Stateline Story

Governors Rip Feds in Annual Policy Speeches

  • February 22, 2008
  • By John Gramlich
  Critical governors
Source: Stateline.org analysis
If there was any doubt states are frustrated with federal policymakers, the nation's governors provided stark reminders in "state of the state" speeches delivered during the first two months of 2008.

In the speeches - state-level versions of the president's annual State of the Union address to the nation - governors from both political parties and all regions of the country spelled out their complaints with the Democratic Congress, the Republican administration, or both.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) railed against a "broken federal immigration policy."

 

" I welcome the cooperation, the collaboration, and the consensus building that happens every year during our South Dakota legislative session. It is in stark contrast to what too often happens in our nation's capitol."

Mike Rounds (R), South Dakota
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) blasted "heavy-handed Real ID legislation from the federal government."

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) took issue with "continued efforts at the federal level to dismantle protections for women's reproductive health and privacy."

According to a Stateline.org analysis of 41 governors' speeches given so far, 17 state chief executives - nine Republicans and eight Democrats - included specific criticisms of the federal government in their speeches. Complaints touched on subjects ranging from reductions in federal Medicaid funds ( Mississippi ) to an "absence of interest on the part of the federal government" in coal-based energy production (as Democratic Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal put it).

 

" Many of the challenges we face today in Wisconsin can be traced to years of bad decision making in Washington."

Jim Doyle (D), Wisconsin
In contrast, governors in only five states - California , Illinois, Kansas , Pennsylvania and Virginia - offered words of praise to their counterparts in the nation's capital.

In two of those states, California and Kansas , governors thanked federal authorities for swift responses to natural disasters last year. Two other governors, Democrats Rod Blagojevich of Illinois and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, hailed a bipartisan economic stimulus plan approved by federal policymakers this month. In Virginia , Kaine commended Congress and President Bush by responding to the Virginia Tech shootings with tougher rules for gun buyers.

Far more common, however, were charges by governors that the federal government has fallen victim to partisan gridlock, is shirking domestic spending responsibilities and obstructing innovative state policy initiatives.

"I want politicians in Washington to stop bickering and stop posturing - so they can act," Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) said Feb. 6, urging Congress and President Bush to come to terms on an economic stimulus plan. (They eventually did.)

 

" The fact is, the federal government is tasked with the duty to regulate immigration and the federal government has failed, creating problems for states."

Dave Heineman (R), Nebraska
"It is becoming increasingly apparent that as the administration in Washington prepares to leave office, they are unwilling to support states, including Michigan , in providing (health) care for those who need it," Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) said. Michigan has asked for federal help to expand health care in the state, but has not received it.

"When it comes to cleaning our air, preserving our ocean and protecting our environment, California will continue to be the foremost advocate for change. And if we have to sue the federal government to get out of our way, we will do it," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said. The federal Environmental Protection Agency last year rejected a request by California and at least 14 other states to regulate harmful emissions from automobiles.

Illegal immigration was the thorniest issue between states and the federal government in governors' state of the state speeches. Governors in five states - Colorado , Missouri , Nebraska , South Carolina and Virginia - made reference to Congress' failure to overhaul immigration laws last year.

 

" When the federal government passed a poorly designed Medicare drug benefit that actually hurt some senior citizens in our State, Maine stepped forward to ease the transition. When the federal government failed to deliver on affordable health care, Maine stepped forward."

John Baldacci (D), Maine
" Washington , unfortunately, has failed to secure our borders," Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R) said. "Open borders and amnesty are unacceptable. Missourians deserve more. Washington 's failure means states must do more, and Missouri is taking the lead."

Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota , said it is "interesting" that governors of both parties criticized the federal government. Jacobs said the possibility of a national recession has exacerbated tensions because states rely heavily on federal money.

But he also said a hallmark of modern government is the "griping of governors" over longer-term federal policy initiatives, such the No Child Left Behind Act.

Governors in Florida , Louisiana and Oregon will deliver state of the state speeches by April 18. Governors in six other states - Arkansas , Montana , Nevada , North Carolina , North Dakota and Texas - will not give speeches this year because there are no regular legislative sessions.

Governors from the following states criticized the federal government during their state of the state speeches: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.