State Watch

New governors chart ambitious paths in first 100 days

About 100 days into their new jobs, governors who took office earlier this year have sprinted out of the gate, signaling ambitious agendas that will compete to set the course of the national political debate for years to come.
The 19 new governors who first won office in November have collectively signed about 2,000 bills into law, issued dozens of executive orders and set out policy priorities on everything from teacher pay raises to environmental reforms and infrastructure packages.
{mosads}Polls show their constituents approve of the job the rookies are doing, so far.
New Republican governors in Georgia, Oklahoma and Idaho have signed bills to raise teacher salaries. The Democratic governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, signed sweeping election reform legislation. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed a law implementing new gun control measures just weeks after taking office.
Two new Democratic governors, in Illinois and Connecticut, are pushing their legislatures to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
The 100-day mark is a concept first used to measure Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933.
For governors, the value of the benchmark varies by state; some legislatures are already finished with their work for the year, while others are in the midst of delicate and complicated budget negotiations.
But governors have a bully pulpit that allows them to work around the legislature, and several have used their powers of the pen and phone to begin crafting a longer-term agenda.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) early days illustrate how an executive can use that bully pulpit, even as the legislature meanders through its own workload.
Newsom has signed just five pieces of legislation, and he has until mid-May to lay out a revised version of his $144 billion budget.
But he has also placed a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and last week he announced Los Angeles County would join the statewide effort to cut prescription drug prices.
What’s more, Newsom, who won the governorship by the widest margin of any candidate in modern California history, has cemented himself as the dominant political player in the nation’s most populous state.
He has signaled he will check some of the most liberal instincts of the Democratic-controlled legislature, a role his predecessor, Jerry Brown, played for eight years.
“He is managing his very Democratic legislature better than expected,” said Colm O’Comartun, a former head of the Democratic Governors Association.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has used his first 100 days to rebuild himself after a brutal and bitterly contested election. Even Democratic strategists are impressed by DeSantis’s proposals to spend up to $2.5 billion on environmental projects.
A recent Quinnipiac poll showed 59 percent of Florida voters approved of DeSantis’s job performance, months after he won with just 49.6 percent of the vote.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is working his way through the 331 bills the state legislature passed this year. He has already signed bills raising teacher salaries by $3,000 a year, providing more money for school safety and increasing mental health funding. Kemp has not said whether he will sign a controversial bill to ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) has put more than 3,500 miles on his state-owned vehicle since taking office, as he embarked on four statewide tours to woo legislators fighting over the size of the budget.
Some governors have had to navigate complicated relationships with their legislatures, some of which are controlled by the other party.
In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is getting credit for working well with Republican legislative leaders. Feuds remain over her proposal to raise the gas tax, but Whitmer has taken 21 executive actions, including steps to combat climate change and discrimination against transgender people.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) are having more trouble with their Republican-led legislatures. They both vetoed Republican bids to cut taxes. Evers’s plan to renegotiate a contract with the high-tech manufacturer Foxconn has run into Republican opposition. The Kansas legislature has not yet held hearings on Kelly’s plan to expand Medicaid.
Kansas “is a good example of a governor trying to work with a legislature that just doesn’t want to cooperate,” said Michael Behm, a lobbyist who focuses on state issues.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) has had problems dealing with his state legislature too, even though it is controlled by his own party.
Lamont has proposed rolling back some tax hikes implemented by his Democratic predecessor, and a plan to implement new tolls on trucks is moving slowly through the legislature. Lamont is likely to get bills raising the minimum wage and creating a paid family leave program before the legislature adjourns for the year.
{mossecondads}Perhaps the most contentious start to any new governor’s term has come in Alaska, where Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) has battled the legislature over fundamental structural reforms to the state budget.
Dunleavy’s term got off to a bizarre start when the state House of Representatives could not agree on a Speaker, delaying action on one of his signature priorities, a higher payout of the Permanent Fund dividend unique to the state.
Some of the most active new governors are Republicans in red states who rarely earn the national spotlight. Idaho Gov. Brad Little, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon have all signed hundreds of bills into law already.
“Elected in the age of Trump, the new class of Republican governors have advanced a more quiet brand of pragmatic conservatism, in contrast to the hyper-partisanship demonstrated by both sides coming out of Washington, D.C.,” said Phil Cox, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association.
No Democrat has acted on more legislation than New Mexico’s Lujan Grisham, who signed or vetoed 302 bills passed this year. Lujan Grisham has issued more vetoes, 15, than any other first-year governor.
The new governors are also getting used to the often fraught relationship between state and federal governments. 
Newsom and Sisolak have kicked off high-profile fights with the Trump administration, while Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) worked with the federal government to win approval of her state’s plan to expand Medicaid coverage.
In Florida, DeSantis tied himself closely to President Trump in last year’s election. Since taking office, DeSantis has fought the administration’s plans to open more territory to offshore drilling, though he remains close to the president.
Tags Donald Trump Gavin Newsom Kristi Noem Michelle Lujan Grisham Ron DeSantis Tim Walz

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video