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Rising Governors: Making Tough Choices and Headlines

February 23, 2011

Governors who face steep budget shortfalls, testy lawmakers, and raging union leaders are gaining more attention this week thanks to the showdown in Wisconsin involving Gov. Scott Walker. Avoiding that “this is going to hurt” face and making tough calls has brought both praise and protest. We take a look at those whose difficult choices have cast them in the spotlight, for better or for worse.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich—Despite union protests outside the Statehouse, Kasich is forging ahead on a massive overhaul of collective-bargaining rules. Kasich says backing down to the unions’ request would lead to more excessive spending by the state government.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker—A no-name catapulted to fame amid disputes with labor unions. Walker had been in office a little over a month before 14 Democratic state senators left Wisconsin to block a bill that would restrict most public employee unions. Walker’s woes, made flesh in the form of huge crowds of protesters at the capitol, have been met with support by potential 2012 presidential candidates, including Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum, who may be competing to sign Walker on as a vice-presidential candidate.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels—Unlike his Wisconsin counterpart, Daniels did not stand up for Indiana’s right-to-work bill when House Democrats fled his state to avoid a vote. On February 22, the Republican told reporters that budget time was not the time to address problems with unions. Daniels, who spoke at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference as a potential 2012 presidential contender, was written off as “not presidential” by conservative talk show host Mark Levin.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo—The newly elected Democrat announced plans for a “fundamental realignment” of government at his State of the State address. Although his proposals are watered-down compared to Walker’s, they’re taking heat from unions and others in Cuomo’s party.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott—In order to close a $3.6 billion budget shortfall, Scott made drastic cuts in the state’s spending, including a 10 percent cut in education and eliminating almost 9,000 state jobs. The tea-party-backed governor has also suggested roughly $4 billion in tax cuts. His opponents say he’s going too far.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—Christie’s presence was never small, but the governor’s fiscal conservatism is now bringing him more attention than ever. His vow to close New Jersey’s $10.5 billion budget gap without raising taxes is leaving some of the state’s mayors worried

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval—Sandoval could be the next Walker, as protesters began rallying by the hundreds in Carson City, along with an estimated 1,000 in Las Vegas on Monday, calling for a budget solution that doesn’t rely on cuts alone.  But Sandoval has been relentless in his stance against tax hikes. His agenda includes a 5 percent pay decrease for all state employees and cuts across the board for social services.

California Gov. Jerry Brown—The Democrat is on the opposite side of the governor vs. legislature debate. California has the largest budget shortfall in the country, and Brown’s opponents don’t think he’s doing enough to close it. Republicans in the legislature are holding Brown’s budget hostage until he includes pension reform and serious spending cuts, Reuters reports.

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