The Republicans future may reside in the Midwest. Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan was just reelected. A publication focused on local and state government recently recognized him as one of its public officials of the year:
A Republican, he pushed for the expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. That led to 385,000 new enrollees in its first year. In December 2012 he signed divisive ‘right to work’ legislation prohibiting companies from requiring their employees to pay union fees. . . . His highest-stakes bet came with the state takeover of Detroit and the July 2013 decision to seek bankruptcy protection for the financially beleaguered city. As the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, it’s a complex process. But it’s moved quickly. The state will pitch in $195 million in aid for the city, and private foundations have pledged their support as well. Many of the city’s biggest creditors, including unions representing its workers, have struck deals with the city to help it shed debt. . . . Snyder likes to refer to himself as “one tough nerd” — he earned an MBA and a law degree from the University of Michigan when he was 23 years old, and he relishes the fact that he is the first certified public accountant to be elected governor in Michigan. . . . The governor’s penchant for numbers drives much of his decision-making. . . Snyder makes heavy use of performance scorecards and dashboards, which the state as a whole and most individual agencies now use. That focus also is evident in Snyder’s handling of state finances.
Then there is three-time election winner Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who slayed Big Labor, cut taxes and is reforming the state health-care system for the poor. If Snyder is the consummate chief executive, Walker is the hard-nosed line manager. He routinely draws the distinction between Beltway elites and his fellow-Wisconsinites.
But if you want real blue-collar flair and constant motion, there is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is the moderate governor some think Jeb Bush (routinely underestimated for his conservative proclivities) is. Kasich expanded Medicaid but is reforming items like in-home care, embraced Common Core, cut taxes, improved the business climate, reformed prisons and worked to improve mental health care. He is the whirling dervish of policy, with a pugnacious attitude. He is not afraid to pull rank on less experienced governors, as he did with Walker at the Republican Governors Association gathering, lecturing the 47-year-old Walker about Kasich’s experience during the Clinton years. He walloped his opponent in his reelection bid, getting 25 percent of the African American vote.
Mike Pence of Indiana may be a synthesis of all three, along with some foreign policy bona fides from his days in Congress added to his portfolio. He too has been on a roll. In his state of the state address in January, he could boast, “We balanced our budget, created jobs, cut red tape by 55 percent, improved our schools and roads, and paid down state debt. I even put the state’s plane up for sale. If you know anyone looking for a great deal on a Beechcraft King Air 200, give me a call! We did all of that and gave Hoosiers the largest state tax cut in Indiana history. As a result, Indiana has become a national leader in job growth.” Pence is poised and solid, the neighbor who you’d call to get the tree off your roof. He is still haggling with the administration to get a broad waiver for Medicaid. He also championed adoption, vouchers for preschool and school choice. On school reform more generally, he satisfied conservative critics by leaving Common Core, but then formulating the state’s own high standards. His home state approval is now 62 percent.
Because they are not in Washington, these governors can criticize the president and Congress (which includes potential rivals), but not be consumed by battles nor stymied in moving ahead with their reform proposals. When President Obama issued his controversial executive action on immigration, Pence put out a thoughtful and restrained statement: “While reasonable people can differ on ways to improve our nation’s broken immigration system, the President’s unilateral action is an unacceptable end run around the democratic process and must be reversed. The proper place to debate immigration policy is through the legislative process defined in our Constitution. The State of Indiana will carefully evaluate the details of the Executive Order and take any available legal actions necessary to restore the rule of law and proper balance to our constitutional system of government.” You will not hear ranting or raving about Obama being a “monarch” or threats to stop working with his administration. They have learned to criticize, and then move on.
Kasich seems the most eager to test the presidential waters, while Snyder remains the least interested. Walker has gotten the most attention, but of late has sent mixed messages, both staffing up for a national race and saying you have to be “crazy” to run. Pence supporters acknowledge that he must get through the spring legislative season. Then he would have to contemplate either running both for reelection and the presidency, or staking everything on the presidency. That said, if his colleagues in the Midwest don’t pan out, Bush doesn’t run and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s personality proves too volatile, Pence may be the consensus choice for a party trying to embrace both rabble rousers and insiders.
What all these politicians have in common is experience governing, evidence they can get along with the other party, conservative bona fides and a personality that can connect with non-Republican voters. There has been much discussion of the GOP’s need to expand to minority voters. And while Kasich and others have shown this is possible, these governors also put the Rust Belt and upper Midwest into play. A candidate who could receive red state support plus Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and perhaps Michigan or Iowa would be well positioned to compete nationally. Can-do governors also offer purple states (Florida, Colorado, Virginia) a less ideologically aggressive figure as an alternative to chaotic, overreaching liberal rule.
In short, these governors do things, and don’t scare people. In demeanor and accomplishments, they are the un-Obama and un-Hillary Clinton politicians. The GOP should give them a good, long look.