If you were a politician, who would you rather be? A Washington
lawmaker whose main activity seems to be sorting through the
sordidness of presidential adultery? Or a governor who is seen to be
doing the people's business seriously, soberly, and perhaps even
No contest. Statehouses are the place to be these days. As Jesse
Ventura said at his swearing-in in Minnesota this week, "Hooyah!"
(Translation, according to columnist David Broder: "There's never
been a better time to be a governor....")
State governments have amassed budget reserves totalling nearly
$35 billion, even though state lawmakers have cut taxes some $16.7
billion over the past four years. Governors - including the 13
newcomers taking office - thus have the luxury of deciding whether
cut taxes further, grant one-time rebates, or store up rainy-day
funds for any economic downturn.
Recent years also have seen more government decentralization
(hence, more gubernatorial authority and independence) as important
issues such as welfare reform, health insurance, and environmental
protection "devolve" to the state level.
But state chief executives are not rushing to launch grand new
programs or to dismantle government agencies. Instead, they are
emphasizing their pragmatism and moderation. And at a time when
affairs in Washington are decidedly partisan, governors - especially
the baker's dozen who recently won office - are downplaying
"Once you're elected you don't have a 'D' or 'R' on your
forehead," says Kenny Guinn, Nevada's first Republican governor in
Thus can Republican Jeb Bush, who took over as governor of Florida
this week, declare his intent to increase social services for "the
frailest and weakest among us." And Democrat Gray Davis, newly
anointed governor of California, can warn public school teachers who
don't measure up that they "will be encouraged to find another line
Not a lot of votes for ideology
Experts see this middle-of-the-road politics as one of the lessons
of the recent gubernatorial elections being carried over into
"The people who have really pushed ideological programs or who
have governed with an eye toward the Christian Coalition agenda were
the ones who had the hardest time being elected or were defeated,"
says Earl Black, a political scientist at Rice University in
"Especially in the South."
There, three of the four new governors are Democrats, reversing a
trend in which the GOP was seen as taking over the South. And in all
three of those races, support for legalized gambling as a means of
providing economic development and education funds (a trend opposed
by the Christian right) played an important role.
Only one of the five new Democratic governors - Tom Vilsack of
Iowa - campaigned on a traditional populist help-the-little-guy
platform that might be seen as too liberal in an age of centrist,
"New Democrat" moderation. …