Sunday, December 30, 2012

No Street Fight in New Jersey's 2013 Governor's Race

No, this is not a commercial for Newark Mayor Corey Booker (though I am a big fan of the Mayor).  Corey Booker recently announced he would not challenge incumbent Governor Chris Christie in the 2013 New Jersey Governor's Race.  His announcement brought back memories of my recent tour of duty in the Republic of Georgia (yes, the other Georgia).

While I was in Georgia, I worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development during some very interesting political times.  Georgia's capital city, Tbilisi, was holding direct elections for mayor for the very first time, as were other localities throughout the country.  Throughout the country, there were tales of dirty politics, rummors of voter intimidation, threats to candidates and shakedowns of local businesses.  Sounds a lot like a good old New Jersey election, doesn't it?

I am still not sure if it was a good idea or not, but the U.S. Embassy decided to show the Georgian people what a hotly contested municipal race in the U.S. looked like.  How?  By showing Street Fight, of course!  If you haven't seen it - you should (see clip below).

As one of the few people at the post that new anything about Mayor Booker or New Jersey politics, I was volunteered to present the video and moderate discussion in several locations around the city and the country.

Street Fight is a great story of the underdog going up against the political giant.  And showed the good and the (alleged) bad of New Jersey politics.  It features cameos of former Governor Jim McGreevey and current Governor Chris Christie, then a U.S. Attorney.  It is a great tale of dirty politics, rummors of voter intimidation, threats to candidates and shakedown of local businesses.  Sound familiar?

What did the Georgians think of Street Fight?  They all said those dirty tricks would never happen in Georgia.  Not in a former Soviet Republic.  They were upset that Booker lost, and glad to hear that he came back to become Mayor.  No one said it, but I think deep down they were glad to see their elections were not so different from a country that has been practicing democracy for over 200 years.  

I see some parallels between Mayor Booker and Georgia.  Corey Booker did not quit - obviously.  He came back and won.  He is now Mayor of Newark and prolific tweeter.  The Georgia opposition party did not quit either.  The opposition party (with some great work from k-global) formed the Georgia Dream Coalition and gained a majority in the Georgian Parliament.  Let's just hope that Bidzina Ivanishvili does not announce a run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 as well.

But since I do U.S. state government relations... What does the Mayor's announcement mean for New Jersey?  It might mean former NJ Department of Environmental Protection and current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, who recently announced her resignation effective January 21, 2013, enters the race.  It probably means a second term for Governor Christie.  But really, it means a much less interesting race without a Street Fight.

My Post Election Thoughts...

Elections are (finally) over!  We now know who is going to live in the governor's mansions and control the state houses.  As with any election, there were some surprises and interesting story lines to watch.

The big story for states ... Obama-care is here to stay (for now anyway).  States will be deciding if and how to expand Medicaid and implement health insurance exchanges without breaking state budgets.  The looming fiscal cliff could put huge strains on state budgets.  States and localities are the true government service providers (healthcare, education, public safety, emergency serivces) and rely heavily on federal dollars to provide these services.  Major cuts in federal dollars deal major blows to state and local governments.

Governors -

Most of the governor's races went as expected.  Incumbents won in Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.  Indiana's Mike Pense cruised to victory to replace a term-limited Mitch Daniels.

The competitive races truly lived up to their billing.  Governor-elect Maggie Hassan (D) defeated perennial candidate Ovide Lamontagne.  Democrats also held in Montana and Washington.  The Governor-elect Inslee (D) vs Attorney General McKenna was a great race to watch.  Many thought given the late polls that McKenna might have pulled it out, but because Washington State votes by mail he probably peaked a week too late.  In North Carolina, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory (R) managed the only flip in the fifty states winning the seat left open by a retiring Governor Bev Perdue (D).  Gov. Louis Fortuno, a pro-statehood Republican was the only incumbent defeated, as he lost to Alejandro Garcia Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party, an anti-statehood candidate on the same day Puerto Ricans approved a pro-statehood referendum.

Attorneys General Races -

In Pennsylvania, Kathleen Granahan Kane (D) won the Attorney General's race, which could set up an investigation in to Governor Corbett's handling of the Jerry Sandusky case when he was the state's top attorney.

In West Virginia, Darrell McGraw(D) ends a 20-year run as Attorney General as he was narrowly defeated by Republican Patrick Morrisey.

Washington State went blue as out-going AG Rob McKenna (R) will be followed by Bob Ferguson.

Legislatures - 

The big news in state legislatures is the new supermajority in California.  In California, tax increases can only be approved by a two-thirds majority.  In recent sessions, that has meant that some Republicans would have to vote in favor.  That will change in January and Californians can expect to see tax increases in the near future.

