- Associated Press - Saturday, December 1, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Weeks after an election that boosted its membership, the Democratic Governors Association selected Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as its new chairwoman on Saturday.

She was elected by her peers during the group’s annual meeting in New Orleans, taking over for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy was elected vice-chair, putting him in line to lead the group in 2020, the next presidential election year.

In November’s midterm elections, Democrats flipped seven seats to their control without losing any governor’s offices currently held by the party. Raimondo said it was the biggest Democratic gain in governor’s seats since 1982.

When the new governors are sworn in, there will be 23 Democratic state executives and 27 Republicans. The balance was 33 Republicans, 16 Democrats and one independent before the Nov. 6 election.

A key campaign issue for Democrats was expanding Medicaid to make more lower-income adults eligible for coverage in states that have not already done so.

To promote that, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was scheduled to tour a New Orleans health center later in the day with a handful of incoming Democratic governors who support expanding Medicaid in their states - Laura Kelly in Kansas, Janet Mills in Maine, Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico and Tony Evers in Wisconsin.

Expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, including those with no children at home, is one of the cornerstones of the health care overhaul signed by former President Barack Obama.

About 12 million Americans have gained coverage under the expansion in the 33 states that have already implemented it, including about 480,000 in Louisiana. Louisiana’s expansion program began in 2016 has cut the state’s uninsured rate in half.

Raimondo, who was elected last month to a second term, said having more Democrats in office can be a factor in keeping Obama’s health insurance overhaul in place. President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have tried unsuccessfully to repeal the legislation.

“The number one thing is America deserves governors who are going to stand up to the president when he tries to undo the Affordable Care Act,” Raimondo said in a telephone interview.

She also noted that the group now has six women - up from two before the election.

The Republican governors group met this week in Arizona, where Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts was elected chairman.

Ricketts and Raimondo will oversee fundraising efforts for 2019, when Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi elect governors. Eleven states elect governors in 2020.


Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

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