SAN DIEGO | Republican governors are a bit edgy about their party’s future despite having redone the electoral map in red on Nov. 2.
They, like the antsy electorate, are eagerly watching to see whether congressional Republicans will be the exemplars of fiscal integrity that mid-term voters sought - or, as recent history has shown, will succumb to the temptation to increase the federal debt to please specials interests and win re-election.
“It was a small but important step” when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “switched his position on earmarks” and now opposes them, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said. “If the Republican Party tries to defend earmarks or the status quo, they’ll be thrown out of power yet again. The voters have basically given them this power temporarily.”
Come January’s swearing-in ceremonies, GOP governors’ ranks will swell to 29, as the result of a net gain of six governorships, and the governors gathered here at the Republican Governors Association meeting are confident their members can display fiscal restraint and lead the charge heading into the 2012 presidential cycle.
But they are well aware of the thrashing their party took in 1996 following their historic 1994 wins.
Mr. Jindal said his “hope that its the governors” and not the RNC that drive the 2012 elections “has nothing to do with RGA vs. RNC,” but with the good discipline governors in most states learn by having to balance budgets and raise taxes only with supermajorities in their legislatures, which in turn are made up of part-time legislators.
“All good reforms that Congress should adopt, by the way,” said Mr. Jindal, 39.
Determined not to let this year’s successes turn into a one-cycle wonder, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who passed the RGA chairman’s gavel to Texas Gov. Rick Perry here, had RGA sponsor for the first time a training session for new governors.
Former Education Secretary and drug czar William Bennett, who led a panel, reminded the governors how influential their ideas can be.
“In 1996, the Republican governors talked about reforming welfare and the federal government changed welfare - under a Democratic president,” Mr. Bennett said. “You Republican governors need to do the same thing on health care.”
During their three-day meeting, the governors touted the idea that the Nov. 2 election results put a bigger feather in Republicans’ caps than even their fabled 1994 gold medals sweep.
“Having been involved in both elections, I actually think this was a bigger election than 1994, even though we won both houses of Congress then and only one now and picked up a few more governors in 1994 than this time,” said Mr. Barbour, who was Republican national chairman in 1994.
“The depth of our victory this year was so enormous,” he said. “We won 680 new state legislative seats, where we replaced a Democratic legislator with a Republican.”
In 1994, the GOP picked up 12 gubernatorial seats and 472 legislative seats.
The governors showed deep skepticism about - in some instances a downright disdain for - the ability of the present leadership of the Republican National Committee to raise money for getting out the GOP vote in 2012.