- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

A threatened exodus of Republican governors from the National Governors Association was slowed yesterday when the organization's executive committee managed to kill a resolution that would have opposed tax cuts favored by President Bush.
The resolution would have put the nation's governors on record as saying the best stimulus to the economy would be more federal tax dollars for the states, rather than the tax cuts supported by Mr. Bush and most Republicans in Congress.
Rebellious Republicans led by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens managed to thwart the resolution. The victory came a day after Republican governors met privately and resolved to work together to gain control over an NGA staff they say is dominated by liberals and Democrats.
Republicans say the staff has long set the NGA agenda, even though Republican governors are in the majority.
"There was a massive effort by Republican governors to pull out on Saturday," Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, the incoming NGA chairman, said of a private meeting of Republican members on Saturday. "We had a letting of the blood, we put it all on the table. We've never done that before.
"There were strong emotions from governors who questioned the value of the NGA as it has been run. I asked them not to pull out and to give me a chance to make the changes they want.
"There will be staff changes," Mr. Kempthorne said he promised fellow Republican governors.
One of them said privately, "Dirk now gets it, based on a lot of pressure from us. He understands that a whole lot of us aren't going to remain in this organization if it doesn't start to pull back from this liberal advocacy.
"I think you're going to see him being a better chairman than the one we have."
As a result of Mr. Kempthorne's promises, Mr. Owens has changed his mind and decided to let his state pay its NGA dues.
But, Mr. Owens said, "I'm going to ask the NGA executive director for an audited financial statement, a list of all contributors public, private and nonprofit a list of the NGA staff members and their salaries, and a list of which states are paying their dues and how much.
"We made it clear we want the NGA staff to represent all governors, not just Democratic governors."
Six months ago, Mr. Kempthorne telephoned Mr. Owens, Mr. Bush and Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland to ask them to serve in leadership roles in the NGA in order to help him get control of the staff. "Had I gone into this meeting without doing some homework, it could have been a disaster," Mr. Kempthorne said.
The chairmanship of the NGA alternates between a Republican and a Democratic governor. The outgoing chairman is Kentucky Gov. Paul E. Patton, a Democrat.
The liberal bent of the NGA has annoyed Republicans for years, from the time in 1998 when they had 32 governors. But as they now concede they never got around to doing anything about it.
But with the federal budget heading into deep deficits and states facing fiscal crises, Republicans have found an added impetus to express their unhappiness with an organization they dominate but do not control.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle and Texas Gov. Rick Perry decided to quit the NGA and not pay their states' annual dues, which for Texas amounts to $166,000. "The reason he is dropping out is primarily a budget issue, but the governor has not always agreed with the positions that the NGA has taken, some of which have been liberal and some anti-President Bush," said Perry spokeswomen Kathy Walton.
Miss. Lingle told Mr. Kempthorne this was her first and last meeting. But the Idaho governor argued that he needed her help to change things and finally persuaded her to remain in the organization, even if Hawaii didn't pay dues for a while.
Mr. Bush, the Florida governor, said he has paid only half his state's dues for last year and this year, but wants to give the NGA a chance to work. He was not one of the governors who advocated that fellow Republicans pull out, but he raised the issue of the spending resolution, calling it an example of "why we have problems with this organization," according to a governor who was present.

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