WASHINGTON — Top officials of the National Governors Association expressed frustration Saturday with how the nation’s capital operates -- as they launched a three-day quest for more money and other help from Washington lawmakers.
Right from the start of the governors’ winter meeting, which runs through Monday, top officials expressed their irritation with this city’s power brokers. Governors succeed best, they suggested, by working with each other.
“While Washington remains mostly gridlocked – preventing long-term solutions – we are addressing challenges by reforming education, building infrastructure, improving health care and developing energy resources," NGA Chairman Mary Fallin, the Republican governor of Oklahoma, told reporters Saturday before formal sessions began.
“Governors,” she said, “do not have the luxury of standing still.”
The feeling was bipartisan. “Unlike what you see in Congress … we love to share and steal ideas from each other and see them improved,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado and vice chairman of the NGA.
While these meetings are annual rituals of trying to squeeze more money and fewer mandates out of Washington, the governors’ dismay and even anger with the city’s ways has grown.
“The whole country’s frustrated with this place,” said Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat.
The governors meet twice a year, and “we haven’t gotten anywhere pointing this out,” he lamented.
Enhancing the anti-Washington mood is the dismal standing of Congress and the White House. Congress’ approval ratings have been mired around 10 percent for months, and President Barack Obama’s numbers have been around 45 percent.
Some governors were annoyed at the tone set earlier in the week by Obama and some Democratic governors. After a dinner and White House meetings, they bashed Republicans as insensitive and out of touch
“It’s disappointing, but we keep getting these barrages every day. From both sides,” said Gov. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota, a Republican.
Once the governors got down to business Saturday, the emphasis was on what they could do working together. One of their key goals is fewer federal strings tied to funding on education, health care and other areas. We’ll take less money, said Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah, a Republican, if Washington will take away more red tape and mandates.
Even the more controversial figures stressed substance and solutions, or stayed largely silent.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey ignored reporters questions, and chatted amiably with Beshear and others.. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, like Christie mentioned as a possible 2016 Republican presidential contender, has been embroiled in controversy over two criminal investigations involving political work by aides.
Walker patiently answered reporters’ questions, insisting he had acted properly. He then turned to the governors meeting, listing executives from both parties he had worked with in the past, notably on strategies for employing people with disabilities.
Governors spent an hour and a half discussing workforce training issues. Featured was Jeffrey Immelt, General Electric chairman and chief executive officer.
NGA officials are pushing implementation of a “new minimum” of standards for economic success. A high school diploma, they say, is no longer enough. What’s needed is a two to four year college education or appropriate workforce certification, they argue.
Walker noted that too often young people don’t see workforce training as being as valuable as becoming an attorney or some other white-collar job.
The meetings continue Sunday, with scheduled sessions with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and others. Monday features a meeting with Obama, and many governors then plan to talk to members of Congress.
NGA officials, though, suggested the meeting’s biggest value could be sharing the time with other chief executives.
“A lot of times we find common ground,” said Fallin. “We learn from each other.”