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MEMO: The States Strike Back

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This weekend, America’s governors arrive in Washington, D.C., to greet a federal government in turmoil.

The chaos emanating from D.C. has been felt by across the country by families worried about good jobs, quality schools, clean water and access to health care.

As we enter NGA weekend, the nation’s Republican governors are on the defensive, saddled with a Republican administration that has gone off the tracks. Republican governors will spend the weekend feuding among themselves over President Trump’s travel ban, and how they can swallow a federal health care repeal plan that dumps the fiscal burden on state governments.

Meanwhile, Democratic governors are rapidly emerging as the strongest national counterweight to President Trump and the Republican Congress. The first major defeat of a Trump agenda item – the travel ban – came at the hands of Democratic governors and attorneys general in Washington, Minnesota and Virginia. And, Democratic governors have moved forward with an alternative agenda to Trump: one focused on strengthening families, growing the economy, and opening the gateways of opportunity for all Americans.

Democratic governors are now reshaping our party by taking on a leading policy role to protect the progress in their states and continue delivering results for their constituents. And they will have an opportunity to expand their ranks in 2017 and 2018, with Republicans on the defense in 27 of 38 gubernatorial elections – including defending 14 states won by Clinton or Obama.

Democratic governors have emerged as a counterweight to President Trump and the Republican Congress in two key ways:

First, Democratic governors are the first line of defense for their citizens against the overreach of President Trump’s agenda. President Trump has already tried to overreach on immigration and LGBT rights, and now threatens to upend access to healthcare. But Democratic governors are dedicated to serving as the first line of defense to protect their residents. 

Just a month into the new administration, Americans have already seen a major case study in how Democratic governors can thwart Trump’s agenda.  Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the State of Washington, along with Minnesota, filed the lawsuit that halted President’s Trump’s travel ban. The two states stopped the key piece of Trump’s immigration policy with a decisive federal ruling from a U.S District Judge. This win was further cemented when Democratic state leaders from around the country joined the lawsuit, which was eventually upheld in a powerful 3-0 ruling from the 9th Circuit Court. At the same time, Governor McAuliffe and Virginia scored a big win in the courts against Trump with a legal victory that froze the travel ban for Virginia’s residents, students, and state school employees.

In addition to legal actions, Democratic governors are also proactively bolstering state laws to protect their residents in response to Trump. On access to women’s healthcare, Governors Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), Dan Malloy (D-CT), and Gina Raimondo (D-RI) have all already advanced statewide legislation to protect healthcare for women. And Governors Kate Brown (D-OR), Inslee (D-WA) and Malloy (D-CT) have bolstered laws to protect residents from Trump’s immigration executive orders.

Secondly, Democratic governors are providing a contrasting set of priorities in their states that draws a distinction with Washington. While the GOP Congress and President Trump are focusing on catering to a far-right base, Democratic governors are steadfast on advancing bread-and-butter economic priorities that will strengthen the middle class and create jobs in their states.

This economic strategy includes increasing the minimum wage, ensuring paid sick leave, and strengthening education. Democratic statehouses in Connecticut, New York, and Minnesota have all advanced substantial increases in minimum wage over the past few years. And both Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and Washington Governor Inslee recently proposed increasing funding for their state’s early childhood programs.

As Americans grow increasingly weary of one-party rule in Washington, D.C., they will turn to Democratic state leaders to balance the over-the-top Trump agenda. Democratic governors will continue to play a critical role as policy leaders and advocates for their states against federal overreach. And, Democratic governors are poised to harness this energy to expand their ranks over the coming years – while Republicans run scurrying from their party’s chaotic management of the federal government.


Democratic governors are taking strong actions to build a firewall to protect their citizens from the Trump Administration’s harmful policies. This includes successful efforts to defend their constituents with lawsuits and legal actions, along with strong steps to bolster state laws.

Lawsuits and Legal Action to Fight Trump’s Travel Ban: 

  • Washington Governor Jay Inslee led Washington State to file the lawsuit that halted President Trump’s travel ban nationwide after a decisive federal court ruling. As a result, a Washington Post columnist named Governor Inslee “Distinguished Pol of the Week” for “his remarkable court victory that lifted the spirits of the Trump opposition.”
  • Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton publicly stated that he would be supportive if his state took legal action against Trump’s travel ban. A few days later, Minnesota became the second state to join Washington State’s successful lawsuit that halted the ban nationwide.
  • Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and his attorney general jointly announced Virginia’s legal challenge to Trump’s travel ban. The lawsuit led to a major win in federal court that freezes the travel ban for Virginia’s students and residents, along with employees at Virginia’s schools.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set up a hotline to provide “legal assistance, to those affected by President Trump’s travel ban, as well as their families.” He also directed the Port Authority, the Department of State, and his counsel’s office in New York to “jointly explore all legal options to assist anyone detained at New York airports, and ensure that their rights are protected.”
  • Oregon Governor Kate Brown urged Oregon’s attorney general to “explore what legal remedies are available” to resist Trump’s “anti-immigrant measures in court.” A few days later, Oregon’s attorney general joined the legal filing that led to the 9th Circuit Court ruling that upheld the nationwide halt on Trump’s travel ban.
  • Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf supported his state’s decision to join the legal filing that led to the 9th Circuit Court ruling that upheld the nationwide halt on Trump’s travel ban.
  • The budget in Governor Jerry Brown’s state of California “includes money to pay for legal representation for undocumented immigrants who might be swept up in federal raids.” The Hill said this shows that Governor Brown is dedicating some of his “legislative energy” to protect California’s undocumented immigrations in the wake of Trump’s executive orders.

