Their ranks swollen after the last election, Republican governors from Florida to Alaska are undermining President Barack Obama’s agenda at every turn ahead of the Democrat’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Some are rejecting federal money for high-speed rail. Many are fighting the president’s health care law. And several are going after the Democratic Party’s bedrock constituency, pushing laws that would weaken the power of unions.
Not that any Republican governor will acknowledge that this is politics at play — even if it is.
“Republican governors are doing what they said they would as candidates,” insisted Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who led the GOP’s campaign efforts last fall and may seek the party’s presidential nomination. “All this goes back to our commitment in the last election that we’re going to get control of spending for the sake of the taxpayers.”
“It’s not a conspiracy. It’s not that we’re doing this for a political reason to go after the president,” added first term Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett. “We have fundamental disagreements. We have different perspectives.”
But left unsaid in interviews with governors attending this weekend’s National Governors Association meeting was this: Republicans, particularly in places with many electoral votes, like the Midwest, are fully aware that stymieing Obama’s plans in the states could weaken him just as he tries to make the case to the country that he should get a second term.
One Republican governor has gone so far as to privately liken GOP governors’ efforts to providing “oversight of the Obama administration.”
All that provides fodder for Democrats to criticize.
“They are so obsessed with the short-term political game of keeping the president from succeeding that they’ve taken their eyes off of the big goal … which is creating jobs and moving our states and country out of this recession,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
Could the GOP effort to undercut Obama backfire?
“Yes. I think it already has,” said Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a Democrat. “Americans aren’t anxious to refight the fights of the last two years. They want to move on.”
The president’s conflicts with GOP governors date to his first years in office. Many Republican governors opposed Obama’s economic stimulus plan. Some also objected to his Gulf Coast oil-drilling moratorium.
After big GOP gains in November, Obama is running into even more roadblocks.
GOP governors now control most of the 26 states that have sued to stop Obama’s health care overhaul, his signature domestic accomplishment. They say it would cost their states too much money. Last month in Florida, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled the law was unconstitutional.
Some GOP-led states — such as Alaska, where Republican Sean Parnell is governor — have refused to implement the law in light of that ruling. But the Justice Department wants the judge to order the states to follow the law pending an appeal.
“We cannot sustain it. We can’t afford it,” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, who also has assailed Environmental Protection Agency efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. “We believe that the federal government just needs to get out of the way and let us run the states.”
Obama’s high-speed rail plan has run into trouble, too. Democrats say the projects — mostly funded by the federal government — would create jobs; Republicans worry about cost overruns and the long-term expense.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, both Republicans elected in November, have killed two major projects that their Democratic predecessors had approved. And Florida’s new governor, Rick Scott, is refusing to accept a $2.4 billion federal block grant for high-speed trains between Tampa and Orlando; the state would have to provide $300 million.
Scott said he worries about cost overruns, and would rather use the money to protect the state’s ports. He’s showing no signs that he will reconsider his opposition even though the federal government has given him a revised proposal and a week to change his mind.
“What each state is doing is figuring out the needs of their states,” Scott said. “I’m focused on what’s good for my citizens.” He said that’s not Obama’s high-speed rail plan or “Obamacare.”
Going to the heart of Obama’s political base, Republican governors’ efforts to hamper unions have been on full display in the past few weeks.
Protests have raged in Wisconsin and Ohio over proposals that would limit bargaining rights for many public workers, efforts that Walker and Kasich insist are necessary to rein in costs amid budget crises.
“This is not about going after somebody,” Kasich said, arguing the measure is about “restoring power to taxpayers.”
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels stripped power from unions six years ago but saw nowhere near the outcry that his counterparts have. Democrats in his state successfully blocked a GOP bill last week that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment.
Obama, himself, waded into the Wisconsin dispute recently by arguing that limiting bargaining rights “seems like more of an assault on unions.”
GOP governors are fighting other Obama policies as well; states like Wyoming are challenging the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, said longstanding environmental feuds between the states and Washington have worsened during the Obama administration because of its emphasis on renewable energy over oil and gas. The White House, Mead said, has a “view that we need cleaner energy at the expense of all the energy and production that we have now. We need both.”
It’s a safe bet there will be even more tussling between Republican governors and Obama between now and November 2012.