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Former Governors Caucus Looks to Change Tone in Senate

Earlier this year something unprecedented and potentially revolutionary happened in the Senate even though (and yet) few people took notice—eleven senators who previously had been governors officially launched the Former Governors Caucus and with its creation, the governors provided a new path to bring reason, compromise, civility and yes, legislating, back to Congress.

The senators who once were the chief executive officers of their states are Lamar Alexander (R-TN); Tom Carper (D-DE); John Hoeven (R-ND); Mike Johanns (R-NE); Tim Kaine (D-VA); Angus King (I-ME); Joe Manchin (D-WV); James Risch (R-ID); Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); and Mark Warner (D-VA).

Rockefeller served as Governor of West Virginia nearly thirty years ago; Hoeven was Governor of North Dakota just three years ago but they still share the experience of having led a state; of having to compromise with legislators; and of knowing that despite being governor you don’t always get your way.

Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat, who had a Republican legislature for much of his term said, “You had to try to find … where things overlapped. And I think that is needed in the Senate and is needed in the House. And most governors bring that attitude toward the table.”

When Mike Johanns announced he would retire from the Senate, speculation turned to Nebraska’s current Governor Dave Heineman to run for the seat. While he declined to run, his reason not to run is indicative of why this Former Governors Caucus is such an important development:

“What I heard [when talking to governors who now serve in the Senate] is that while governors can make immediate decisions, U.S. {s}Senators are part of a process that moves “much slower” and may not resolve some issues for 10 years. In Nebraska, we sit around a table and find solutions.’”

All of the eleven governors now serving as U.S. senators have that same expectation—that working with your colleagues you can find solutions. Interviewed by the Maine Press Herald for a story on the governors in the Senate, noted political expert Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said of the governors, “I think they can be effective within the limits of the chamber.”

“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.”

Maine Senator Angus King, a co-chair of the Caucus said “There is no way that anybody in this place can get anything done without bipartisan support. It’s just arithmetic. You can make speeches, you can be mad … but in the end, if you don’t have the votes, it doesn’t get done.” King, Manchin and Carper found a path forward on student loans earlier this year when bipartisan solutions evaded both the House and Senate for months. Johanns, Manchin and Warner participated in the deal that finally ended the government shutdown. Hoeven lead an effort to develop Medicaid reform recommendations. With just these few examples, it’s exciting to imagine what they can achieve as a cohesive body of eleven.

The mere fact that Rockefeller, a leading liberal, and Risch, a well-known conservative, are willing to do the unheard of these days—sit down and talk about issues together from their shared perspectives as former state officials—sets an example for others.

The Former Governors Caucus has the potential to set a new direction and tone in the Capitol—a path to bipartisan compromise in a manner that is respectful and civil.

We commend these eleven senators for joining together in this important effort to get our nation back on a positive track. The people of America will surely benefit from their efforts.

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