In his, Andrew Cuomo tacked sharply leftward, thundering that “we are the progressive capital of the nation” and promising quick action on gun control, climate change, and abortion rights. When his turn came, Chris Christie touted his bipartisan bona fides, spending the bulk of speech boasting of New Jersey’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy, and paid scant attention to the legislative battles to come. In Virginia, Bob McDonnell called for eliminating the commonwealth’s gas tax and paying for it by increasing taxes on fuel-efficient vehicles.
It is, in other words, State of the State season, that time of year when legislatures across the country kick off their session with an address from their governor. And with a wide-open field in both parties in the race for 2016, those governors used the occasion to make an opening statement.
Nearly all of the state executives who are mentioned in even the long list of 2016 contenders took pains to slam Washington for its petty politics and held up their own home states as examples of a Place Where Things Get Done.
“Here in Virginia, the cradle of democracy, we enact policies that actually work,” McDonnell said. “In Washington, we see debt, taxes, delays, blame, and dysfunction. Here in Virginia we see results, solutions, job growth, surpluses, and cooperation. What a difference 100 miles makes.”
Earlier in the week, in Trenton, Christie mocked the “dysfunctional, dispirited, and distrustful government in Washington” and suggested that “maybe the folks in Washington, in both parties, could learn something from our record here.”
In Denver, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed on Thursday, “Maybe the folks in Washington, in both parties, could learn something from our record here.”
There was a time when these kinds of addresses were much smaller in scope. But, like the presidential State of the Union, which has morphed from a written update to Congress into a full-fledged D.C. event watched by millions at home, governors have begun to use the moment—when the entire state’s political press corps has its eye trained on them—to reach for the rhetorical stars. Throw in the fact that the governor’s mansion has been a way station for four of the previous five presidents, and it is little surprise that those who think their political future lies beyond Albany or Austin or Trenton want to make the most of the their time in the spotlight and lay a broad vision for the year and, in many cases, beyond.
Nearly every state executive touted his or her administration’s economic record, describing it as outpacing the rest of the nation—never mind, for the moment, how the nation’s recovery could be stalling while each state contained therein is apparently undergoing a boom.
“The Texas economy is healthy and growing,” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, in an address that wasn’t exactly a State of the State, but was still a speech to lawmakers on the first day of their session.
“After a historic recession and several challenging years, our economy is back,” added Hickenlooper.
“Since I took this office, participation in New Jersey’s labor force is higher than the nation as a whole and the number of people employed has grown,” said Christie.
They were, to be sure, differences. Republicans like Christie, McDonnell, and Perry bragged about shrinking the size of state government, while Democrats like Cuomo and Hickenlooper laid out a case for investing in social programs and talked of combating a warming climate.
And the biggest difference between Democrats and Republicans came down to an issue that could define the next four years: guns.
In Colorado, which is both a gun-friendly state and one that has witnessed mass shootings at Columbine High School and a movie theater in Aurora, Hickenlooper urged lawmakers to act.
“We have shown in Colorado that we can learn from tragedy and make changes,” he said. “Surely, Second Amendment advocates and gun-control supporters can find common ground in support of this proposition: let’s examine our laws and make the changes needed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”
Cuomo was even more emphatic, promising to enact “the toughest assault-weapons ban in the nation.”
“Pass safe, reasonable gun control in the state of New York,” he said. “Make this state safer! Save lives! Set an example for the rest of the nation! Let them look at New York and say this is what you can do and this what you should do!”
There are more speeches to come in statehouses all across the country, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s on Jan. 15, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s on Jan. 16, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal’s State of the State in March. A lot of the 2016 candidates are off the hook, since they either serve in Congress or, like Jeb Bush and Sandoval, have already given their last State of the State.
In the meantime, here are some more highlights from those we have heard from:
Andrew Cuomo of New York: “Forget the extremists. It’s simple; no one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. And too many innocent people have died already. End the madness now! Pass safe, reasonable gun control in the state of New York! Make this state safer! Save lives! Set an example for the rest of the nation! Let them look at New York and say this is what you can do and this is what you should do! This is New York, the progressive capital. You show them how we lead. We can do it. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.”
Bob McDonnell of Virginia: “We need to reform and reinvest in transportation infrastructure. This session, let’s do it. We need more innovation and accountability in our public-school system to promote great teachers in great schools to prepare great citizens. This session, let’s make that happen. We need further government and budget reforms to strengthen the commonwealth’s fiscal standing in the face of unprecedented uncertainty in Washington. This session, let’s enact them. We need more jobs and more access to the great American Dream. This session, let’s provide it.”
John Hickenlooper of Colorado: “Our blessing was not divided government in the last two years; our blessing was in the many relationships we formed with lawmakers from both parties and that you have with each other. These relationships endure. They span the geography of our state, and they transcend political affiliation. And they’ve been nourished by our working together, helped along every once in a while by a cold Colorado beer.”
Chris Christie of New Jersey: “Let’s put aside destructive politics in an election year. Let’s put aside accusations and false charges for purely political advantage. Let’s work together to honor the memories of those lost in Sandy. Let’s put the needs of our most victimized citizens ahead of the partisan politics of the day. Let’s demonstrate once again the resilience of New Jersey’s spirit. And let us continue what we have started.”
Rick Perry of Texas: “For the sake of all Texas taxpayers, we must control the appetite for more spending. We need to stop writing IOUs to the next budget and delaying payments we know will come due. We need to reduce the use of fees and dedicated accounts for anything other than the purpose for which the fees were collected, and if we’re not going to use them in the way proposed, stop collecting them. With a better budgetary picture, now is the time to set the books straight and improve the fiscal outlook for future legislature.”