Originally run on USA Today.
Finally, the midterm elections are over. Turnout was the highest in 50 years. After months of election prognostication, Americans have finally had their say. Although the issues that drove citizens to the polls across the country varied, the core message to elected officials was the same — end the political bickering in Washington and start working for the people.
While the federal government has proceeded from nearly intractable gridlock into angry, partisan-driven paralysis, governors of both parties have been charting a different course. And this week, Americans leveraged their sacred right to vote to elect one of the most diverse classes of governors in the nation’s history.
The states’ leaders now count among themselves Michelle Lujan Grisham, who became New Mexico’s first Democratic Latina governor, Oklahoma’s winning outsider candidate Kevin Stitt, Colorado’s Governor-elect Jared Polis, the first openly gay governor in America, Tennessee businessman turned governor-elect Bill Lee, and Kansas’ Laura Kelly, who becomes only the third woman to occupy the governor’s office in state history. Each one of these champions have demonstrated that the door to the executive office is open for all.
Governors show bipartisanship across America
Newly elected Governor Gretchen Whitmer also joined the record number of women running for office this year. A Democrat who rose from the Michigan Senate, Whitmer was recognized as indispensable to many programs introduced by her Republican predecessor, Rick Snyder. By a nine point margin, constituents clearly approved of her commitment to bipartisanship.
In this, she shares a lot with sitting governors, such as Republican Phil Scott in progressive Vermont and Steve Bullock, a Democrat beloved in his conservative-leaning Montana. Bullock is also the National Governors Association Chair and has launched his Chair’s Initiative, “Good Jobs for All Americans.” The program builds on his successes expanding opportunity with popular programs like an apprenticeship tax credit, which helped make “earn while you learn” positions available in almost 1,000 occupations across his home state.
On a national level, Governor Bullock is now engaging with his colleagues to address economic and social transformations and technological advancements, which are fueling growth but also driving real fears of job displacement. To ensure we don’t leave Americans behind as work and workplaces evolve, governors are now grappling together with how to prepare employees for jobs that don’t yet exist, and roll out innovations to give workers from all backgrounds an equal shot at a better life.
Future opportunity must, however, begin with quality, safe educational experiences for our youth, and school safety is a priority for all governors, including Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Virginia’s Ralph Northam. Both of these executives have made headlines for investing in capital improvements, resource officers, counselors, and technology to make schools safer.
Perched on either side of the capital, the two have also exhibited a remarkable ability to remain above D.C.’s fray. A non-combative style was part of what catapulted Democratic Governor Northam to his 2017 victory in one of the most competitive battleground states in America, and a similar low-key approach helped Republican Governor Hogan hold traditionally left-leaning Maryland on Tuesday.
Real progress is bigger than red and blue
These are just the most recent examples, but it’s time we start listening to what voters keep telling us — that they don’t believe real progress can be coded in red or blue. This week’s polls show that Americans want the best of both parties’ ideas.
This is something Arizona’s Doug Ducey has reflected in his work on prison reform. A conservative supporter of law enforcement, Governor Ducey nonetheless launched the Second Chance program to help released inmates reintegrate into society. Evidence of his ability to cross the aisle — despite clashes between football players and Republicans on the national level, Ducey and several Arizona Cardinals have collaborated on this sensitive issue.
Governors are proving that Americans are not as politically intransigent as sensationalist media or self-interested politicos might suggest. By identifying the issues on which their constituents’ needs converge, governors are securing public-private partnerships, marshalling creative ideas from all corners of their states, and building the broad support required to enact good policy. A prime example of this is Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, who as a Republican in the bluest of blue states, won reelection by a whopping 33 points. A testament to his commitment to working across the aisle to ensure his constituents received tangible solutions, not empty rhetoric.
This should come as no surprise, as the U.S. originated as disparate states that came together 231 years ago to create Congress and our Constitution. The states and their respective leaders have been cooperating with each other and their federal counterparts ever since. Now these laboratories of democracy are showing just how resilient our nation is and leading the way to a more united future. From the opioid crisis to displaced workers, governors are solving America’s problems.
Scott Pattison is executive director and CEO of the National Governors Association.