un­em­ploy­ment, which was a stag­ger­ing 10.5 per­cent in Jan­uary 2011, was just 5 per­cent at the be­gin­ning of this year.

Other GOP gover­nors took on so­cial is­sues, with Ten­nessee Gov. Bill Haslam push­ing char­ter schools and Ok­la­homa Gov. Mary Fallin win­ning a bill push­ing the state’s health depart­ment to cre­ate an “abor­tion-free so­ci­ety” cur­ricu­lum for high school stu­dents.

In Michi­gan, Gov. Rick Sny­der steered clear of hot-but­ton is­sues, in­stead putting his ef­fort into clean­ing up the trou­bled city of Detroit. He put the city into man­aged bank­ruptcy in 2013, ap­pointed an emer­gency man­ager to han­dle city as­sets and struck a deal with pub­lic-sec­tor unions over ben­e­fits.

Within 16 months the city was out of bank­ruptcy, and Mr. Sny­der gave talks around the coun­try about how he achieved such a feat, even stir­ring up ru­mors of a pres­i­den­tial bid in 2016 that did not come to fruition.

Mr. Walker and Mr. Ka­sich did both mount pres­i­den­tial bids that stum­bled, while South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Ha­ley, also part of the class of 2010, was men­tioned as a po­ten­tial vice pres­i­den­tial pick. In­stead, she has be­come Pres­i­dent Trump’s am­bas­sador to the U.N.

The gover­nors have strug­gled with some is­sues — in­clud­ing whether to em­brace Oba­macare’s ex­pan­sion of Med­i­caid. Only six of the 2010 GOP gover­nors agreed to some sort of ex­pan­sion, while the oth­ers de­clined it, say­ing they feared putting their fu­ture bud­gets in jeop­ardy.

Of the 17 GOP gover­nors newly elected in 2010, all but one won re­elec­tion in 2014.

Mr. Thomp­son said that it was Repub­li­cans’ eco­nomic agenda that brought them po­lit­i­cal vic­tory.

“While Repub­li­can gover­nors have been suc­cess­ful on mul­ti­ple av­enues of re­form, a main fo­cus was mak­ing their states strong en­gines of eco­nomic growth, and on that pol­icy, they have ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions,” he said.

The ex­cep­tion was Tom Cor­bett in Penn­syl­va­nia, who faced chal­lenges on both the right and the left in his state leg­is­la­ture. Mr. Cor­bett’s big­gest down­fall was slash­ing fund­ing to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, which Demo­cratic chal­lenger Tom Wolf ham­mered him on dur­ing the elec­tion. But his re­la­tion­ship with Repub­li­cans in Harrisburg was also frosty. He was the first Penn­syl­va­nia gov­er­nor to lose re-elec­tion in over 40 years.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bent­ley also de­parted early, re­sign­ing ear­lier this year over re­ported ethics and cam­paign vi­o­la­tions.

Most of the rest of the Class of 2010 is term-lim­ited and un­able to run again, save for Mr. Walker in Wis­con­sin.

Democrats say this is a good thing for them look­ing to­ward 2018.

“I think that in terms of pop­u­lar­ity, in mea­sures of how vot­ers think about it, you’ve had GOP gover­nors for eight years, and peo­ple are tired of those gover­nors,” said Jared Leopold, spokesman for the Demo­cratic Gover­nors As­so­ci­a­tion.

He said he’s see­ing Repub­li­can can­di­dates drift even fur­ther to­ward the right than their sit­ting Repub­li­can gover­nors, some­thing he thinks will turn off vot­ers.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing in the 2018 class run­ning to re­place these guys is they’re far more to the right than these sit­ting gover­nors,” he added. “The peo­ple of those states don’t be­lieve those have been suc­cess­ful.”

Stick­ing to cam­paign prom­ises hasn’t al­ways been easy, how­ever, nor has it been a path to po­lit­i­cal suc­cess. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brown­back pushed a ma­jor cut on per­sonal in­come tax and elim­i­nated in­come tax on prof­its for lim­ited li­a­bil­ity com­pa­nies. The state has strug­gled with bud­get short­falls and elim­i­na­tion of other ser­vices as a re­sult.

