Politics Dissolve Governors' Plans for Cooperation

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The nation's governors gathered here yesterday to promote compromise and unity, but the focus quickly shifted to the battle over competing agendas, presidential politics and the fallout from President Clinton's impeachment and trial.

The agenda-setting theme of the National Governors' Association's annual winter meeting is "Progress Through Partnerships." But some governors said they expected little unity or agreement between the parties as both sides moved to sharpen their differences on the issues for the two-year election cycle that already has begun.

"I'm enough of a realist that both Republicans and Democrats will come out with both guns shooting," said Gov. John G. Rowland, Connecticut Republican, in an interview with The Washington Times.

Republicans are concentrating on preserving their majority in Congress, Democrats are focused on taking it away, and Mr. Clinton hopes to improve his scandal-plagued image, Mr. Rowland said. "It's a prescription for political posturing. It's going to be very partisan."

The bitterness and rancor over the impeachment battle "is not going to go away for quite a while. There are feelings of revenge on both sides," said Mr. Rowland, who has been a sharp critic of the impeachment proceedings - calling them "a waste of time."

"The effort of the last year has been to embarrass the president. But it's impossible to embarrass this president. You can't shame him," he said.

Yet Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, Idaho Republican, rejected the notion put forth by GOP Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey that the impeachment fight has created "the impression of the Republican Party that's mean-spirited."

"The problem didn't start in Congress; it started somewhere near the Oval Office," Mr. Kempthorne said.

GOP Gov. George Ryan of Illinois dismissed fears that his party would be hurt by the impeachment fight. "I don't think people two years from now are going to blame [GOP candidates]. That's not going to happen."

Still, NGA Chairman Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, expressed the hope that both sides can put the impeachment battle behind them and find common ground on the major legislative issues that Congress will address this year. …