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The 10 Worst GOP Governors: What Horrors Did They Unleash in 2012?

Republican governors are still imposing slash-and-burn austerity policies on their populations, but the mainstream media isn't paying much attention.
 
 
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Across the country, Republican governors, many of them elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, have undermined women's health, crushed workers' right to negotiate collectively, made it tougher to vote and imposed ideologically informed slash-and-burn policies on their populations, often with little attention from the mainstream media. Last summer, we reported on 10 of the worst GOP governors and what they were up to. Where are they now? Culling voter rolls, beating up on unions, trying to sneakily ban abortion—but also, in some cases, having their power checked by a determined opposition and being forced to concede some defeats. And in a couple of cases, they're under investigation. Here's our 2012 list of the worst GOP governors.

10. Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania

Corbett didn't make our list last time around, but this year, the Pennsylvania governor has made up for lost time. His attacks on public education alone make him worthy of our Hall of Shame, but coupled with a massive tax break for Shell Oil--$1.7 billion in subsidies for the oil giant—his comments about taking responsibility for future generations ring awfully hollow.

"The governor's proposal violates his own belief that the free market, and not government, should pick winners and losers," George Jugovic Jr., president of PennFuture, told The Morning Call. "Let's be clear. By choosing to offer Shell a $1.7 billion tax break while proposing to cut nearly $900 million to public education, the governor is choosing winners and losers, and he has cast his lot with choosing to further help a multibillion-dollar corporation over the education of future generations of Pennsylvanians.”

Philadelphia's school district is in mortal danger due in part to Corbett's cuts—nearly $300 million from the city, which now faces a deficit of $218 million for the coming year, and plans to shutter 64 schools and privatize more. And if that wasn't enough, Corbett has backed a bill that would bail out the state's employers for their unpaid unemployment premiums, while cutting benefits for thousands of out-of-work Pennsylvanians.

9. Nikki Haley, South Carolina

Fresh from campaigning in Wisconsin for her fellow union-buster Scott Walker, Nikki Haley is headed home, triumphant—to an ethics investigation.

Corey Hutchins at the Columbia Free Times writes:

Subpoenas could be fluttering all over Columbia this week as an ethics panel investigating whether Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied as a lawmaker decides who to call as witnesses in the case.

On May 30, the House Ethics Committee voted unanimously to reopen an investigation into the governor. The six-member panel had previously voted that there was probable cause to investigate, but then immediately dismissed the charges. After further consideration, and new information from GOP activist John Rainey, who filed the complaint, they’re giving it a deeper look. 

She's also been rebuked by her state's Supreme Court chief justice over a plan, approved by her appointees at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, to dredge the Savannah River to make it bigger for bigger ships. “You disobeyed the law when you did not involve the Savannah River Maritime Commission in the settlement of this matter,” Chief Justice Jean Toal told Haley's appointees. (The decision to approve the dredging came shortly after Haley attended a fundraiser at an Atlanta law firm with ties to the project; she denies the connection.)

8. JanBrewer, Arizona

Jan Brewer made her name attacking immigrants, but she's got plenty of other moves under her belt. In recent months, she cheerfully signed a bill cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood, and topped that off with possibly the worst anti-abortion bill in the country. Opponents call it the “Life Begins at Menstruation” bill because it bans abortions after 20 weeks, but claims that those 20 weeks start at the woman's last menstrual period.

Brewer also joined the club of GOP governors who like kicking around public employees. She moved to offer public workers their first raise in years—but only if they agreed to trade in all their job security and let her fire them on a whim. She also signed a bill expanding school vouchers for Arizona students, giving public funds to parents to pay for private schools.

In a bit of good news, a judge did reject Brewer's bid to dismiss legal challenges to the state's infamous anti-immigrant law.

Oh, and she wants a third term.

7. Paul LePage, Maine

"To all you able-bodied people out there: Get off the couch and get yourself a job," Maine Governor Paul LePage told the Republican State Convention in May.

