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Governors pitch optimistic visions in 'State of the State' addresses 

Governors pitch optimistic visions in 'State of the State' addresses 
© The Hill photo illustration

The state of Nebraska is strong and growing, according to Gov. Pete Ricketts (R). Hawaii, Vermont and Delaware are all strong, according to their Democratic governors. In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) says the future is bright.

In annual State of the State addresses across the country over the past month, governors have touted a growing economy, a booming job market and an optimistic vision for the future. 

Their upbeat tones are a marked departure from the years of the economic recession, and even from the early years of the recovery, when even the most optimistic governors used cautious language to warn of the hard road ahead. 

“Simply put, California is prospering,” Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said in his State of the State address last month, his last before he retires next year. “It is now hard to visualize, or even remember, the hardships, the bankruptcies and the home foreclosures so many experienced during the Great Recession.”

“In Wisconsin, employment is at historic highs and unemployment at historic lows,” said Gov. Scott Walker (R). “It has been quite an amazing year. A historic year. We are getting positive things done for the people of Wisconsin.” 

Eight years after the depths of the worst recession in modern history, the recovery has finally given governors something to brag about.  

Thirteen states have recorded their lowest unemployment rates in 2017 since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping track of state-level data in 1976. Twenty-eight states have seen record-high tax revenue, a sign of a stronger economy. And personal income is higher in every state than it was before the recession, according to data maintained by the Pew Charitable Trusts. 

Among the most commonly used words in governor’s addresses this year, according to The Hill’s analysis of State of the State speeches delivered so far: “Will,” “can,” “work” and “new.” 

Governors used their addresses to lay out ambitious plans for legislative sessions this year, from workforce development initiatives to plans to cut taxes in the wake of federal tax reform. Some Democrats, like California’s Brown, warned of the changing climate as a daunting threat that will challenge generations to come.

Many governors warned of another threat to their states: the dysfunctional federal government in Washington.

“Our counterparts in Washington, D.C., remind us daily of how easy it is to allow good-faith ideological disagreements to devolve into partisan warfare that drowns out the needs of the people,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in his first address to a joint session of the General Assembly. 

“While Washington can’t seem to get much done, we have a solid track record of getting down to business and working across this aisle on solutions,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) told legislators. 

Three Democratic governors — in Oregon, Rhode Island and Colorado — specifically cited the threat the Republican Congress posed to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans, including Walker, castigated Washington as a partisan morass, a theme GOP governors are likely to carry into November’s midterm elections — even though their party controls both Congress and the White House. 

But few governors spent much time on the most controversial figure in Washington: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE.

Only six governors directly mentioned Trump. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), facing a primary opponent who has tried to align himself with the president, praised Trump’s tax reform package. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R) both cited a reboot in state-federal relations they said had been good for their states.

“It has been especially refreshing to see the Trump administration’s willingness to seek our input, to really listen and embrace the value of state perspectives on issues that affect us more directly,” Otter said.

Just two Democrats — Hawaii’s David Ige and Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo — directly referred to the Trump administration.

No governor referred to Trump more than North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum. In fact, Burgum referred to most things more than any other governor: His address, his first as governor, clocked in at more than 14,200 words — by far the longest address of the year.

South Dakota’s Daugaard came in second, reeling off more than 10,400 words. By contrast, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) gave the briefest speech at just 2,600 words. Nebraska’s Ricketts, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) all limited their remarks to fewer than 3,000 words.

Trump’s State of the Union address ran about 5,100 words.

Two-thirds of all governors have given their State of the State addresses so far this year. Republicans have tended to be wordier — the average Republican address stretches about 5,300 words, while Democrats have kept their speeches to about 3,600 words.

— Garrett Evans and Nicole Vas contributed analysis.