NEWT GINGRICH and company may be drawing the attention these
days, but if the new Republican barons of Capitol Hill are as good
as their word, power will shift out of town to places like Trenton,
N.J., Madison, Wis., and Sacramento, Calif.
Ask a Republican Party pro where the future of the party lies,
and the answer is often, with the governors - state executives who
in various instances have cut taxes, reformed welfare, and won
reelection this month by thunderous landslides, although few paid
For the moment, at least, the public seems to agree with this
view. According to a post-election study by Ed Goeas of the
Tarrance Group for the Republican National Committee, voters were
even more strongly Republican at the gubernatorial level than at
the House or Senate level.
Voters tend to judge Republican governors, such as Christine
Whitman of New Jersey, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, John Engler of
Michigan, William Weld of Massachusetts, and George Voinovich of
Ohio, to be performing in a way Congress is not, Mr. Goeas says.
Governor Whitman, who has cut New Jersey income taxes by 15
percent in less than a year in office, was one of the party's star
fund-raising speakers this year.
The promise of the new Republican sway in Congress and
statehouses around the country is of greater freedom and power for
state governments - resuming a trend toward decentralizing
government that began under President Reagan.
The risk is that small-government conservatives in Washington
will leave more tabs for the states to pick up without giving them
the leeway to cut their costs.
"Some good things could come out of this for the states, but
these guys have got to settle down," says Vermont Gov. Howard Dean
(D), chairman of the National Governors' Association, referring to
the new leadership in Congress.
When Ronald Reagan began his New Federalism program to shift
power back to state and local governments, he was reversing 50
years of massive growth in federal power. By cutting taxes and
allowing large deficits, Reagan weakened the main lever of federal
But Washington began relying on another tool: mandates. What the
federal government could no longer afford to do, it could require
of others. "Indeed, when its ability to make grants declined, the
federal government turned increasingly to mandates as a means of
controlling state and local activity without having to pay the
bill," wrote White House budget director Alice Rivlin in a recent
book promoting stronger state governments. …