US Government

Opining on Trump, GOP Governors Pivot to State Successes

August 31, 2016  • Catherine Lutz

Speaking at a recent McCloskey Speaker Series event in Aspen, CO, three Republican governors weighed in on Donald Trump’s candidacy for president, while otherwise distancing themselves from the dysfunction of Washington and this year’s presidential campaign. Instead, they focused on the successes they’ve had in their states.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Maryland Gov. Lawrence Hogan, and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts are all businessmen serving their first terms in political office. All three boasted of bringing their business acumen to the table to cut waste, reduce taxes, and generally improve the economic environments in their respective states.

“This is a government of, for, and by the people, but we are increasingly disengaged, and we are squandering the greatest noble experiment foisted on politics in the history of world.”
— Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin

Bevin, a financial industry veteran, investment manager, and executive of his family’s bell-manufacturing business, talked about shoring up Kentucky’s pension system with a $1.2 billion investment, moving forward on a plan to cut the 4,500 pieces of regulation affecting business by one-third, and cutting 9 percent from the state budget.

“You think our horses run fast; watch our economy in the next few years,” said Bevin.

Ricketts, another financial industry executive who sits on the board of directors of the Chicago Cubs, compared the cultural changes he’s spurred in state government to what needed to be done with his baseball team.

In addition to instituting accountability and measurement, Ricketts said he’s changed the state’s unemployment system to a reemployment system, where an unemployed person first sits down with a job coach to create and distribute a resume. He also took credit for dramatically improving service at Access Nebraska, the state’s economic assistance program, saving taxpayers $17 million by preserving federal funding for the once poorly performing program.

Hogan repeatedly emphasized being elected to head “the bluest state in the country” by focusing on issues, primarily fiscal, important to all Marylanders. The former real estate professional and tax-reform advocate said that in his 20 months in office he’s cut taxes by $700 million, lowered tolls, cut regulation, and took Maryland from last to first place in the mid-Atlantic region for job creation. As a result, “nearly two-thirds of Marylanders believe we’re heading in the right direction.”

“I try never to get into partisan battles,” Hogan said, noting that if he had, he wouldn’t have gotten elected in a state that’s 26 percent Republican.

Hogan has not endorsed Trump and said he’s chosen to not get involved in national politics, instead focusing on bipartisan efforts to turn his state around.

Nebraska’s Ricketts was the only panelist to have endorsed Trump, which he said he did when Trump was still the presumptive Republican nominee. As a member of his agriculture advisory team, Ricketts said that Trump listened well and took notes during one of their meetings, even incorporating some of the points into a speech shortly after.

If Trump can figure out how to secure his base and “pull in” the center to become president, Ricketts said, “I expect he will surround himself with good people and listen to them.”

Bevin, who was the first to answer the question about his level of support for Trump, first joked that it’s “a don’t-ask, don’t-tell kind of year” for both parties, before saying that he hadn’t endorsed Trump but will vote for him, because “it’s a very clear choice.” With Clinton would come “more regulations, bigger government, and more intrusions in our lives,” and with Trump, “the potential for that to be less likely.”

Asked by an audience member why Republicans continue to produce nominees that Americans don’t resonate with, Hogan said he got more votes from Democrats and independents than Republicans because he talks about issues that people of all political stripes identify with. Noting that for the first time in his lifetime, the majority of Americans don’t want either candidate, he said:

“Everyone is frustrated that the government is not working, that politicians are not telling the truth, that they can’t get the real story on the media. I think what people want is straight talk. This election is frustrating so many people because they don’t know what the truth is.”

One positive trend Ricketts has seen is more people getting into government who, like his fellow panelists, have experience running businesses.

Bevin placed the onus of producing and voting in good politicians on the American citizenry.

“This is our responsibility,” he said, “and if we don’t like it it’s our fault. This is a government of, for, and by the people, but we are increasingly disengaged, and we are squandering the greatest noble experiment foisted on politics in the history of world.”

Bevin encouraged people to identify their greatest values and the greatest threats to those, and vote for the people who would best serve them in limiting those threats.

Criticizing pundits, the media, and polls, he also predicted a Trump win.

“This race is not what you’re being led to believe,” he said. “People will be shocked come November, mark my words.”