Bolstering State Laws to Protect Healthcare for Women:

  • Governor Cuomo proposed an amendment codifying Roe V. Wade into New York’s constitution to protect the rights of women in his state “regardless of what Trump and other Washington Republicans do.” Cuomo also announced a series of actions to “firmly secure access to reproductive rights,” ensuring that “contraceptive drugs and devices are covered by commercial health insurance policies without co-pays, coinsurance, or deductibles regardless of the future of the Affordable Care Act.”
  • Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy has “proposed legislation that would allow the state to make up any federal Medicaid dollars the clinics would lose,” as GOP leaders in DC “seek to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood.” Governor Malloy’s office said the proposal is designed to “ensure there is no disruption in family planning services provided to Medicaid recipients.”
  • Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo backed legislation to strengthen state law on women’s reproductive rights: “I believe that no one should get in the middle of a decision between a woman and her doctor.” The legislative efforts that Raimondo supports are being prompted by fears “that President Trump’s nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually reverse the landmark1973 abortion-rights ruling known as Roe V. Wade.”

Fighting to Protect Medicaid for Their States: 

  • North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper filed a notice of intent with the federal government to expand Medicaid in North Carolina. Governor Cooper said, “It is common sense for North Carolina to keep its options open as we go into this new health care arena under a Trump presidency.” Despite Republican opposition, Governor Cooper is engaging in a legal battle with GOP lawmakers to continue his push to expand Medicaid.
  • Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards wrote a letter to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to explain the harms of current proposals in DC to block grant Medicaid. Governor Edwards said: “It is difficult for me to see how a block grant will help, rather than hurt, our efforts to provide care for those who cared for us – our parents and grandparents. I strongly believe that rationing health care is not the right approach for Louisiana and our nation.”
  • Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper urged House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to “resist repealing the Affordable Care Act until an adequate replacement is identified.” Governor Hickenlooper continued: “We are concerned that block grant and per capita cap proposals will make it difficult to maintain coverage and benefits for Coloradans over the long term. Many proposals would force us to make impossible choices in our Medicaid program.”
  • Montana Governor Steve Bullock has been critical of GOP plans to change Medicaid by ripping up the Affordable Care Act without a plan to replace it. Governor Bullock stated in a letter to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: “Increased flexibility for states is a political imperative in places like Montana, but that flexibility should not be conflated with funding structures that will ultimately threaten the health of our state budget and reduce access to healthcare for tens of thousands of vulnerable Montanans.” 

Democratic governors are drawing a big contrast to Republicans in DC by leading the way on a bread-and-butter economic strategy that strengthens the middle class and promotes their local economies. This includes advances that improve the lives of their constituents like increasing the minimum wage, ensuring paid sick leave, and strengthening in-state education.  

Increasing Minimum Wage:

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo is leading the charge on the national “Fight for $15” movement by being the first governor to sign a bill that will raise the minimum wage in New York City to $15.00 by 2018, and in the rest of the state by 2021.
  • Governor Mark Dayton enacted a series of incremental increases that have raised Minnesota’s minimum wage by over $3.00 since 2014. The law was specifically designed to provide relief for Minnesota’s working families, but also give small businesses ample time to adjust. The state’s economy has flourished.
  • Just last week, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania proposed an increase in the minimum age from $7.25 to $12.00.

Ensuring Paid Sick Leave:

  • Governor Malloy made Connecticut the first state in the nation with paid sick leave. Since then, more Democratic governors have signed similar legislation, like Kate Brown in Oregon and Jerry Brown in California. Three out of four states with such laws have Democratic Governors.

Strengthening In-State Education:

  • In his state budget proposal, Governor Tom Wolf proposed substantial increases in funding for Pennsylvania’s early childhood education programs. The extra $75 million will allow an additional 8,400 children to attend such programs.
  • Governor Dayton recently set a goal of injecting $75 million into Minnesota’s voluntary prekindergarten programs. 
  • At the end of 2016, Governor Inslee proposed increasing funding for the state’s early childhood programs. The change would allow for 2,700 more students to enroll in the crucial developmental programs.
  • Hawaii Governor David Ige is pushing for strong investments in his state’s education system. Governor Ige proposed a state budget that includes “more than $700 million in new schools, classrooms, science facilities, and repair and maintenance.” Governor Ige’s proposed budget also includes “$150 million for university facilities.”