Democratic Governors Lead the Way

During a time when most of the nation’s focus and frustration is placed on the leaders in Washington dealing with the government shutdown, the people need only look to the states to see leadership. Whereas Democrats in Washington are focused on combating a presidential agenda that is perceived as destructive, Democratic governors are tasked with both opposing the current direction of the federal government and leading their states to prosperity. Resistance, in and of itself, is not enough. While there are a limited number of Democratic governors, there are a some compelling examples of governing in the age of Trump.

Jerry Brown is an elder in California politics, having served as governor in the 1970’s, yet he has proven that an old dog can, in fact, learn new tricks. Leading the progressive bastion throughout the first part of the Trump era has given Governor Brown the opportunity to take stands on immigration, climate change, and taxes, among other things, that are both antithetical to the president’s philosophy and popular in California. As the longest serving governor in the history of California, Brown is an icon that has the political capital to simultaneously lead, while acting as a political elder for young, ambitious progressives. Since this is likely Governor Brown’s final political act, the veteran statesmen walks the line of opposing the White House without appearing overly eager to battle Trump.

Somewhat oppositely, Governor Andrew Cuomo has continued a style that has defined him his whole career: combative and brazen. The New York governor, with a strong Democratic base firmly behind him, has publicly looked for areas to spark a conflict with the Trump administration. Whether it be searching for ways to circumvent effects of tax reform or promoting that New York state employees will replace federal employees sidelined by the government shutdown, Cuomo is dead set on combating the Trump administration. Seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2020, Cuomo’s style and strategy is both logical and politically convenient. Whether it pays off is to be seen, but it is a luxury nonetheless to both appeal to the large anti-Trump base within the national Democratic Party, all the while taking the popular position, within New York, as an aggressor to the White House.

Unlike the other two executives, Governor Cooper of North Carolina is tasked with leading a state that the president won, while working with a Republican controlled state legislature. Given this dynamic, Cooper is not able to universally resist Republican causes; he has to look for ways to compromise, while upholding his Democratic values. The good ol’ boy from rural Nashville, North Carolina has brought a political style that, at times, resembles Andy Griffith. This style is a major contrast to Governor Cuomo’s, but thus far, it has been the key to Cooper opposing conservative legislation without losing public support in a divided state.

Whatever the style, there are distinct examples of Democratic governors functioning in the age of Trump. During the 2016 presidential primaries, Republican candidates engaged in a philosophical battle over whether leading as a Republican state executive in the Obama era was more impressive than being a Washington Republican. Of course, this predated the party nominating Donald Trump, and members of the party falling in line to support him, but the point remains. Democrats would be wise to hold this same debate. In this political climate of extreme polarization, having a candidate that can point to a record of defending against Trumpism, while touting a record of executive leadership, would be a welcomed reprieve from obstructionism.