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MEMO: Dem Govs Get to Work

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As governors arrive back in D.C. this weekend for the National Governors Association’s winter meetings, a majority of Americans now find themselves under the leadership of a Democratic governor. The DGA’s historic 2018 cycle didn’t just make the gubernatorial map a look a whole lot bluer, it ushered in a wave of new and returning governors who are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.
Across the country, Democratic governors are now showing Americans how solutions-oriented governing delivers progress on increasing health care coverage, improving schools, and putting people back to work. And in a town where the government is constantly on the brink of shutting down, governors are looking like the most effective force in politics. With that record of strong leadership and concrete progress, Democrats will continue to compete in – and win – states all over the country.
2018: A Historic Cycle By Any Metric
Simply put, 2018 was the best election result in the history of the DGA. The numbers don’t lie. The DGA re-elected every single one of its incumbent governors, which is always the top priority of the organization no matter the cycle. Republicans talked a big game in states like Rhode Island and Oregon, but ultimately those were proven to be empty threats.
Democrats also won every open seat with an outgoing Democratic governor, holding key states like Colorado, Minnesota, Connecticut and California. Most notably, Democrats were able to flip seven seats from red to blue in regions all over the country. From Kansas to Maine, Wisconsin to New Mexico, Democrats showed how a message of investing in education, expanding health care access, and rebuilding infrastructure resonates everywhere. When combined with unprecedented grassroots activism in gubernatorial races and a record-setting fundraising haul for the DGA, it’s not surprising that Democrats had such a good night.
Getting Down to Business
Elections have consequences. Democratic governors are making the most of their recent success by wasting no time getting to work and moving forward with their agendas. Often, they have taken concrete steps to make progress in areas that have been stymied at the federal level. Governors are raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid programs, bolstering paid family leave provisions, stabilizing health care markets, recommitting to fight climate change, and implementing criminal justice reforms. What is often considered a Democratic wishlist at the national level is fast becoming the reality in the states.

  • Minimum Wage: In just the last few months Govs. JB Pritzker of Illinois, Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania have all signed legislation raising the minimum wages in their states.
  • Medicaid Expansion: Maine Gov. Janet Mills implemented the state’s voter-approved Medicaid expansion, giving up to 70,000 more people access to health care. Newly elected governors in Kansas and Wisconsin have also pushed for expansions in their states after years of obstruction from their Republican predecessors.
  • Gun Safety: Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a new law allowing the state to move forward with background checks for gun buyers. The previous Republican attorney general and governor refused to implement the voter-approved initiative because of a loophole.
  • Climate Change: Four newly elected Democratic governors have recommitted their states to fighting climate change and reducing emissions after their GOP predecessors refused. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker all directed their states to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, the coalition of states pledging to lower carbon emissions after President Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Paid Family Leave: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a new law doubling the state’s paid family leave time. And both Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and California Gov. Gavin Newsom also proposed establishing a new paid family leave program as part of their budgets.

Moving Forward Against Chaos in Washington D.C.
For the last two years, Democratic governors served as the primary defenders against the overreach and turmoil of Washington. The President has tried to overreach on immigration, LGBTQ rights, health care access, reproductive rights, and countless other areas. At every turn, Democratic governors have been there to mitigate the assault. They codified endangered rights at the state level, insulated health care markets from federal sabotage, and pursued aggressive legal action.
And with a federal government constantly on the brink of shutdown, steady leadership at the state level is paramount. When President Trump caused $11 billion in damage to the economy by forcing an unnecessary shutdown, Democratic governors stepped up to ease the burden on federal workers and contractors in a variety of ways:

  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Maine Gov. Janet Mills directed SNAP benefits for February to be dispersed several weeks earlier in anticipation of a prolonged shutdown.
  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont facilitated interest-free loans to the ‘essential’ federal employees in the state who weren’t being paid during the shutdown.
  • Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak requested the Nevada System of Higher Education financially assist any student enrolled at NSHE’s seven-degree granting institutions who may be impacted by the federal government shutdown.
  • Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz directed the administration to pick up the financial slack for important federal programs like food stamps and veterans services that were not being funded.
  • New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued emergency orders to waive certain eligibility requirements on unemployment benefits for furloughed workers.

A Bright Future
At a time when so many Americans are frustrated with national politics, Democratic governors are winning elections and delivering on their promises. Just like in 2018, Democrats will have a slate of strong candidates who match up with the states they are running in. And just like 2018, Democrats will be fighting battles on familiar turf by focusing on issues like health care and education where they have a significant advantage over Republicans. In the next two years, Republicans are defending nine of the 14 seats up for election. Democrats are defending five.
There is a lot for Democrats to be optimistic about. For the first time in years, Democrats have a growing bench of strong leaders at the state level who are providing a roadmap for progress. And many of them are just getting started! Whether it’s a newfound access to health care, a better supported school, cleaner air and water, or a better paying job, more and more Americans will feel positive impacts from having a Democratic governor. The future is bright.