Politics

At GOP Meeting, Governors Distance Themselves from D.C.

November 21, 2013

Tired of being cast as members of the "party of no," Republican governors facing re-election next year are emphasizing their work to steer their states through tough economic times and trying to avoid the stigma of Washington gridlock.

To that end, the 2014 elections could serve as a test case for the public's appetite for tax cuts championed by GOP governors, the curbing of benefits for public-sector unions and restrictions on women's access to health care. Many of the biggest fights for Republican incumbents will come in places like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — states all carried by President Barack Obama last year.

"We're going to run on our record. I'm very proud of that," said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. "We said we were going to do these things and we've done them largely. Isn't that what you should want?"

More than two dozen governors gathered in Arizona for the four-day meeting, through Friday, of the Republican Governors Association, offering their work in state capitals as a stark contrast to D.C.'s dysfunction. Many governors readily expressed disappointment with last month's 16-day partial government shutdown — a standoff for which many Americans blamed Republicans — and the botched rollout of the president's health care overhaul.

"Government at the national level doesn't seem to work anymore," said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who served a dozen years in Congress before taking office this year.

Democrats, however, note that many of the nation's 30 Republican governors arrived during the tea party's rise in the 2010 congressional elections and say there is little separating the GOP chief executives from their congressional counterparts.

Democrats contend that many tax cuts have benefited corporate interests and the wealthy and come at the expense of education spending. Others point to efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, limiting women's access to reproductive health care services, and high-profile fights in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio to curb collective bargaining rights.

"They love to say that they're different than the obstructionists in Congress," said Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. "They're drinking the same beer from a different bottle."

Republicans will be defending 22 of the 36 governor's seats up for re-election next year and many GOP leaders view 2014 as an opportunity to bolster the party's image. "Too often in D.C. we're defined as the 'party of no.' Too often we're defined by what we're against," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the governors association's outgoing chairman. "We need to do a better job as a party of defining what we're for."

Many GOP governors were quick to separate themselves from their Republican colleagues in Congress following the shutdown. Asked if Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a leading critic of the so-called Obamacare law, might become a face of the party, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad offered a quick retort.

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