Governors in the news: This ain't a job for the thin skinned

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February 8, 2011

Governors wrestle with the legislature in Montana, with Commissioners in Kansas, and with each other on the East Coast

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Iowa's Governor fires back at critics, insists his family life is private

Iowa Governor Terry E. Branstad, a Republican elected in 2010, wants to keep family and policy apart. That's his response to critics of his support for a bill designed to cut statewide preschool in light of news that his own granddaughter attends a state funded preschool. HB 45 would cut the program, for a projected two year savings of $45 million. Critics say it will hurt rural areas disproportionately – and that Branstad is a hypocrite for backing it.[1] The Governor told reporters that his granddaughter's education is not his direct decision and that his support for HB 45 is not about interjecting the government into schooling choices but about ending taxpayer subsidies for families who can't afford preschool on their own.[2] Branstad has backed a plan that would provide subsidies to low-income families in place of a statewide government-run preschool program.

Kansas Art Commission set to become the private Arts Foundation

Republican Governor Sam Brownback signed an executive order, set to take effect July 1, 2011, that turns the government funded Arts Commission into a nonprofit foundation surviving on private donations.[3] Brownback's move will save the state, which is staring down a $500 million shortfall, $600,000 a year. Under the terms of the executive order, arts in Kansas will still receive $200,000 this year, with the possibility of more funding in future years. However, the years of an assured budget and no need to work for private donations are over unless the legislature overrules the Governor. Hopeful to keep his guaranteed fuding, Arts Commission head Henry Schwaller is already trying to convince legislators to do just that, pleading that his funding is such a small amount of the total Kansas deficit that it won't hurt to keep current funding in place.


Don't have enough political enemies in your state? Make new ones

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley

If any other state is Maryland's bete noire, it's probably Virginia. But don't tell that to the Old Line State's Democratic Governor, Martin O'Malley. Recently named to head the Democratic Governor's Association and considered likely to turn to national politics at some point, O'Malley has already taken to criticizing other Governors. In his sights last week was New Jersey's Republican iconoclast, Chris Christie.[4] Speaking through the DGA, Governor O'Malley characterized Governor Christie's efforts to right New Jersey's shaky economy as a policy of “fiscal gimmicks” and lambasted his fellow executive for “avoided the tough choices”. In the same release, O'Malley touted his own economic savvy, saying his record is one of “making the tough fiscal decisions to make government smaller and smarter”. There is no doubt that both men, and indeed all 50 governors, have had to make difficult choices in recent years, but there is also no doubt that political dispositions show up in how those choices get made. Christie dismissed O'Malley out of hand, describing the DGA press release as “pablum...spewing down in Maryland” and flatly saying O'Malley “doesn't know what he's talking about.”

'Unconstitutional' bills are DOA, Montana Governor warns lawmakers

Democrat Brian Schweitzer says at least 20 Republican backed bills are unconstitutional, citing the legislature's own lawyers – and he wants their sponsors to know he will veto any bill that doesn't pass Constitutional muster with him. The Governor expressed concern over the number of problematic bills so early in the legislative session and added that 20 is a conservative estimate. Republicans in the legislature also cited the early date, tacitly telling the Governor to give lawmakers more time to work before jumping in. Not surprisingly, many of the bills that have Schweitzer concerned reflect partisan divides between the major parties. While the GOP has a large legislative majority in Montana, they lack the Senate votes to override a gubernatorial veto. As far as seeing bills vetoed, Senate Republicans say they will deal with each veto individually – and once it actually happens.[5]