Governors Show D.C. How to Get Things Done

Governors will run in 2016 as can-do executives, in contrast to Washington pols.

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The nation's Republican governors may get a boost from the current firestorm in Washington over ending the partial government shutdown, defunding President Obama's health care law and increasing the debt limit.

That's because polls indicate many Americans are increasingly persuaded that Republicans in Congress are too negative and ideological and not pragmatic enough.

[READ: Governors Prepare Layoffs, Furloughs Due to Shutdown]

GOP governors say state leaders are offering what the country wants.

"Everybody [in Washington] is at fault here," said Chris Christie of New Jersey at a recent awards dinner in the capital.... They all saw this coming, and they all played chicken with each other and now the country is fed up and rightfully so." He also told supporters in Palmyra, N.J., "With what we see going on in Washington, D.C. right now, they could use a dose of some New Jersey common sense....Notice I said New Jersey common sense, not Republican common sense or Democrat common sense." Christie, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, summarized for reporters what he told GOP senators last week: "What I said to any of them that I met with: Get the government reopened, stop monkeying around, and get back to work. I said, I'm out there in the field, people have no patience for this stuff. None."

Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, another possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, recently said to reporters, "All of Washington, D.C. is dysfunctional. It's not just a matter of who's in leadership or personalities or who's in power." And Gary Herbert of Utah told the Washington Post, "What we've proved here in Utah is that if people will sit down and resolve their problems rather than call each other names, you can get things done in a way that's the proverbial win-win. That's what they're forgetting about in Washington."

Congressional Republicans are "always in the position of talking about what they're against, what they want to block or repeal or defund," said Ed Gillespie, a prominent GOP strategist, former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, and ex-chairman of the Republican National Committee. Gillespie told state GOP officials he opposes many of President Obama's policies "but our party might be better off if we spent more time speaking in positive terms about why we're against those polices and, more importantly, what we're for." Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, who is popular among moderately conservative Republicans, said what the GOP needs need is "a more positive, hopeful, optimistic message."

All this has ramifications for the 2016 presidential race, especially for the GOP, which doesn't have a prohibitive favorite as the Democrats do in Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, U. S. senator from New York and first lady. She hasn't revealed her intentions but is far ahead in the opinion polls among Democrats.

For the Republicans, there won't be a natural front runner, and several governors are considered strong candidates if they run, partly because they could campaign as Washington outsiders eager to clean up the mess in the capital. They include Christie, Jindal, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. It's also possible that a Democratic governor could give Clinton a serious challenge by running as a Washington outsider.

[PHOTOS: Shutdown Woes Stretch Coast to Coast]

Governors have been demonstrating a lot more common sense and pragmatism than federal officials, such as by trying to minimize the impact of the shutdown in their states. Several have gotten the federal government to allow them to finance the reopening of national parks and national monuments during the federal funding hiatus. This has happened in Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota and Utah.

California's Jerry Brown went further, signing legislation to overhaul the immigration system, an idea that has stalled in Congress. "While Washington waffles on immigration, California's forging ahead," Brown said. "I'm not waiting."

Four of the last six presidents have been governors--Jimmy Carter of Georgia, Ronald Reagan of California, Bill Clinton of Arkansas, and George W. Bush of Texas. It's possible that, with the public losing faith in Washington, voters may turn to another governor three years from now. 

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership."  Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.

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