Wisconsin - The Wisconsin Senate flipped majorities in the third time in two years (which is unusual considering they only hold elections every two years).  Republicans were able to retake the Senate majority that they won in 2010 and lost in the special elections of 2011 and 2012. 

The New York Senate will be led by a parliamentary-like coalition government as a few break-away Democrats will caucus with the Republicans.  This coalition seemed to work during the first two-years of the Cuomo administration and ended the chaos and disfunction that was symbolic of Albany during the Paterson administration.  Somehow Sheldon Silver looks like he will continue his leadership role as Speaker of the Assembly.

In Maine, Republican control of the legislature was short-lived as voters returned control to Democrats. Maine is unique in that the legislature "elects" the three Constitutional officers - Attorney General, Secretary of State and Treasurer.  Expect changes to come in all three offices.

New Hampshire - The country’s largest state legislature continues to see giant shifts in control.  For the third time in three elections that the New Hampshire House of Representatives has shifted control, this time back to the Democrats. Democrats also narrowed the gap in the Senate, a body they also controlled before the 2010 elections.

Arkansas Republicans control both houses of the Legislature for the first time since reconstruction, as Republicans took control of both the House and Senate.

Over all, Democrats had a good night on Election night.  Democrats netted 170 seats across the country. In addition to those mentioned, Democrats have flipped the Colorado House, both the Minnesota House and Senate and the Oregon House. In addition to wins in Arkansas and Wisconsin, Republicans were able to gain control of the Alaska State Senate.

Ballot Issues -

I am happy to say that marriage equality was a huge winner at the ballot box this year.  Marriage equality was approved by voters in Maryland, Maine, Washington and an attempt in Minnesota to ban marriage equality failed.  This was an amazing night as marriage equality was previously riding a thirty-three ballot losing streak.  To me, this should not be a political issue.  Our friends and family members are entitled to equal rights and protections under the law and more importantly should be able to celebrate their relationships with their partners.  Congratulations!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why Can't We All Get Along?

Video curtesy of

In the wake of a historic storm and in the final stretch of a very ugly presidential campaign, we see the best of government and politics. We see a president and governor work together to begin both the healing process and the rebuilding process. We see the unlikely praise from the Democratic candidate and one a top surrogate of the Republican candidate. We see President Obama and Governor Christie working together and praising each other's leadership and action.

Yes, this is what we are supposed to do. In crisis we put aside our differences and work together.  But could this have ended differently?  Just look at the handling of the Katrina disaster, where President George Bush was looking at a historic storm that hit a state with Democratic Governor. With Katrina, there was nothing but in-fighting and finger pointing before, during and after.

Governor Christie has been as vocal a critic of President Obama as anyone. He has criticized the president for Obamacare and its lack of Medicaid flexibility, his handling of the economy, and his lack of leadership from the White House. Christie gave the keynote address at the Republican National Convention where an impending storm did not temper his remarks. He has been so critical of the president that he pondered a presidential run himself.

Oddly enough, this storm could end up cementing President Obama's re-election. It has allowed him to show he is willing and able to work with Republicans to get things done. It has allowed the president to step above the fray and appear presidential during a time when the all-important undecided voters are finally making up their minds.

I think this also may have cemented Governor Christie's re-election. As a Republican governor in a very blue state, Christie was probably going to face a strong Democratic challenger (rumors of Newark Mayor Corey Booker and others are constantly swirling around the Garden State). Having President Obama offer his thanks and praise could be no better endorsement for the governor.

Will it help or hurt Governor Christie in 2016?  Well ... let's get through November 6th first.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

(Some) Governors Come to Virginia

Many of the nation's governors visited historic Williamsburg, Virginia for the annual summer meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA).  Maybe I am biased because it is my adopted home state, but the July NGA 2012 meeting was one of the best I have attended.  

Some of the highlights...

The top highlight had to be learning about the importance of drinking beer out of a glass from Governor Hickenlooper (D-CO).  Governor, if there is someone I am going to take advice from on beer drinking etiquette, it is you.  I will no longer make the mistake of drinking out of a bottle again.  To quote the governor, "It is just barbaric."

The keynote discussions focused on leadership and entrepreneurship.  Jim Collins (of Good to Great and Great by Choice fame) and Steve Blank (author of Start-Up Owners Manual) gave some great advice to the governors.  The best idea was from Professor Blank in the closing session, telling governors to make sure they had a StartUp America chapter in their state.  StartUp America is providing training and support for start-ups and entrepreneurs, and helping states and localities ensure that they provide the best legislative and regulatory environments for new businesses to grow and succeed.  As a StartUp America member, I look forward to working with StartUp Virginia and StartUp DC on some local initiatives. 

