There’s nothing like talking to a state governor or three to be reminded that political dysfunction in Washington isn’t just a depressing game: It really matters, to real people.
The governors are in town for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association, and three of them visited The Post on Wednesday. There were two Democrats (Christine Gregoire of Washington and Jack Markell of Delaware) and one Republican (Dave Heineman of Nebraska), but they were fairly united in their views of Washington, D.C., dynamics.
“Our worst day in Delaware is better than the best day in Washington,” Markell said, at most half-jokingly.
“They need to know each other on a more personal basis,” Heineman said of capital politicians. “I don’t know if it’s a picnic, or a summer retreat. But they need to find a way to get to know each other.”
Gregoire added that it’s often unclear, at NGA meetings, which governor belongs to which party. “You can’t tell, because we’re there to govern,” she said.
But it was when the conversation turned to the practical effects of Washington paralysis that the governors really warmed up.
Because businesses don’t know what to expect in their taxes or health insurance law, they are reluctant to hire and invest, the governors agreed.
Because Congress has failed to reauthorize the federal transportation bill, Gregoire said, several major projects, already underway, are at risk. She can’t very well stop them in mid-construction; but she can’t complete them without the promised federal share of dollars.
Because Congress stalled on climate change reform, so have the states. Both Delaware and Washington belong to regional climate change partnerships. “But when Congress did nothing, it took the wind out of the sails of the Western Climate Initiative,” Gregoire said. “We started seeing states saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, if we’re not moving as a country . . . ’ There’s a fear you’re going to put yourself at an economic disadvantage.”
Because Congress failed to pass immigration reform, she said, “I nearly lost my apple crop last year.” Americans don’t want the harvesting jobs, she explained, and ramped-up enforcement without an accompanying guest-worker program has deprived Washington farmers of the labor they need. Now, she continued, it’s her asparagus that’s at risk; soon it will be “my cherries.”
Delaware farmers are “scared to death about what’s going to happen to their farms,” Markell agreed. And legal immigrants and their descendants, Heineman chimed in, are getting tired of living under suspicion.
“It’s very disappointing,” the Nebraska Republican said. “This is one where we need a federal policy.” No matter what decision Congress makes, Heineman added, “You’re going to make half the country mad. But we’re paying you the big bucks. Make a decision.”