Bipartisan Leadership: American Excellence

“We’re Governors. We have practical problems that we have to solve every day…There’s nothing unique about Governors other than the fact that we have to get things done. And we have to lead, and people hold us accountable for results.” – Governor Asa Hutchinson

By Bill McBride

At NGA’s 2022 Winter Meeting, Governors participated in a discussion about bipartisanship, led by NGA Chairman and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and NGA Vice Chairman and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. The third plenary session of the Winter meeting was titled “Bipartisan Leadership: American Excellence.”

David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-chairman of The Carlyle Group, moderated. Mr. Rubenstein is well-known as a financial leader in the private equity sector and a philanthropist in the area of American history. He has contributed to projects at the Washington Monument, Monticello, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and many other sites of historic significance. A steward of documents from early America, Rubenstein has arranged long-term loans to the federal government from his collection, including the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the first map of America and the Bay Psalm Book, the first published book in the United States.

Mr. Rubenstein opened by asking, “What’s so good about bipartisanship?”

Gov. Hutchinson responded that he believes strongly in the two-party political system; however, once leaders are elected to public office, they should put aside campaigning and attend to bipartisan governance.

When asked about how he works with Democratic legislators in the predominantly Republican legislature in Arkansas, Gov. Hutchinson said he likes to Involve the minority members early on in the process, and he maintains an open-door policy to all members.

Gov. Murphy advocated realism and honesty about bipartisanship, saying “Let’s be clear-eyed about the fact that we’re not always going to agree.” He spoke about the politics of New Jersey, “The minority leader was at my inauguration last week, that meant a lot. It’s a pretty blue state, no question about it, but it’s got a strong heritage on the Republican side.”

Gov. Murphy noted that the number of independent voters in New Jersey is approximately equal to those who declare themselves Republicans and Democrats, approximately one of every three voters. He said that many people, who may not be as vocal, support bipartisanship, “There’s a very big chunk of our country that is desperate for us to find common ground.”

Gov. Hutchinson addressed the importance of personal relationships and respect for one’s colleagues, deploring the effects of social media in recent decades and expressing his opinion that it has taken the humanity out of relationships, concluding, “And so that’s what groups like this (NGA) do. It brings humanity back in the political world, and we have to have more of that somehow.”

Meeting Quotes

“I do think that there’s a real opportunity for us as Governors to embrace the idea that we’re problem solvers but to do it in a way that when we do disagree we can do it without being disagreeable.”

Governor Glenn Youngkin

“Neither party is actually very popular…I think what much of the public wants to see is more of a less partisan lens…”

Governor Jared Polis

“There aren’t just Republican solutions or Democratic solutions…the average voter, I think, really wants to elect people that’ll just get things done and that’s willing to work together to get it done.”

Governor Larry Hogan

He commented on the state of relationships in Congress, “People get the little nuances of civility are important in politics, and that is the institutional regard for my colleague. …Well we’re on different sides in the political arena, but we still serve our country. That’s just got to be fundamental.”

Gov. Murphy celebrated the bipartisan success of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, saying, “Let’s try to use that as a model and put some more runs on the board.”

Gov. Murphy drew on his previous experience as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and said that international issue areas like defense, national security and diplomacy lend themselves to greater bipartisanship. He noted the importance of bipartisan congressional delegations during his ambassadorial tenure. Congressional delegations including members of both parties would travel internationally and engage with world leaders and government officials.

Meeting Quotes

“To me, at the end of the day, everything that we do is to better the lives of our people…and that means working with everybody.”

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero

“[Making progress how] how we get judged…performing isn’t just stopping the other side from doing something it’s actually putting points on the board.”

Governor Charlie Baker

Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox expanded the discussion on the effects of the current political strife on the world. Gov. Cox said, “At a time when authoritarians are growing across the world, when these threats are at our doorstep and we’re seeing what’s happening in other nations with some of our geopolitical adversaries. This toxicity, this divisiveness and fighting over stuff that really doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things is an existential threat not just to our country but to the world.” He concluded by saying, “It’s leaving us unprepared for the greater challenges that are facing our planet.”

Gov. Hutchinson referred to his previous experience in the federal government dealing with international issues post-9/11, relating how quickly he learned that U.S. allies rely heavily on American leadership.

Delaware Governor John Carney discussed the benefits of politics in a small state. He related a political tradition known as “The Delaware Way,” referring to an event that takes place the Thursday after every election. The winner and loser or each race must travel together to a ceremony in which an actual hatchet is buried beneath sand from Delaware’s Dewey Beach.

Gov. Carney described the significance of the event, “It’s symbolic for sure, but what it says is the election season’s over and we’re Democrats and Republicans of our parties for sure, but we’re Delawareans first, and let’s go and do the business of the state.”

To close the session, Mr. Rubenstein asked how the NGA was able to meet its goal of remaining nonpartisan or bipartisan.

Gov. Hutchinson replied, “We’re governors. We have practical problems that we have to solve every day… There’s nothing unique about Governors other than the fact that we have to get things done. And we have to lead, and people hold us accountable for results. And if you’re held accountable for results, truly you’re going to be working more across the aisle.”

As part of his conclusion, Gov. Hutchinson said, “We need more leaders that reflect the values of the NGA.”