Govs prep for high-profile speeches
By Mark Matthews, Staff Writer
Every year at this time, governors give State of the State speeches to lay out their plans and priorities - it's the state-level equivalent of the president's annual State of the Union address. New York's George Pataki (R) was among the first in 2006 to tackle the traditional gubernatorial chore, and his oratory had an unusual twist.
Pataki, who is voluntarily stepping down at the end of this term after 12 years in office, deviated from the standard state-oriented formula and lamented America's dependence on foreign oil, saying it is "hurting our economy, damaging our environment and enriching regimes that support, harbor and encourage the terrorists."
Pataki thus reinforced speculation he is considering a run for the White House in 2008. His bow to presidential politics probably won't be the only one of its kind.
With at least 26 governors running for re-election this year — and a number of governors regarded as potential presidential candidates. - experts said this year's crop of State of the State addresses — scheduled to wind up with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's version on March 7 — could turn into a series of campaign speeches.
"What you are going to see is governors making the case for their accomplishments over the last four years," said Thomas Schaller, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County, political science professor.
For outgoing governors such as Pataki, Schaller said a final State of the State address is usually "more of a victory lap speech," and a hint at things to come. "They can divert from the usual script and signal their ambitions beyond the statehouse," he said.
For the 26 governors up for re-election, a State of the State speech is a high-stakes event. Before California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) gave his State of the State speech on Jan. 5 the San Francisco Chronicle called it "the most significant speech of his political career to date."
Last November, Schwarzenegger championed a number of ballot measures — all of which were defeated. Since then, he has been trying to regain momentum, California analysts said Schwarzenegger's State of the State speech, which included an apology for being too confrontational with his political foes, was clearly designed to help him rebound.
Some governors' State of the State initiatives will come as no surprise. Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), who speaks Jan. 10, plans to announce creation of a new cabinet-level position to oversee early education in the state — the first of its kind, said childhood advocates. Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R) outlines a major Medicaid reform package in his Jan. 9 address. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) will use his speech on Jan. 17 to highlight plans for education and tax reform.
And all eyes will be on storm-battered Mississippi Jan. 9 when Governor Haley Barbour (R) discusses plans for rebuilding. In nearby Louisiana, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Katherine Blanco (D) has not yet scheduled a speech.
Some governors won't take the podium. There are no State of the State speeches this year in Arkansas, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota and Texas because the legislatures of those states are not in session.
For speechifying governors, the test is finding the right balance. Say too little and he or she lacks vision. But if a governor promises too much and can't deliver, the speech can richochet.
In Maryland last year, Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) used his State of the State speech to continue his campaign to legalize slot-machines. But after a bruising battle with the Democratically-controlled General Assembly, his slot initiative petered out.
Ehrlich isn't the only governor to spread himself thin. Last year, Pataki set a goal for New York to snare the 2012 Olympic Games — an honor that eventually went to London.
And in nearby New Jersey, Acting Gov. Richard Codey (D) told the statehouse in 2005 it must bring stem cell research to the Garden State. But a measure designed to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into stem cell research appeared to stall this month.