6 Extreme Republican Governors Fighting For Their Political Lives This Fall

Election '16

As early voting has begun for 2014’s fall election, some of the nation’s most heavy-handed Republican governors are on the verge of being ousted—if voters turn out—as they now are running neck-and-neck in the swarm of recent polls cited by leading Beltway analysts.

“So many sitting governors are fighting for their political lives on Nov. 4,” said Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which noted that a handful of Democratic incumbents—such as Colorado’s John Hickenlooper and Connecticut’s Dannel Malloy—are also in races that are too close to call.

So far, it seems that only Pennsylvania’s anti-teacher, pro-fracking incumbent governor, Republican Tom Corbett, is heading toward certain defeat, as Democrat Tom Wolf has a 7-to-17 point advantage in polls. The other endangered Republican governors include some of the GOP’s most infamous leaders—Florida’s Rick Scott, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Kansas’ Sam Brownback, Georgia’s Nathan Deal and Maine’s Paul LePage.

These Republicans are known for anti-government ideologies, corporate giveaways and aversion to helping their state’s middle- and working classes. They have cut corporate taxes, tried to break up public employee unions, defunded public schools, refused to expand Medicaid for the poor under Obamacare, loosened gun laws and tried to strip voting rights. Many have used their office to reward allies and bully opponents.

Let’s look at the six endangered Republicans who may be ousted this fall.

1. Florida’s Tea Party Republican Rick Scott. Florida under Scott has not been a state of warm sunshine. Joblessness, foreclosures, crimes preying on the elderly, economic inequality have all risen. Scott also has overseen cuts in needed programs, from education to social welfare. Scott made his fortune as the head of a hospital chain that was fined $1.7 billion in the late 1990s for Medicare fraud— as Politifact Florida put it, stealing from the elderly. His re-election strategy is based on spreading fears about Obamacare and trashing the health reform. Like most ideological Republicans, he did not expand his state’s public healthcare for the poor—Medicaid—under the Affordable Care Act, despite federal funding covering the startup costs.

Scott’s Democratic opponent is former moderate Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who switched parties and has attacked Scott for putting profits ahead of people—in the private sector and as governor. Scott favored tax cuts, but raised taxes when economic growth faltered, Crist said. He tried to purge voter rolls of hundreds of thousands of non-white voters, but backed down under U.S. Department of Justice pressure. “It’s kind of a pattern. It’s fraud,” Crist said in May. “That’s what he does.”

Most recently, Scott dissembled in a high-profile debate with Crist, complaining about a fan that Crist had placed on stage before answering questions. That episode was widely ridiculed in the state’s press, which reminded voters that Scott is often driven by quirky inexplicable values. According to RealClearPolitics, Crist is slightly ahead or tied in recent polls.     

2. Wisconsin’s Union-Buster Scott Walker. Two years ago, Walker became the darling of the GOP’s union-busting wing by ripping up collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions—teachers and civil servants, but not police and fire fighters. That prompted tens of thousands of people to protest for weeks at the Capitol in Madison and sparked a recall election. However, Walker won after Democrats put forth the same lackluster gubernatorial candidate who lost to him in 2010.

Walker’s tough-on-crime policies also have been singled out as racially discriminatory, leading to the country’s highest rate of African-American men behind bars, the New Republic reported. He also refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. This year, he faces Democrat Mary Burke, an ex-Trek Bicycle executive and ex-state secretary of commerce. She has a record of creating jobs, while under Walker the state has seen poor job growth compared to its neighbors. Walker also is emeshed in corruption scandal for being at the center of an “criminal scheme,” as prosecutors—including Republicans—recently put it, for funneling $20 million from a who’s who of right wingers to front groups during the recall.

Right now, Walker and Burke are tied in polls or within the margin or error, which means their race will depend on voter turnout. While Walker and fellow partisans have tried to make it harder for eligible voters to cast ballots—by passing tougher state voter ID requirements—on Monday, Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he would not be going back to court to try to implement those stricter standards for the rest of this fall’s election. That means fewer obstacles for eligible voters.

3. Kansas Pro-Business Libertarian Sam Brownback. Pundits considered Kansas to be an irrevocably red state, but that was until Kansans saw what Gov. Sam Brownback, the former U.S. senator, has done as governor. Brownback ran on a platform that embraced the conservative fantasy that cutting corporate taxes would create so much growth that state revenues would explode and cover public programs. Brownback’s plan, adopted after taking office, has spectacularly imploded and created what’s projected to become a $1.3 billion budget deficit within five years. Tax revenues have fallen by 10 percent, leading to cuts in teacher salaries, larger classrooms, draining the state’s rainy day fund, and lowering its bond rating.