I really enjoyed the education debate from the current and former Secretaries of Education, Arne Duncan and Margaret Spellings.  These two are obviously passionate about education.  There was great discussion about the U.S. education system at all levels.  In general, the governors agreed with the high standards set by the administration, but asked for more flexibility for waivers to allow them to actually achieve those goals.  Secretary Duncan had one of the best quotes when discussing the importance of not only rewarding great teachers, but challenging them as well.  He said, "It's got to be a badge of honor, pinnacle of your career to work in communities that need the most help."

Last but not least was the panel on innovations in Medicaid.  And it could not have been more timely.  Medicaid is, or will soon be, the single largest expenditure for many states, yet few states are achieving the outcomes that suggest they are providing quality healthcare through the program.  There were some great examples of how different types of managed care models are saving money and providing better health outcomes.  In what must have been music to every Republican (and even every Democratic) governor's ears, all three panelists - Jeffrey Brenner, MD (Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers), Jennifer DeCubellis (Hennepin County Health) and David H. Vellinga (Mercy Medical Center) - agreed, there is enough money in the system to treat everyone if federal and state governments start spending more wisely and focusing on quality of care rather than quantity of care. 

And some lowlights...

I can only think of one.  While this year was one of the best NGA meetings in terms of content, it was one of the worst in terms of attendance.  Too many governors skipped the summer meeting, and I believe they are doing a disservice to their state and the people that elected them.  NGA meetings are great forums for sharing ideas and best practices and they are famous for having long, closed-door policy debates that help shape our national policy.  My advice to governors - Attend both NGA meetings each year.  I know it is an election year for many of the you, but it is important that you and your staff participate; share your state's unique stories; and bring at least one good idea from some other state back home to try.  I think it will lead to better politics and better policy.

And other notes of interest ...

Throughout the meeting, NGA announced a few new initiatives.  The Healthcare division of the NGA's Center for Best Practices recently began working with states on a prescription drug abuse prevention project and helping states introduce community care teams as part to create cost savings in their state's Medicaid programs.  In addition, the new Chair of the NGA, Governor Jack Merkell (D-DE) unveiled his initiative - A Better Bottom Line, Employing People With Disabilities, which will focus on education, training and employment opportunities for people with disabilities, including our returning wounded warriors.

I am already looking forward to next year's summer meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Welcome to mob advocacy's new blog

Welcome to The State of the States - the new mob advocacy blog.  In this blog, we will share our thoughts on state and local government and political news, interesting or trending legislation and thoughts on life in a small (but growing) start-up firm.

We at mob advocacy are very excited this week.  In addition to launching this blog and preparing for our website to go live, we signed a new client - Student Veterans Advocacy Group (SVAG)!  mob advocacy will manage SVAG's national state legislative campaign aimed at increasing educational opportunities for veterans and their families.  You may not know this, but due to a change in the 2011 GI Bill, veterans can only get reimbursed for the cost of in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.  Since active duty military rarely meet state resident criteria, they are forced to make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.  That cost usually makes it too expensive to attend.  We say, Vets have sacrificed... Vets have earned it... so, Let Vets Go!  (if you see #LetVetsGo on twitter, please retweet, especially to your governor and state legislators) 

At the end of the week, mob advocacy will be attending the summer meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA) in Williamsburg, Virginia.  The NGA meetings are a great opportunity to build relationships with governors and their key staff members, discuss issues our clients are currently having or expect to have in the next legislative session, and learn about the important issues facing our state governments (and sometimes even sharing ideas for solving them).  mob advocacy will represent our clients at the meeting.  Should you be one of them?  If you have legislative or regulatory issues in your state (or several states), we should talk.

Healthcare is always a big discussion at NGA meetings. With the recent U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision upholding most of the Affordable Care Act this meeting will be no different.  Many governors and state legislatures will spend the next twelve months deciding if and how to implement some, all or none of the law.  Health exchanges and the optional Medicaid expansion will certainly be hot topics.  Almost no one thought SCOTUS would decide to make Medicaid expansion optional, not even the National Association of State Medicaid Directors [read a great article here].  Now several governors, like Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) [article] , have announced they are not expanding their Medicaid programs and others, such as Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) [article], are weighing the options.

Thanks for reading.  Feel free to comment, suggest a topic, ask a question.  Follow my twitter feed (@mob_advocacy) throughout the NGA meeting (#NGA2012) , and look for our post-NGA wrap up next week.