Govs Celebrate Past, Look to ’09

By: - July 11, 2008 12:00 am

While 70 current and former governors hobnob and reminisce in Philadelphia July 11-14 during the National Governors Association’s 100th anniversary celebration, the sitting governors also plan to strategize on how to influence the next president on policies ranging from energy to health care.

Former governor-turned-president, Bill Clinton, who will give the keynote address July 12, is a reminder of how the governor’s mansion has been the training ground for f our of the last five presidents. (Former governors Jimmy Carter and President George W. Bush had scheduling conflicts and will not attend the meeting).

The inevitable buzz about presidential politics and the not-so-sexy, but all-important state budgets is sure to dominate hallway conversations. But the governors are also expected to discuss privately whether to send a letter to the next occupant of the White House on energy policies, the focus of this year’s initiative from NGA Chairman and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R).

Based on past experience, finding a consensus about what the letter should say won’t be easy. During the NGA’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C., in February, governors of both parties from energy-producing states derailed Pawlenty’s efforts to win support of a plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

While governors broadly agree that the country needs to rely less on foreign oil and develop more renewable energy sources, the costs of regulating greenhouse gases are a major concern of states that produce oil and coal, which emit greenhouse gases when burned.

In a private lunch scheduled during this meeting, the governors also are expected to discuss how they want the next president and Congress to tackle two big-ticket items: Medicaid and Real ID. Congress delivered governors a huge victory in May when it delayed six Bush administration rules for Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor, that states argued would have cost them $13 billion if the rules had gone into effect.

But Medicaid is expected to continue to bust state budgets. The cost of the program, which accounts for about 22 percent of state spending, is expected to climb 8 percent annually through 2018.

States also are still chafing over the estimated $14 billion price tag of a federal plan for making driver’s licenses more secure. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave states – even those that didn’t ask for it – more time to comply with the federal Real ID law, state legislatures are still thumbing their nose at the law . Just last month, Arizona became the 10 th state to vote to prohibit the state’s compliance with Real ID, which will force states t o verify the identities of all 245 million drivers – and pay for the program.

Presidential politics, however, will pervade the meeting because so many governors are on shortlists of potential picks for vice president or the new Cabinet. The meeting brings together many of the rising stars of both parties who may land plum spots in the next president’s administration – whichever party wins.

Pawlenty’s early support of John McCain gave the governor a head start in the pool of possible candidates for vice president. Pawlenty will hand over the NGA chairmanship to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), who backed Hillary Clinton for president but who has made it known he would welcome a Cabinet post in an Obama administration after Rendell completes his second term in 2010.

Democratic governors rumored to be on shortlists of potential spots in an Obama administration and who are expected at the NGA meeting include: Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, Brian Schweitzer of Montana and Tim Kaine of Virginia. Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is getting lots of buzz for a Cabinet or vice president pick in a McCain administration.

But several high-profile governors are not planning to attend, including the recently engaged Republican Charlie Crist of Florida, who is on his way to Europe for a trade mission. Scheduling conflicts will prevent several other governors from attending, including Democrat Ted Strickland of Ohio, who has vowed not to accept an Obama vice-presidential invitation, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the only sitting governor who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination this year. Former governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who both vied for and lost this year’s Republican presidential nomination to McCain, likewise said they are unable to attend.

The meeting also will be without the star power of Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is staying home as firefighters battle wildfires and lawmakers try to close a $15 billion shortfall for the 2009 fiscal year that began July 1.

State budgets are expected to be a major topic of private discussions as some governors recently wrapped up grueling budget battles with their legislatures. Falling home values, higher energy prices and reduced tax collections have hit all but a few farm and energy states. But current governors will be able to commiserate and perhaps get tips from some former governors who weathered the 2001 national recession, when states had to close $264 billion in budget gaps over five years.

All of the governors attending the meeting will kick off the centennial celebration at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Pennsylvania Ballet, by filing to the stage in a procession arranged in the order their states joined the union. During the gathering, governors also are expected to participate in instant polling where they can buzz in with their responses to both serious and fun questions with results displayed on a screen. Award-winning journalist Cokie Roberts is scheduled to moderate a discussion among the governors about the successes and challenges of the past 100 years. The second day will be reserved for policy discussions on energy, the economy, early childhood and efforts to help troops returning from deployment.

When the meeting concludes, Rendell will be named NGA chair and Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R) is expected to be named vice chair. Rendell is likely to target infrastructure during his year as NGA chair, an issue he has already spotlighted with the ” Building America’s Future “campaign he kicked off earlier this year with Schwarzenegger and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Fixing the nation’s critical infrastructure will cost an estimated $1.6 trillion.

Everyone who attends the conference will be mailed two books of essays by several academics and policy experts published for the conference. “A Legacy of Leadership” includes chapters that profile Louisiana Gov. Huey Long’s excesses, New York Gov. Thomas Dewey as a “gangbuster,” Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s role in the civil rights era, the actor-turned-California governor-turned president Ronald Reagan and Texas Gov. Ann Richards taking on the “good old boy network.”

The other book, “A Legacy of Innovation,” examines governors’ role in developing national policies on welfare, transportation, education and health care.

“Our hope is that the books stimulate more academic work around the contributions that governors have made,” Raymond C. Scheppach, NGA executive director, said.

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