After a year of midterm elections in which statewide races were almost entirely focused on national issues – abortion and democracy – the country’s newly elected governors are showing their ambitions with a mix of signals of virtue on national issues, currying favor with their political bases and, for some, reaching wider constituencies.
Directly responsible for running their states, governors must also quickly produce detailed budgets that fully highlight their priorities. Elected last year, nine new governors have been busy in their first weeks in office.
In Arkansas, Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican who served as Trump’s White House press secretary, took jabs on the left, on critical race theory and “Latinx.”
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In Massachusetts, Governor Maura Healey, a Democrat, announced an essay contest for students to decide which former governor would get a portrait to hang in her office. (John Hancock or Samuel Adams? Michael Dukakis or Mitt Romney?)
From symbolic to substantial, here’s a look at what the country’s new governors have been up to in their first weeks in office.
Katie Hobbs, Arizona
– Hobbs has created an independent commissioner to review the use of the death penalty – a response to last year’s botching of the first executions in Arizona since an eight-year hiatus following another failed execution. She also created an independent commission to assess Arizona’s prison system.
– She asked a bipartisan panel to recommend ways to improve the “accessibility and security” of elections in Arizona.
– She released a $17 billion budget proposal that would, among other things, increase funding for education and create a child tax credit for low-income Arizonans.
Josh Green, Hawaii
– Green – who was inaugurated in early December, a month before the rest of the new governors – declared an emergency on homelessness and said he would spend more than $1 billion on affordable housing and social housing .
– He also signed several emergency proclamations related to the benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the lack of medical airlift capacity.
Wes Moore, Maryland
– Moore, Maryland’s first black governor, began his term with a celebrity appeal, inviting Oprah Winfrey to introduce him at his inauguration.
– He released a $63 billion budget proposal that puts a heavy emphasis on education and transportation, and includes expanded tax credits for parents and immigrants.
— He issued an executive order to establish the Maryland Department of Civic Service and Innovation. One thing he could oversee would be a program he suggested to allow high school graduates to do a paid year of community service.
Maura Healey, MA
— Healey created a new Cabinet-level position, chief climate officer, as part of an executive order establishing a state office for climate innovation and resilience. She also initiated the process of establishing a housing secretariat at the cabinet level.
– She announced an “equity audit” in which each state agency will examine equity issues within its purview: everything from public transportation ridership to health care. The audit could identify disparities by gender, race, sexual orientation or other characteristics.
– Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll announced an essay contest for Massachusetts students to decide which past governors will receive a portrait in each of their offices.
Tina Kotek, Oregon
— Kotek has signed three executive orders related to Oregon’s housing crisis. One declared a state of emergency in large parts of the state, another called for the creation of 36,000 new homes a year and the third ordered state agencies to cut homelessness a priority.
– She also asked state lawmakers for $130 million in funding to address homelessness, including helping those at risk of becoming homeless.
Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania
– By executive order, Shapiro opened up the vast majority of state government jobs — 92% of them — to people without a four-year college degree.
– He also signed another executive order creating an Office of Transformation and Opportunity to lead efforts to retain and attract businesses to Pennsylvania.
– He announced a set of ethics rules for executive branch employees, including an ethics training program and a modified ban on accepting gifts from lobbyists.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Arkansas
– Sanders banned the word “Latinx,” a gender-neutral alternative to Latina or Latino, from state documents, calling it “ethnically insensitive and pejorative.” (The growing use of the term has been the subject of right-wing mockery, but most Hispanic Americans reject it, and the broader debate about it doesn’t just run along liberal-conservative lines.)
– She also signed an executive order banning public schools from teaching critical race theory, an academic concept not usually taught until college but conservatives often use as shorthand for a wide range of teachings on racial injustice.
– She announced a hiring and promotion freeze for state employees and instituted a requirement for the governor’s office to approve new rules and regulations.
– She repealed the COVID-related executive orders of her predecessor, Asa Hutchinson, another Republican. These orders had created committees, task forces and advisory groups to deal with the pandemic and its effects.
Jim Pillen, Nebraska
– Pillen announced a series of “priority bills” – measures he wants the state legislature to pass immediately – to reduce taxes, and he created a state office focused on the broadband access.
– He designated January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month and January 16 as Religious Freedom Day.
– He also named his predecessor and campaign benefactor, former Gov. Pete Ricketts, to an open seat in the Senate.
Joe Lombardo, Nevada
– Lombardo’s first executive order overturned COVID-related mandates put in place by his predecessor, Steve Sisolak, a Democrat. It was mostly a symbolic move, as those mandates — including stay-at-home, masking and social distancing orders — weren’t active and hadn’t been for a long time.
– He signed another executive order to review hiring practices in the state government, which has a high vacancy rate, and to demand that the State Administration Department “transfer control “state work toward pre-pandemic, normal, and customary office conditions” by July 1.
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