“Your job as the governor is to do what’s necessary to benefit the people of your state. If that means praising a president of the other party who came to your relief, you do it,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who served as chair of the NGA, said in an interview. “It takes emergencies for there to be bipartisan action by the governors, something like a major storm or earthquake or pandemic.”
The groups are moving back to bipartisanship after more than a decade of division just as state and city leaders have been entrusted with more power than they’ve had in the nation’s history, given carte blanche to make decisions that directly affect the daily lives of their citizens. If they continue to move toward unity, state and city leaders could once again turn the professional organizations into formidable lobbying groups capable of pressuring Congress, the president and shaping the way American moves on from the pandemic.
Governors, mayors and state lawmakers are on the front line, first in corralling resources and developing public messaging to contain the virus and, now, in overseeing the distribution of the vaccines. As a gridlocked Washington continues to delay relief for their states and cities, the groups have collectively pushed for more funding from Congress — even as some Republicans in D.C. balk.
In December, NGA chair Andrew Cuomo of New York and vice chair Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas issued a bipartisan statement calling for Covid-19 relief for states, which are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. In January, after Trump-backing rioters stormed the Capitol, NCSL leaders put out a joint statement denouncing the acts of violence as “detrimental to our shared values as Americans.”
Of the dozen or so statements issued by the NGA over the last year, nearly all had to do with the pandemic, school safety and federal relief. One called for bipartisan support for infrastructure. Communication from the National Conference of State Legislatures has been similarly dominated by Covid-19.
The national health crisis served as a rallying cry for Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who just finished a term as chair of the governors’ group and handed over the reins to Cuomo. Hogan spent much of 2020 with his face plastered all over cable news, a spokesperson of sorts to all governors and their demands on Washington.