The governor wants to impose his own form of welfare “reform” on the state in the middle of an ongoing jobs crisis—and he's even willing to make up stories and fudge numbers to get his way. And what does he consider “welfare”? Everything from disability benefits to MaineCare (the state's version of Medicaid -- healthcare for low-income people). His Medicaid cuts alone could hit 65,000 people.

How LePage can complain that Maine has more people receiving benefits than paying taxes, and then say he wants to eliminate the personal income tax is a bit of a mystery, but he doesn't seem to see the conflict. Maine collects over half of its total revenue from the personal income tax—but LePage wants to lower tax rates on the top earners. Next year the rate will fall from 8.5 percent to 7.95, and the governor wanted to drop it to 4 percent but couldn't get away with that and keep the state functioning.

6. Chris Christie, New Jersey

Chris Christie likes to bluster and swagger – it's sort of his calling card. He's frequently caught saying awful things—like a comment he made this winter on a marriage equality referendum. Christie said, “The fact of the matter is, I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South.”

But what's he really up to? Well, he's getting sued, for one thing, for unilaterally pulling New Jersey out of a 10-state initiative aimed at curbing air pollution from power plants. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment New Jersey filed a lawsuit, claiming the move violates a state law that required Christie to notify the public of his intent to pull out and allow for a public comment period.

He's also pushing more tax cuts, including $1.57 billion in business tax breaks supposedly creating jobs—$900 million to companies that, according to the New York Times, have only promised to create 2,364 positions. That's $387,537 in tax credits per job, the Times noted. Why do we get the feeling that those jobs won't be $300,000-a-year positions?

And teachers, who Christie famously called "political thugs," are still on his hit list, though so far, his education agenda has been stalled. He's trying to get rid of teacher tenure, making it easier to fire teachers and cut down on state aid for public schools, as well as push charter schools.

One teacher, however, has taken her fight to another level—Marie Corfield, the teacher in the famous YouTube video sparring with Christie over his education policies, just won a Democratic primary for a state assembly seat. Should she win, she'll have a lot more opportunities to fight Christie's attacks on teachers. 

5. Rick Perry, Texas

Everyone knows where Rick Perry was for most of the last year, right? Failing in his attempt to capture the GOP presidential nomination. At least he provided us with some much-needed comic relief.

But a few things he got up to– when he wasn't making headlines with ridiculous statements – flew somewhat under the national media's radar.

While Virginia, and the pro-choice movement, exploded in outrage over a law that would have required women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before they could get an abortion, Texas' similar law, passed months earlier attracted almost no national attention.

That wasn't enough for Perry, though—he had to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood from the state's Medicaid Women's Health program. In response, his Facebook page was inundated with women asking Governor “Goodhair” for the medical advice they would no longer be able to receive at Planned Parenthood.

Not satisfied with cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, Perry demanded 10 percent budget cuts from state agencies—even though tax revenues are up $1.6 billion because of high energy prices and some economic improvement.

Last year, Perry slashed $4 billion from schools, and protests against continued education cuts are ongoing. A Texas schoolteacher told AlterNet that after budget cuts, more kids are being squeezed into classrooms: “Pre-K is up to 26 now that they can have in a classroom, it went up from 22. It's a different ratio for different grade levels. It's 30-something for high school, it's approaching 30 at the elementary level, which is ridiculous. It's ridiculous to be expected to teach that many little people.”

4. John Kasich, Ohio

Governor Kasich took a big hit when voters decisively overturned his signature piece of legislation, an anti-public-union bill even nastier than Scott Walker's, by 313,000 more votes than the governor himself had gotten the year before. And now there are investigations underway into whether he's misused his power to consolidate control over his state's Republican party.

But what else has Kasich been up to?

He also backed down on a contentious voter suppression law that would have narrowed early voting and made it harder for voters to get absentee ballots, signing a repeal of the law in an attempt to prevent it becoming a ballot measure that could drive progressive voters in November.

