Governors are trying to bridge deep political divides in the big DC meeting

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg joined Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas for a discussion on infrastructure at the National Governors Association’s winter meeting in Washington, DC NGA image used with permission.

Governors of both parties from across the United States met in DC over the weekend to try to speak on a united front about what their states need from the federal government.

But the water was muddled by governors’ clearly divided political views on two major issues at the moment – voting laws and whether Congress should pass a massive law on climate and social spending. A key area of ​​agreement: They like the two-part federal infrastructure law sending much-needed money to their states for bridges, roads, broadband and more.

Governors “worked together to secure more resources so we can repair our roads and build a more resilient and equitable infrastructure system,” said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who made infrastructure an important part of his 2018 campaign.

The winter meeting of the National Governors Association was the first time in two years that the bipartisan group met in the country’s capital due to the pandemic, and although work between the political parties was repeatedly mentioned, the overlap did not seem to extend very far. .

When the governors gathered in the White House on Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris said that “in the spirit of bipartisanship,” governors should think of states as laboratories for democracy, especially when it comes to voting rights.

“I would ask that in the coming year we work together to ensure that all eligible Americans actually have meaningful access to the ballot,” Harris said.

Her comments, and those over the weekend from Republican governors, touched on one of the major political strife unfolding in the states and in Congress – whether voting legislation should be expanded to give eligible Americans more choice or tightened to prevent possible fraud.

False statements by former President Donald Trump and some Republicans from Congress about the validity of the last election have led some GOP-controlled states to change their voting laws, and more may do so this year ahead of the midterm elections.

Many Democrats argue that the various amendments to state election laws will deprive minority and rural voters, making it more difficult to vote.

Republicans generally disagree, saying the changes are necessary to avoid possible future fraud. The Justice Department under the Trump administration found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Congressional Democrats have tried to set minimum standards for voting for each state, though GOP senators have blocked this legislation from moving forward.

NGA President and Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke at the 2020 presidential election in response to a question from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at a press briefing Saturday morning, saying he did not believe the election was stolen and respected the results.

“For me, it’s about the future. Anyone who wants to talk about the last election will lose the next election. And then that’s what I focus on,” he said, who seemed to be digging for Trump – who keeps going to release false statements about the last election, while strongly suggesting that he would run again in 2024.

Hutchinson, however, said states should change their voting laws as they see fit.

“Some of the states, which are their prerogatives, have adjusted their electoral rules both to extend voting rights but also to ensure that the votes have integrity,” he said.

Hutchinson on Sunday criticized Biden’s trip to Atlanta in early January, in which the president called on Congress to pass voting rights. Hutchinson said the speech, which focused on a fundamental democratic legislative goal, was not an example of bipartisanity.

“You have to be even more careful as president, compared to when you are in Parliament or the Senate, and that’s more important in that regard,” Hutchinson said. “So I would urge the President to really use the tone out there that reflects courtesy and bipartisanship across the board.”

Hutchinson last year signed his Republican-controlled state legislature law that changed state voting requirements and would restrict polling stations and absentee ballots.

He also signed another bill that passed strict voter ID requirements. The state will no longer allow persons without identification to cast a vote even if they sign a declaration confirming their identity.

Build back better

Republican and Democratic governors also disagreed on whether Congress should pass the Democrats’ $ 1.5 trillion climate and social spending bill, known as Build Back Better, which is currently stalled due to objections from West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. III.

“I think there’s a difference in the philosophy of whether it’s necessary,” Hutchinson said.

Democratic lawmakers and the White House are in ongoing negotiations on how to pass a scaled-down version of the bill that could provide a range of programs, including universal kindergarten, a ceiling on childcare spending and programs aimed at curbing climate change.

Democratic Colorado Governor Jared Polis, a former member of the U.S. House, said the NGA’s role is not necessarily to address these political and political differences, but to find areas of consensus and try to speak with one voice on these issues.

In terms of federal spending legislation, he said, this vote generally calls on the federal government to “maximize estimates for states and for governors.”

“Although we will not always agree on what needs to be done – no matter what vehicle and what party and what policy is moving – we will make sure [it] can work at the state level, ”said Polis.

“As the language emerges, I would expect us to be candid about giving governors and giving states discretion in the ability to use funds as needed instead of being strictly dictated by Washington.”

Problem solvers

Hutchinson and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat and vice president of the group, spent an hour discussing the importance of working together because they wanted to emphasize the bipartisan nature of the National Governors Association.

“We are problem solvers,” Hutchinson said, adding that there were certain policies that Republicans and Democrats could agree on.

Murphy agreed, but neither governor specified which policies both parties agreed on and could work on together.

“You do not have to give up your principles to find common ground,” Murphy said.

Hutchinson said that if the president expects to pass his social spending and climate package, he will have to work with Republicans. He said there were some parts of the bill that Republicans would probably agree to, but he did not specify what those parts were.

Roads and bridges

One area that Democratic and Republican governors firmly agreed on was the two-part infrastructure law.

Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg told governors over the weekend that he would work with them to quickly provide federal funding to their states. The administration released a guidebook Monday to outline the resources available to state and local government officials under the law.

Governors, he said, were influential in “shaping the design” of the law and advocating for making it a reality.

“We saw governors from both so-called red states and so-called blue states calling for investment like this,” Buttigieg said.

Governors from both parties praised the law during Buttigieg’s session.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who led an NGA infrastructure initiative when he chaired the organization in 2019 and 2020, said he was pleased the group’s recommendations were included in the infrastructure law.

Hogan was particularly pleased with measures that promote public-private partnerships, he said.

The governors’ agenda also included a black-tie dinner with Bidens on Mount Vernon Sunday night, followed by the White House Monday meeting.

Attendees at the White House event included: Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Idaho Governor Brad Little, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Maine Governor Janet Mills, Hogan, Whitmer, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, Murphy, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers.

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