Stark political division looms as US governors gather

Portland, Maine – With political divisions threatening to oversee their meeting over abortion, gun violence and other issues, the country’s governors sought to find common ground – among other issues.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Governors Association formally kicked off its summer gathering, the first in-person meeting since 2019, on Thursday. It follows recent US Supreme Court decisions that deepened the rift between red and blue states by reversing Roe v. Wade and lifting gun restrictions in New York.

Leaders say there is still room for bipartisanship.

“It’s about trying to find things we can work on together, and that’s plentiful,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, is ending her annual term as president of the association.

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Hutchinson is handing the reins of the group to Democratic Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who will serve as its next chairman. The two governors announced a bipartisan task force to stop the mass shootings following last month’s massacre at an elementary school in Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers.

The task force was announced before President Joe Biden signed into law a comprehensive, bipartisan gun violence measure that includes billions in new funding for mental health and school safety. The task force consists of eight governors, divided equally between Republicans and Democrats.

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Hutchinson said he sees the group helping shepherds implement the law at the state level.

Republican Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah, a member of the task force, acknowledged that any change to gun policy would invite controversy in his state, yet he urged politicians to listen to proposals from across the political spectrum, including funding for school safety, counselors, and more. encourage to. , gun buybacks and red flag laws.

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“I’ve asked everyone to be open to every conversation,” Cox, the association’s incoming vice president, said in a press conference last month.

The public agenda at the Maine event avoided any high-profile partisan issues. The session on Thursday was joined by Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger and leaders of the global robotics competition to discuss computer science education. Another session focused on travel and tourism.

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The governorates also held several other events, including a mixer on Wednesday evenings and a scheduled lobster bake on Thursday evenings.

Security was tight with road closures and heavy police presence. Organizers declined to say whether there was any particular danger or concern.

The event was attended by nineteen governors, including the governor of Puerto Rico. The missing were governors of several large states, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, New York Governor Cathy Hochul and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Hutchinson said he does not see the Association of Governors addressing abortion after Row’s reversal. That decision has pitted the states against each other, with several states “triggering” restrictions into effect almost immediately after the ruling.

Republicans in some states are considering ways to prevent women from going out-of-state for abortions, moves that could include going after abortion providers. In response, some Democratic governors have signed off on measures restricting their state’s law enforcement agencies from enforcing other states’ abortion restrictions. That includes Democratic Governor Janet Mills, who on Thursday formally welcomed governors to her state.

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When she signed an executive order last week, Mills said she would “stand in the way of any attempt to undermine, roll back, or completely eliminate the right to safe and legal abortion in Maine.”

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Partisanship was outlined on the eve of the gathering, as New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu campaigns with fellow Republican Paul Lepage, a former Maine governor who hopes to oust Mills.

California Governor Newsom has also run a campaign ad in Florida criticizing Republican leaders in that state. And protesters supporting fertility choice gathered outside an event some governors attended on the Portland waterfront.

Nonetheless, Hutchinson said the group has been able to work together on other issues, being a voice for states during the COVID-19 pandemic and during talks on a bipartisan infrastructure package.

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Republican Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts said governors get along with each other — and focus on things where they can get results, rather than areas of disagreement.

“While we will disagree on individual issues, there is much more in common than what sets us apart as a group,” said host Governor Mills.

Hutchinson’s presidency of the group has raised his national profile as he considers running for president in 2024. The two-term governor, who steps down in January, has criticized former President Donald Trump and urged fellow Republicans to go ahead with the 2020 election.

Murphy is coming to the presidency after winning a narrow run as governor last year. An unapologetic progressive, he recently signed into law legislation ensuring abortion rights and a new package of gun control bills.

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Even though they are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Hutchinson had words of praise for his successor.

“Part of being a human being is that you recognize the good quality that you look for in people, even if you disagree fundamentally and you’re on a different team. I think that’s needed in America today.”

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This story has been updated to correct the name of the governor of New York. That’s Kathy Hochul, not Hochul.

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DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press writer Joy Capelletti in Lansing, Michigan; Mike Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey; Sam Metz in Salt Lake City; and Patrick White in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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