Democratic Governors Push Agenda
By Jason White, Assistant Staff Writer
Seeking to play a larger role in the national political arena, Democratic governors met in Washington, DC, Monday to weigh in on the debate over economic stimulus, saying the economy needs greater public investment in roads and schools and not just more tax cuts
"One message that we have to give the administration is that tax cuts aren't sufficient for economic growth and economic stimulus," said Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Ed Rendell, a former Philadelphia mayor. "We have to invest in growth in this country, whether it's infrastructure repair or whether it's school construction."
Rendell's comments follow an election in which the Democratic Party was roundly criticized for lacking a clear alternative to Bush Administration and other Republican proposals on the economy. Some of that criticism came from Democrats themselves.
"Certainly, Nov. 5. . . we Democrats did not have an (national) economic agenda. These Democratic governors in their states did, especially those that were recently elected," said New Mexico Gov.-elect Bill Richardson. He said his views were his own and not necessarily reflective of others at the Democratic Governors Association's winter meeting.
The Democratic governors plan to consult with Democratic congressional leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D S.D.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D Calif.), on a plan to kick-start the economy.
Some Democratic governors favor direct public investment in road building and school construction to put people to work, in addition to tax cuts. Rendell also mentioned helping the airline industry and railroads.
The governors' effort to assert themselves comes at a time when the Democratic Party is attempting to refashion itself after a devastating election in which it lost its majority in the U.S. Senate, lost ground in the U.S. House and fell into the minority in state legislatures.
The governors' races were one of the few bright spots for Democrats, as they closed the gap on Republicans, including key wins in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois.
"What you're seeing here today is an effort by Democratic governors on the national stage, and certainly on the Democratic party stage, to have more influence on message and policy," said New Mexico's Richardson.
"One of the reasons why we won races in November, why we had successes in November, was that Democratic governors had a message of economic opportunity," said Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
Vilsack wants to see the governors take the lead on this issue over the next decade much as their predecessors led the welfare reform debate during the 1990's.
"In the early 1990's governors ... led the nation in welfare reform," said Vilsack. "This group of governors is equally capable of leading the nation in economic development reform. In my own home state of Iowa, what I hope is that we'll be able to have a conversation about how to help those communities and those areas of the country that have been left behind, our rural communities."
In addition to weighing-in on the economic stimulus debate, the governors are in Washington to urge Congress and the Bush Administration to step-up their funding of education, healthcare and transportation.
The governors, many of whom are facing significant budget deficits in their states, are seeking additional monies to stave off cuts to these programs.
But acknowledging that money is scarce even at the federal level, the governors also spoke to the need for greater flexibility in federal-state programs, such as Medicaid, which provides healthcare to the poor, and No Child Left Behind, the recently passed education reform bill.
"We're not just asking for economic assistance in these tough economic times that more than 45 states are now facing," said Washington Gov. Gary Locke, chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
"If additional funding is not possible, then the federal government needs to give us greater flexibility. . . .We're being forced into Draconian choices of either eliminating these programs one hundred percent or continuing them without the funds to do so," said Locke.