Governors Reach Beyond Traditional Agenda
State of the State addresses preview election year issues
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb 3) -- It's not that easy these days to figure out who's a Democrat and who's a Republican, with governors blurring party lines as they scramble toward the vital center of American politics.
With only 10 months until Election Day, many of the nation's governors seem to have taken a page out of President Bill Clinton's playbook and used their State of the State addresses to stake out politically popular positions, with some even reaching past traditional agendas to seize issues normally owned by political rivals.
Vermont's Democratic Gov. Howard Dean, for example, presented his State of the State address by revealing a "new way of looking at the future of our state." Dean, former chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association, said if the projected budget surplus for 1999 is sustainable, he will ask for a tax cut, a traditionally Republican mandate.
Dean also cited "extraordinary success" in the state's welfare reform initiative and pledged $800 million more to match federal funds to help get the toughest cases off welfare roles.
Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, used his speech to propose funding the state's first income tax cut in 30 years with $100 million of a $283 million budget surplus.
Dean and Glendening are up for re-election this year.
While Democrats are pushing for tax cuts, fighting crime and cutting the welfare roles, Republican governors facing re-election are seeking to broaden health care coverage, hire more teachers and work to protect the environment.
South Carolina's Republican Gov. David Beasley showed a movie during his address. Flowers and waterfalls filled television screens, as Beasley said, "This is your land, South Carolina. This is your heritage. And this...is your future." Beasley jumped on the "green" platform before his opponent tagged him as anti-environment.
Idaho Republican Gov. Phil Batt credited his predecessors with "taking government to the common man" and giving "a voice to those who felt disenfranchised." Batt says he will continue to push for high environmental standards and focus on crime, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as education.
Governors of both parties endorsed education, a perennially popular issue with voters, especially soccer moms.
Glendening, a former teacher and the first in his family to attend college, noted that with "tax cuts in place and funded" the state could make a big difference by making a large one-time investment in education, specifically school construction.
Dean also touched on education, drawing gasps from the audience when he asked the legislature to help him craft a school choice bill, citing a "lack of equity" for those who are dissatisfied with their public school.
Republican governors, too, are more focused on education. While there is less talk about putting money into new programs, there is an emphasis on accountability and school choice.
"I believe the real state of our state will be measured by the state of our schools," said Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, who is running for his first full term since taking over for former Gov. William Weld.
Arizona's Republican Gov. Jane Hull offered a broad proposal for school construction and maintenance in her state address. Hull is finishing the term of Fife Symington, who was sentenced this week to 2 1/2 years in prison for lying to help shore up his collapsing real estate empire.
A healthy economy has left a majority of states with unexpected surpluses. So now governors have to decide what to do with the money, a choice that offers great opportunity, particularly in an election year.