Governors: The Next Generation of Moderates

Primaries in the last week make it more likely that, for better or for worse, there will be a new crop of centrist governors.
by | August 7, 2010

A few weeks ago a friend of mine posed a question to me. He noted that in the 1990s there were a crop of pragmatic, competent mayors who helped cities get back on their feet (at a time when urban America seemed to be in a spiraling decline). His question: At a time when state governments are in such fiscal trouble, are there candidates for governor this year who are promising in the same terms?

Yes, I have some pretty nerdy friends. I came up with a list of three Democrats and three Republicans who I consider to be fairly moderate or non-ideological and who also seem to have some interesting ideas when it comes to policy (I'm sure there are more out there, these were the first ones who popped into my head). The Democrats:

-Roy Barnes, Georgia

-Vincent Sheheen, South Carolina

-Bill White, Texas

I probably would add John Hickenlooper in Colorado to the list if I were to do it again. Here are the Republicans:

-Charlie Baker, Massachusetts

-Bill Haslam, Tennessee

-Rick Snyder, Michigan

What was striking to me when I wrote that is how unlikely it was that most of these candidates would actually win. The only one who you could say was a clear favorite in both the primary and general election was Haslam and even he struck me as someone who could easily have lost once voters started to pay more attention to his more conservative Republican challengers.

I bring this up now because Snyder won his tough primary this week with surprising ease and because Haslam ended up easily securing the Republican nomination. They, along with Hickenlooper (thanks to the problems Colorado Republicans are having), are now heavy favorites to win.

To be clear: What I DON'T want to say is that I expect these candidates to make better governors than anyone else running across the country. I tend to think that the most pervasive form of media bias is not liberal bias or conservative bias, but rather moderate bias.

The press tends to lionize anyone who is in the middle, even though throughout history the moderate position often has been the wrong position. Stephen Douglas' popular sovereignty in the territories was a centrist position in 1860, but also a morally repugnant one. Lincoln's opposition to slavery in the territories was right.

Still, it would at least be interesting to have a crop of governors who are creative thinkers and who are a little bit ideologically unpredictable. Whether that creative thinking results in public policy that is any good, well, that will be for history to judge.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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