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GOP governors take a pragmatic turn

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 24, 2013 at 11:48 am •  Published: February 24, 2013
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Another case study can be found in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer was labeled a conservative firebrand in 2010 for supporting her state's crackdown on illegal immigration. Now, halfway through her first term, she's softened her tone on immigration as Obama and Congress pursue a comprehensive overhaul.

In an interview, Brewer said it was easy to hold fast to ideological convictions as a candidate, but when "you have to govern for the whole state you have to be very pragmatic with your decision-making. You govern. And you have to make the trains run and the lights work and make tough decisions. You can't please everybody all the time, but you have to be much more pragmatic."

Pragmatism hasn't always been found in abundance.

During Obama's first term, Republicans fought the health overhaul in court and outside. Others refused federal money to develop high-speed rail lines or pressed to undermine the power of unions. During his campaign for governor in 2010, Scott frequently called Obama's health care plan a "job-killer" that would hurt Florida.

Walker drew the ire of Democrats when he successfully pushed for restrictions to collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. That led unions and Democrats to push for his recall. Walker survived the recall election, but emerged with a change in tone and a focus on issues such as improving roads and bridges, education and workforce development.

"The big thing I keep pushing is relevance," he said. "Where we connect with voters, and where we connect now that we're in office, is by continuing to talk about and deal with things that are relevant in peoples' lives."

Many Republicans say the approach simply reflects the need to tackle problems that are most relevant to their states.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin noted that most of the 30 GOP governors have decided against expanding Medicaid and rejected calls by the Obama administration to create their own state exchanges under the health law.

"It's not moderation and nothing has changed," said Nick Ayers, the former executive director of the Republican Governors Association. "There's still uniformity in opposition to (Obama's) domestic policy agenda, particularly on health care. What's changed is now they're actually stuck with dealing with making the best decision based on a bad set of options."

Democrats contend it will be more difficult for Republicans to adhere to conservative GOP orthodoxy prevalent in Congress and win re-election next year.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who leads the Democratic Governors Association, said Scott's decision "was less about an ideological transformation on Rick Scott's part than it was a 30 percent approval rating that will certainly get your attention as a governor."

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Follow Ken Thomas at: http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas and Steve Peoples at: http://twitter.com/sppeoples