His po­lit­i­cal stand­ing is so low that ana­lysts said it nearly dragged down the GOP can­di­date in a spe­cial con­gres­sional elec­tion ear­lier this year.

One dif­fer­ence be­tween the suc­cess­ful and the strug­gling gover­nors is the na­ture of the leg­is­la­tures they deal with.

Vot­ers tend to re­ward gover­nors who find ways to work with their state­houses, said Nathaniel Birk­head, a pro­fes­sor at Kansas State Univer­sity who stud­ies state leg­is­la­tures.

“Gover­nors might be bet­ter off to find bal­ance with leg­is­la­tors of [a] dif­fer­ent party,” he said. “While we ex­pect fi­delity to cam­paign prom­ises, we tend to re­ward those who com­pro­mise.”

Even those states where the leg­is­la­ture is con­trolled by the same party as the gov­er­nor can prove to be ob­sta­cles, par­tic­u­larly when the leg­is­la­tures are con­sid­ered strong com­pared to the chief ex­ec­u­tive.

In Ne­vada, for ex­am­ple, Mr. San­doval wanted to en­act ma­jor tax cuts to help fund his pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, but the state leg­is­la­ture forced him to ne­go­ti­ate. He ended up agree­ing to ex­tend ex­ist­ing taxes that had been set to ex­pire dur­ing his term.

Mr. San­doval later agreed to the largest tax in­crease in the state’s his­tory, yet re­mains one of the most pop­u­lar gover­nors na­tion­wide.

Jon Ral­ston, a top po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst in the state, said Mr. San­doval did pur­sue con­ser­va­tive poli­cies such as school choice, but the tax bat­tle over­shad­owed that. For­tu­nately for Mr. San­doval, he’s been blessed with a busi­ness cli­mate that’s at­tract­ing ma­jor busi­nesses to the state, thereby boost­ing his stand­ing.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s also been able to charm his leg­is­la­ture and his vot­ers.

“The guy is just so lik­able in ad­di­tion to get­ting so much done,” Mr. Ral­ston said. “Even though he passed the largest tax in­crease in state his­tory, with a Repub­li­can-held leg­is­la­ture, he re­mains one of the most pop­u­lar gover­nors in the coun­try. Who else could do that?”

Ms. Martinez, mean­while, has faced a Demo­cratic leg­is­la­ture and fre­quently bat­tled it.

She up­held her cam­paign prom­ise of not rais­ing taxes, even ve­to­ing the leg­is­la­ture’s bud­get in April be­cause it called for tax hikes. Law­mak­ers sent her a new bill last week with more taxes — some­thing the gov­er­nor has said she will not sup­port.

“I think I could say that, as far as I can tell, New Mex­i­cans would have been more sat­is­fied if the gov­er­nor had found a way to co­op­er­ate more,” said lo­cal poll­ster and an­a­lyst Brian San­deroff. “Peo­ple get tired of the grid­lock and fight­ing. They have worked to­gether on some is­sues, and she’s found suc­cess there.”

One such area is the voter ID law that re­stricts il­le­gal im­mi­grants from ob­tain­ing a driver’s li­cense. Ms. Martinez re­peat­edly pushed the is­sue, which fi­nally passed in 2016 with the co­op­er­a­tion of the state leg­is­la­ture.

Part of Ms. Martinez’s suc­cess, how­ever, is due to the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, which claimed the state’s ID law failed to com­ply with the Real ID Act and would not be ac­cepted in fed­eral build­ings or air­ports start­ing in 2018.

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

MIXED BLESS­INGS: Ne­vada Gov. Brian San­doval broke a cam­paign vow not to levy new taxes, but Ne­vada’s un­em­ploy­ment de­creased from 14 per­cent to un­der 5 per­cent.

STALLED: New Mex­ico Gov. Su­sana Martinez ful­filled a pledge to fight tax hikes, but un­em­ploy­ment re­mains a prob­lem.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

De­spite a spate of suc­cess­ful Repub­li­can gover­nors, Penn­syl­va­nia Gov­er­nor Tom Cor­bett faced a hos­tile leg­is­la­ture, and vot­ers sent him pack­ing in 2014 fol­low­ing un­pop­u­lar school bud­get cuts. He was the first gov­er­nor not re-elected in the state in 40 years.

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