In contrast with Trump, governors pitch optimism

In contrast with Trump, governors pitch optimism
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In his inaugural address last month, President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents A history lesson on the Confederacy for President Trump GOP senator: Trump hasn't 'changed much' since campaign MORE painted a grim picture of a crime-ridden America littered with rusted-out factories, picked clean by corrupt politicians. 

But in states across the nation, governors used their annual addresses to legislators to illustrate sunny portraits of recovery and renewal. Virtually every governor who has assessed their progress and laid out a vision for the future said the state of their state is positive, a review of speeches given so far shows.

“The state of the state isn’t just strong, it is on the rise,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) told legislators. 

“Wisconsin’s future is bright, but we’re not done yet,” Gov. Scott Walker (R) said. 

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“The state of the state of Hawaii is sound and full of possibilities,” Gov. David Ige (D) said.

“The state of our state is getting stronger every day,” said Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo (D).

It behooves governors to tout their accomplishments and the foundation on which they have set their states. But seven years after the depths of the worst recession in nearly a century, governors addressing legislators this year have plenty of positive statistics on which to rely.

Colorado has added 400,000 jobs since John Hickenlooper (D) took office. More people are employed in Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and Montana than ever before. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) touted the lowest unemployment rate his state has had in 15 years. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said welfare caseloads have dropped by a quarter.

And after years of tight budgets and painful cuts, some states are beginning to reinvest, especially in schools and state workforces. 

“Governors are executives and have a different view of the world than D.C.-based legislators,” said Colm O’Comartun, a Democratic lobbyist who deals with state legislators across the country. “Even though state budget officers have noted tightening budgets overall, many states are still producing positive programs.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) asked legislators to give state employees a raise. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) asked for a $1 billion innovation and entrepreneurship fund. Hickenlooper called for new transportation and infrastructure spending, and Ige asked for $700 million for new school construction.

Most governors used their addresses to lay out proposals they would pursue during legislative sessions now underway.

In Arizona, Ducey asked legislators to require a single minimum wage across the state, warning that allowing municipalities and counties to set their own wages would lead to “California-style chaos.” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchison (R) called for broad-based tax reform. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R), who has been locked in a budget fight with the Democratic-led legislature for most of his first term, called for a balanced budget.

But governors warned that not all is sunny, especially as an increasing number of states turn their attention to an opioid epidemic that has killed thousands of Americans. Governors in at least eight states spent significant portions of their addresses detailing the crisis and potential solutions.

“The tragedy of the statewide prescription drug and opioid crisis has awakened us. We need to translate this awakening into collaborative action,” North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) said, just days after taking office last month.

“Tackling this problem is a matter of life and death for people in every corner of Virginia,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) told lawmakers.

Some governors warned that revenue estimates and collections hint at more economic trouble ahead. Gov. Terry Branstad (R), addressing the Iowa legislature for the final time before he leaves to become Trump’s ambassador to China, said revenue estimates are falling. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) called for new taxes on a broad range of services. 

“A slow-growth economy with declining real incomes foreshadows a very uncertain future for many Minnesotans and other Americans,” cautioned Gov. Mark Dayton (D).

Though Trump invoked what he called “American carnage” in his inaugural address, only a small handful of governors even touched on crime in their states. FBI statistics show crime rates are at or near all-time lows; fewer violent crimes were committed in 2015 than in 1981, even though the American population has grown by 100 million over the intervening three decades.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) was one who did mention crime. The former prosecutor, serving her second term as governor, asked the legislature to pass a new three-strikes law and a law implementing the death penalty. She is unlikely to succeed in a Democratic-led legislature.

Governors from both parties acknowledged the new reality of Trump’s administration and the likely changes to come. Many referred to the Affordable Care Act, which has pumped billions of dollars into state coffers and is likely to be overhauled by Republicans in Congress.

Some Democrats were defiant, pledging to maintain coverage for the thousands of low-income residents who had been enrolled in state Medicaid programs under President Obama’s signature domestic legislative achievement.

“We will fight and keep fighting to protect the 750,000 Washingtonians who finally have health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion,” Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said in Olympia. In Sacramento, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) warned repealing the ACA would cost his state billions of dollars.

Legislators “must prepare for very uncertain times,” he said.

Republicans largely embraced the pending legislative onslaught, which they said vindicated their warnings about ObamaCare’s costs. 

“Promises of limitless ‘free’ money from Washington to cover expanded populations were never going to be kept,” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who declined to expand Medicaid coverage, told his legislature. “Kansas was right. Kansas should stay the course.”

Some governors took the occasion to offer a window into their own lives away from the public spotlight. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said he had spent the last year visiting every park in the Silver State. Michigan's Snyder admitted he went “elk bugling.” 

And many governors reached to the past to offer wisdom and inspiration. Three governors quoted Abraham Lincoln, and three more cited John F. Kennedy. Deal quoted Georgia songwriter Johnny Mercer, while Holcomb invoked Gene Krantz, NASA’s director of the Apollo missions. Steve Bullock (D), the governor of Montana, paraphrased nine of his predecessors, including one who governed Montana when it was a territory. 

Only one governor — Colorado’s Hickenlooper — said he had considered skipping his annual State of the State address. Instead, Hickenlooper said, he thought about addressing the legislature by tweet storm.