Midwest Governors: Checking the Boxes

The successful 2016 Republican presidential candidate will need a combination of personality, philosophy, and experience. On the first score there is a lot to be said for freshness – provided the candidate can withstand the army of “opposition researchers” fanning out after the 2014 midterm elections, with both Democrats and Republicans trying to get the dirt on the many who want to be on the debate stage. On philosophy, all will be within a fairly narrow band of conservatism. After the disasterous Obama presidency and with 31 Republican governors extolling the virtues of the statehouse experience, the burden of proof will be on those who have not hired and fired, balanced budgets, made principled compromises, and dealt with crises large and small.

Within the governor constellation, geography plays a role in terms of the culture of the electorate and the perception of that culture outside of its region. The south – too conservative; inadequate appeal in purple states. The northeast – too liberal; will not generate adequate enthusiasm with the Party’s base. The west – no Republicans in consequential states. The midwest – ah, there’s the trove; focused on fixing the problems of Rust Belt economies; bland enough to not offend Hollywood or Tupolo. Let’s look at the leading prospects:

1.  Scott Walker (Wisconsin)

– Age 47; white; male. Dropped out of Marquette University; father a Baptist minister; Harley rider (the Harley-Davidson HQ is in Milwaukee.)

– Former state assembly member, county executive of Milwaukee County; elected governor in 2010; survived recall attempt in 2012; reelected in 2014.

– Reduced biennial budget by $1 billion; reduced Medicaid spending; cut public employee bargaining rights; increased contributions to pensions and healthcare; changed teacher tenure laws. Can claim balanced state and local budgets, reduced local taxes.  Employment has grown by 100,000 since trough, but lagged Midwest.

– Reliably conservative positions on taxes, right to life, gay marriage, high speed rail, public employee pensions, voter ID, healthcare, education.  A relatively blank slate on foreign policy, civil liberties, energy, and immigration.

– Top target of organized labor – perhaps a factor if running against Hilary, a “labor Democrat”.  Fully vetted in 2012. Should sell well in the South.

2. John Kasich (Ohio)

– Age 62; white; male. Graduate of Ohio State; divorced and remarried.

– Congressman from Columbus from 1983 to 2001; Chairman of the House Budget Committee in Gingrich/Clinton years; fringe potential presidential candidate in 1990s; Fox News personality; banker with Lehman Brothers; first elected governor in 2010; reelected easily in 2014.

– Repealed estate tax; cut small business taxes; championed restrictions on collective bargaining which were overturned in a referendum; accepted federal Medicaid increase; opposed high speed rail; increased school funding; reduced unemployment below 6.5%.

– Reliably conservative positions on right to life, gay marriage. A relatively blank slate on foreign policy, civil liberties, energy, and immigration.

– Initial cabinet of 22 had no minorities. Challenged unions and lost referendum 60% to 40%.

3. Rick Snyder (Michigan)

– Age 56; white; male. BS, MBA, JD from the University of Michigan; CPA.

– Businessman – Coopers & Lybrand Accounting; Chair of Gateway Computer; partner in venture capital firms. First elected governor in 2010 (supported by Bill Ford); reelected in 2014.

– Reduced first budget by $1.8 billion; restructured complex cororate tax code to a flat tax on C Corporations; supported controversial transportation connection to Ontario; supported authority of cities to take extraordinary measures to restructure finances; passed “Right to Work” legislation; travelled to Afghanistan to support troops; trade missions to Europe, Asia, and Israel to promote business and educational connections. Instrumental in efforts to help Detroit through bankruptcy.

– Reliably conservative positions on right to life, gay marriage. Relatively international for a governor.

– Quintessential “businessman turned governor” candidate.

4. Mike Pence (Indiana)

– Age 59; white; male. Graduate of Hanover College and Indiana University Law School. Evangelical Christan.

– First elected to Congress from eastern Indiana in 2000. Leadership position in Republican House caucus from 2006 to 2012 – top initial competitor to [mc_name name=’Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’B000589′ ] for party leader; leading advocate for Israel, opposition of earmarks, opposition to gay marriage, a constitutional amendment to limit government spending, “no amnesty” immigration reform, and support for George W Bush’s Iraq War policies.

– Elected governor in 2012, following Republican Mitch Daniels who was term-limited. Signed substantial cuts to business taxes; increased school choice, and increased transportation infrastructure spending.

– More than reliably conservative on social, tax, spendng, and foreign policy issues.

– An attractive candidate for Southerners who seek a Northern face.

5. Bruce Rauner (Illinois)

– Age 57; white; male. Dartmouth undergrad; Harvard MBA.

– 30 year career with CTGR private equity firm where he was chairman. Active in Chicago community groups, particularly in education.

– Announced candidacy for govennor in March 2013; partly self-funded; elected in November 2014.

– Priorities include education system improvement, cutting taxes, and pension reform.

– Has been an advisor to mayor Rahm Emanuel, and comes from outside the partisan political world. Time will tell how well he adapts. Perhaps a 2020 player if he succeeds.

And while we are at it, let’s think for a second about why the Midwest, most of which voted for Barack Obama, have elected Republican governors. In the former Rust Belt, jobs really are the issue. Perhaps on the coasts the Democrats can rouse a coalition of young women, minorities, and wealthy donors with social and environmental issues. Not in the Midwest – at least in terms of the elected officials who are making the decisions which have direct impact on the lives of the voters. If the 2016 election is to be about pragmatic substance, the Republicans would be well served by a Midwest governor.


This week’s video is of ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber’s cynical explanation of why the stupid American public got snookered.



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