July 29, 2013

Ex-governors make headway in U.S. Senate

Maine Sen. Angus King and 10 other former governors bring 'an extra dose of pragmatism.'

By KEVIN MILLER Washington Bureau Chief

(Continued from page 1)

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Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, a former governor, listens to testimony during hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in January. Several former governors who are now senators are known for their work across the aisle even if their efforts are not always successful.

2013 fil photo/The Associated Press

"You had to try to find ... where things overlapped," Kaine said. "And I think that is needed in the Senate and is needed in the House. And most governors bring that attitude toward the table."

So do former governors make more effective senators?

"I think they can be effective within the limits of the chamber," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report, a widely read newsletter on Capitol Hill.

The Senate is more conducive to cross-party cooperation than the House of Representatives because of the 60-vote threshold required to break a filibuster. But that doesn't mean that bipartisanship always succeeds, as evidenced by the bipartisan bill co-authored by Manchin earlier this year to expand background checks on private gun sales.

Duffy said former governors work across the political aisle more often because they had the experience of having to work with a state legislature to have any success on their administration's agenda.

"I think they are used to it," Duffy said. "This is how they governed, so it doesn't surprise me that they would bring that to the Senate. At the same time, they are the most frustrated members of the U.S. Senate ... because they are used to getting things done."

Indeed, several former governors are known for their work across the aisle even if their efforts are not always successful.

Warner helped lead the "Gang of Six" senators that tried to broker a deal on the national debt. And Hoeven worked with other former governors and the National Governors Association to try to work out a bipartisan compromise on Medicaid.

But bipartisanship is by no means exclusive to former governors, as evidenced by other well-known deal-makers in the Senate, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins and former Sen. Olympia Snowe, both Republicans.

Frustrations with the Senate's slow pace may also be part of the reason why there are so few former governors in leadership roles.

Only three of the 11 in the current Senate have served more than one term: Carper, Alexander and Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. And Brown University's Schiller points out that Rockefeller arrived in Washington in the mid-1980s, when the scene was far different from today's hyperpartisan atmosphere.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., is a one-and-done senator, having already signaled that he will not seek re-election next year. While Nebraska has a long history of sending former governors to the Senate, current Gov. Dave Heineman declined Republicans' efforts to persuade him to run after talking with several former chief executives who went on to serve in the Senate.

As an independent, King didn't have a party to lure him into a race where he spent much of the campaign talking about the need for bipartisanship in Washington.

Soon after his election, King reached out to former governors now in the Senate and then held an informal dinner at the Capitol attended by seven of the 11. Plans are also under way to once again try to coordinate a "Governor's Caucus" that would be more than simply a social gathering but would work on a specific policy issue, King said.

King often points out that, as governor, he had to negotiate with everyone because he didn't have any party allies in the Maine Legislature. But he sees the power structure in Washington through a similar lens, with a Democratic president, a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate where the minority party still has significant power due to the filibuster.

"There is no way that anybody in this place can get anything done without bipartisan support. It's just arithmetic," King said shortly after the bipartisan student loan bill passed the Senate on an 81-18 vote. "You can make speeches, you can be mad ... but in the end, if you don't have the votes, it doesn't get done."

North Dakota's Hoeven offered a similar assessment.

"To pass anything here, it's got to be bipartisan," Hoeven said. "We have to find ways to work together, so hopefully this will help."

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:



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