But Kasich's managed to sign several restrictive anti-abortion laws, including one that would ban abortion coverage by state healthcare plans that Obama's healthcare reform law requires. The insurance plans don't exist yet, but it was apparently very important to make sure they don't cover abortion—and the ACLU calls the move unconstitutional. Kasich also, last summer, signed a late-term abortion ban into law.

And he's looking forward to a new law that would allow fracking in Ohio—one that might be the nation's worst.EcoWatch said of the law, “SB 315 will allow health and safety loopholes. It requires the gas industry to pay less than almost any other state in the country, exposing our communities to the worst excesses of the fracking industry. Doctors will be prevented from talking openly about the sickness they see in their patients, and the gas industry will keep profits flowing out of our communities.”

3. Rick Snyder, Michigan

Rick Snyder may be facing his own recall election—or at least, a group of determined voters who'd like to challenge the Michigan governor. Perhaps that's why he's allowed a tiny increase in the state's education budget this year. But there's a catch: those budget increases are tied to performance.

Snyder is best known for his state's “emergency manager” law, which grants him the power to appoint a manager over towns he deems in need of an overhaul. Revamped under Snyder, the lawgives the managers unilateral authority to fire officials, close schools, void union contracts (an apparent violation of the Constitution's Contracts Clause), and hand schools over to private charter companies.

He's still defending the law—and almost brought it to bear on Detroit. (The city's public school system has been under emergency management for a while, but not the city itself.)

He also signed a “partial-birth abortion” ban (duplicating the federal ban already on the books) just in case he wasn't keeping up his anti-choice creds as well as his neighbors.

Finally, while taking credit for the state's rise in personal incomes, Snyder's hacked the Earned Income Tax Credit for poor families, a move that will cost them an average of $700 a year. At the same time, corporate income taxes will drop by 83 percent. “Unless we restore the EITC, Michigan will soon tax the working poor deeper into poverty, instead of helping families climb into the middle-class,” Karen Holcomb-Merrill, policy director of the Michigan League for Human Services, told the Oakland Press.

2. Scott Walker, Wisconsin

We know you're sick of hearing about Scott Walker. Yes, he won his recall election and gets to stay in power—though it appears he won't have the state senate to do his bidding anymore, if election results in Racine hold.

So we'll make this short and just remind you that Walker may be in the news a lot more soon, if the John Doe investigation that's been underway in Wisconsin for a while is actually targeting the governor. He's been siphoning campaign money into a legal defense fund for the past seven weeks.

Something tells us we haven't heard the last of this. Nor of the movement that rose up in resistance to Walker's anti-union bill in the first place.

1. Rick Scott, Florida

Governor Scott, who reigns over the state synonymous with voter suppression and rigged elections in the minds of many Americans, is doing his best to live up to Florida tradition.

AlterNet's Steven Rosenfeld explained:

Progressive voting rights groups and even county election supervisors from Scott’s own party are saying the businessman-turned-governor’s latest gambit—claiming there are as many as 182,000 non-citizens among the state’s 11.2 million registered voters and having his appointed Secretary of State send out an initial list of 2,600 names to be purged—has crossed a line in the Florida sand, topping previous voter suppression efforts, and may violate two federal voting right laws.

The Justice Department told Scott to stop purging voters, and several voters have been reinstated, but the GOP has no plans to actually give up its purge -- Steve Rosenfeld reports that Florida is making all sorts of bizarre accusations against DoJ officials who are simply trying to uphold the law.

And while many states and municipalities refuse to require that companies which receive tax subsidies pay a decent wage, Scott and his friends in the Florida state legislature have gone one better and actually inserted language into a tax-break package that would “require businesses that receive the tax credits to certify that they do not employ union workers.”

Democrats said the anti-union portion of the bill was unconstitutional; in reply, the bill's sponsor said, “Yeah, there may be a judge somewhere who disagrees about whether or not it’s constitutional. So you’re just going to let some judge who might call it on you later on stop you from helping Floridians in some way?” 

 

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @sarahljaffe.
 
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