As Washington Keeps Sinking, Governors Rise

November 11, 2013

Washington these days is the symbol of governmental failure, rocked by a shutdown, legislative paralysis and the disastrous debut of President Obama’s health care program. Public opinion of Mr. Obama and members of Congress is on a steady decline.

But something different is taking place in statehouses.

At a time when Mr. Obama and members of Congress are mired in partisanship and gridlock, many governors — including Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican who was re-elected by an overwhelming margin on Tuesday, and the chief executives of such states as Arkansas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Ohio — are showing that it is possible to be successful in elected office, even in this era.

These governors are, at least by comparison to lawmakers in Washington, capable and popular leaders, pushing through major legislation and trying to figure out ways, with mixed success, to avoid the partisan wrangling that has come to symbolize Washington.

Part of this is cyclical. As a rule, governors look bad during an economic downturn, as they are identified with spending cuts or tax increases to balance budgets, and are bold and in command during an economic rebound. And some governors are certainly struggling, be it Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, a Republican who failed to get his Legislature to back him on expanding Medicaid coverage, or Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois, a Democrat who is widely unpopular after a failed effort to change pension laws there.

Yet the contrast these days appears as strong as any in memory, reflecting not only the breakdown in Washington but also a particularly activist class of governors, often empowered by having a legislature controlled by a single party as they enact the kind of crisp agenda that has eluded both parties in Washington.

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