The country is still coming off a historic election cycle that saw record voter turnout. Democrats claimed control over the House of Representatives, Republicans strengthened their grip over the Senate and 16 new governors will take the reins of state capitals in January. As Cogent penned prior to the election, 2018 was a super-cycle with 36 gubernatorial races. This cycle was critical not just because of the number of races but the tenures that ended – Govs. Jerry Brown (D-CA), Susana Martinez (R-NM), Nathan Deal (R-GA), Rick Snyder (R-MI) and Scott Walker (R-WI), to name a few. The new governors that take their seats will need to hit the ground running to quickly turn campaign pledges into policy.
Governors are always “on” and at the frontline of policy movements. As we witnessed this year, teacher strikes in Oklahoma, Arizona, West Virginia and Wisconsin forced governors to craft solutions that would satisfy their constituents or endure the 24-hour news cycle of negative exposure.
As state executives, governors have to consider campaign promises while solving everyday constituent problems – an obvious challenge when balancing diverse populations and economic needs. For instance, Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis (R-FL) was recently asked what he learned on the campaign trail. His response: an appreciation for how diverse Florida is – and how challenging it will be to govern – when you consider the needs of a voter in Miami against those of a voter in Orlando, Pensacola or the panhandle.
The campaign platform of many of the governors-elect mirrored national trends and included:
Beyond implementing their campaign platforms, many of the new governors will play a significant role influencing and designing the next set of congressional lines for the 2020 election. With potentially 40 Democratic presidential candidates crisscrossing the country with their vision and message, many of these governors will be advocating President Trump’s agenda or serving as a stark policy differentiator. Battleground states that voted for President Trump in 2016 like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania will see increased activity over the next two years. States with new voter demographics like New Mexico (increased Hispanic turnout) and Nevada (energized young and first-time voters) will also be front and center.
As Washington recalibrates to a divided Congress, look to the states to take their own initiative in launching new policy proposals and recalibrating those proposals until they get the formula right. The following serves as a guide to the new governors who will soon take office and offers insight into the issues they might push and the environment in which they will lead.