Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

Governing beyond the R’s and D’s

I was watching Bill Maher’s show “Real Time” recently when Mr. Maher mentioned something that caught me by surprise: Numerous Republican governors in deep blue states have enjoyed indisputable success over the past half decade.

According to Morning Consult, the three most popular governors in the U.S. last year — measured by approval ratings — were all Republicans governing deep blue states. What’s more, the most popular Democrat governor in the U.S. hailed from a deep red state: Kentucky. These four examples flout what I’ve come to expect, given the starkly divided nature of American politics. As a fourt-year member of BridgeND, I felt obligated to look further into the surprising success of these political leaders.

The Republicans working in blue states I alluded to were Charlie Baker (R-MA), Phil Scott (R-VT) and Larry Hogan(R-MD). According to Morning Consult, they were the only governors in the U.S. with above a 70% approval rating. Such high numbers are unusual. According to Gallup Polls, no president has approached ratings like that since George W. Bush did in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. What’s more, these Republican officials all led states President Biden won by over 30%. On the flip side, the most popular Democrat governor was Andy Beshear (D-KY), with an approval rating of 57% — higher than any other executive in his party. Meanwhile, former President Trump won his state by 26% in 2020. To highlight how exceptional these governors are, consider that both Biden and Trump have had approval ratings below 45% most of their time in office. Additionally, only 6% of Republicans approve of President Biden today, and less than 10% of Democrats approved of President Trump for most of his presidency, according to Reuters.

This struck me because of how politically polarized the U.S. has become. How could these state politicians possibly find success in states with a majority holding very different views from their own?

In news stories, politics, academia and social media, the divide that exists in the U.S. is staggeringly clear. According to Pew Research, around one third of registered members in both parties believe that the other party presents a threat to the nation’s well-being. Academic research has made headlines the past few years with findings that Congress is more divided by partisan lines than at any time since the Civil War.

These divisions even affect our personal lives. According to YouGov polls, almost half of Americans indicate they would not date someone of the opposite party. There is so much antipathy between the two parties, and their associated cultures, I can only wonder how anyone would be able to work around this divide. How could anyone committed to one party, successfully lead a public dedicated to the other?

After some research, it became clear that the first thing all four men did was focus less on national politics and overused talking points, and more on substantive strategies to make the lives of all of their constituents better. According to ky.gov, Governor Beshear (D-KY) has prioritized economic investment, managed budget surpluses, secured health and welfare benefits, expanded broadband and updated water systems. All things that large majorities can agree on, regardless of party identification.

According to NBC Boston, Governor Charlie Baker (R-MA) prioritized relationships. When asked what he did well in office, his response was simple: “State and local government relationships. I think the relationship between state and local governments has never been better. And that has translated into a ton of legislation and program adjustments that have made it easier for all cities and towns in Massachusetts to thrive.” Among his proudest accomplishments are the expansion of broadband in rural areas, improvements to public education, running a balanced budget and reforming criminal justice. Ultimately, Baker wants to be remembered for his administration’s tone. He told WGBH news, “We try pretty hard to be about the work and not about the noise at a point in time when a lot of public life and politics is more about the noise than it is about the work.”

Larry Hogan, nationally recognized Republican governor of Maryland, found success in governing a deep blue state as well. Among the accomplishments he touted during his farewell address in January, were reopening the post-pandemic economy, building record budget surpluses, cutting taxes by $4.7 billion, advancing “record investments” in education, funding environmental projects, improving transportation and expanding health care coverage for law enforcement officers and first responders.

Phil Scott (R-VT) follows a similar formula. His official website lists three priorities that have underlined his governing philosophy: grow the economy, make Vermont more affordable and protect the most vulnerable. He has opposed tax increases, supported gun reform, distinguished himself from President Trump and other unpopular figures in his party, appointed Democrats he’d defeated in elections to important roles, expanded broadband and focused on housing accessibility.

While I am not from any of the four states I’ve mentioned, and do not pretend to fully understand their unique problems, I do think using these states as case studies for political cooperation is worthwhile. In a nation divided by constant bickering, examining what has enabled success for leaders working across party lines by focusing on actionable issues like economic opportunity and health care, could be valuable for those seeking a better way in American politics. If a Republican can popularly govern a Democrat state, and vice versa, maybe there’s hope for a more cooperative political way nationally – one driven by human decency, understanding and a common American commitment.

In writing this, I do not mean to argue we should prioritize only those issues where there can be bipartisan agreement, or that there is something inherently better about moderate politics. Nor am I ignorant of the real political and cultural differences that exist in the U.S. today. I only mean to point out examples of cooperation, where communities and states have been able to move forward together, despite unending hostility and distrust at the national level.

Cian Conroy is majoring in economics and applied math with minors in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) and accountancy. Originally from Davis, California, Cian is a Senior living in Duncan Hall. He currently serves as treasurer for BridgeND. Feel free to contact him by email, cconroy3@nd.edu, with any comments, questions or contentions.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets bi-weekly on Mondays at 7 p.m. in Duncan Student Center Meeting Room 1, South W106 to learn about and discuss current political issues, and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.