A Legacy of Leadership: Governors and American History

By Clayton McClure Brooks | Go to book overview

Governing the 1990s

In the 1990s, America enjoyed an era of relative economic and international ease allowing governors to continue domestic reforms, focus on integrating new technology, and turn greater attention to the demands of economic globalization. Although the decade began with a brief recession in 1991–1992, the 1990s proved prosperous for much of the nation. The “dot-com” industry boomed, and even foreign affairs seemed less dire following the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the successfully short Gulf War in 1991. Political opportunities broadened. For the first time in the nation’s history, an African American, Douglas Wilder of Virginia (1990–1994), was elected governor. In 1992, Bill Clinton, governor of Arkansas, became the first former National Governors’ Association chairman to be elected to the presidency. As president, Clinton attempted (unsuccessfully) to push through a national health care plan and promoted (successfully) a welfare reform bill, both of which had been frequent topics of discussion at governors’ meetings.1 Clinton also turned his attention to another long-held concern of governors— the growing national deficit. By 1997, he had achieved a balanced budget.

Despite prosperity, the country faced some domestic unrest. Militia groups obsessed with growing governmental power gained considerable press. In 1993, a standoff in Waco, Texas, between the Branch Davidian religious sect and federal law enforcement officials ended in a tragic fire. And in 1995, Timothy McVeigh, although not a formal member of a militia, revealed his strong anti-government feelings by bombing the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing more than 150 people, including a number of children in a day care center. These deadly incidents, however, did not reflect a widespread protest against government. Although many Americans felt more apathetic and distrustful in the post-Watergate era, discontent was typically expressed at the polls, often in support of the party out of power (or simply the party opposite that of the incumbent president). In 1994, Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives for the first time in forty years. Intense partisanship lasted throughout the decade, leading to a temporary gov-

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