Brownback also is under investigation by the FBI for “whether members of his inner political circle tried to pressure companies to hire certain lobbyists close to Brownback’s administration,” the AP reported. He faces House Minority Leader, Democrat Paul Davis, who has made the state’s fiscal crisis and education cuts the top issue in his campaign. Davis messaging has called for “leadership, not experiments.” Recent polls find Davis and Brownback are running neck and neck, leading analysts to say it’s still a toss-up.   

4. Pennsylvania’s Anti-Teacher, Pro-Fracking Tom Corbett. It seems that Pennsylvania voters have come to their sense after seeing what a governor who was elected in 2010’s Tea Party wave has wrought. Corbett, a former state attorney general, ran as an anti-tax crusader and then proceeded to gut basic public services while pandering to private interests—especially the natural gas fracking industry. Upon taking office, he faced a $4 billion deficit. Corbett’s response was to not raise taxes but to cut thousands of teacher jobs and social services for the poor. A year later, he pushed Act 13, perhaps the nation’s worst new environmental law, through the GOP-led Legislature. It gave the industry unchecked authority to drill anywhere, overturn local zoning, seize private property and muzzle physicians from discussing fracking-related illnesses in patients.

Corbett also presided over a GOP-led voting rights crisis, where the Legislature imposed a tougher voter ID requirement but then the state could not provide required new IDs to thousands of legal voters before 2012’s fall election. He also refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, but “presided over corporate tax cuts of $1.2 billion,” The New York Timesreported. This past spring, Democats chose businessman and ex-state revenue secretary, Tom Wolf, as their nominee. He has hit Corbett for firing 20,000 teachers, the state’s current $1.4 billion deficit despite tax cuts, and portrayed him as a cold-hearted, out-of-touch governor. Wolf is ahead in every recent poll, with margins of 7-to-17 percent.

5. Georgia’s Ethically Challenged Nathan Deal. Before Deal ran for governor and won in 2010, he was the rare congressman whose conflicts of interest were so brazen that the action-averse House Ethics Committee was poised to officially sanction him. He resigned from the House as that action was pending and ran for governor in Georgia, where he was accused of campaign violations and in 2012 settled those charges. Deal is another GOP governor who rejected expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, preventing 650,000 low-income Georgians from getting health insurance. He also signed what has been called the worst pro-gun bill in the U.S. adopted after 2012’s Sandy Hook School massacre. It allows guns in bars, nightclubs, schools, churches and government buildings. 

State Sen. Jason Carter, a lawyer and grandson of ex-Georgia governor and President Jimmy Carter, is challenging Deal. Carter is running on “education, ethics, and the economy,” and also promising to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Deal is tied or slightly ahead of Carter in the most recent half-dozen polls, according to RealClearPolitics. One wrinkle in this and other statewide races in Georgia is Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp has been accused of not processing upwards of 40,000 voter registration forms turned in by an activist group aligned with Democrats. Kemp denies those charges, however, as that fight unfolds in court it is of a magnitude that could impact the election’s outcome.  

6. Maine's Tea Partier Paul LePage. Maine has a history of electing political mavericks—candidates who relish being outside the mainstream. But LePage’s election amid the Tea Party’s 2010 wave resulted in what some pundits say has been the worst governor in the nation. Beyond following the same anti-Obama playbook of right-wing peers, LePage is been cited by watchdog groups like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as uniquely abrasive and corrupt. He appointed lobbyists to top state posts, where they have pushed anti-regulatory agendas. He ordered a mural celebrating the Labor Movement removed from a state office building and then bullied state labor department for approving too many unemployment insurance claims. He’s known for his rough style and set a record for vetoing bills, including 15 in one day.

LePage is in a three-way race for governor that includes Eliot Cutler, who almost won in 2010, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud. Recent polls have found Michaud and LePage in a dead heat, although earlier press reports quoted likely voters who said they were waiting to see who could beat LePage in the fall—Michaud or Cutler. “I think he’s shown a lot of disrespect for the office and for the people of Maine,” businessman Matthew Howe said. “He’s really become an embarrassment.”

Voting Matters

Howe’s sentiments apply to how many voters—not just Democrats—feel about these six Republicans, all of whom—except Corbett—are in tightening races. While cynics will say that voting doesn’t matter, in a lower-turnout midterm election, exactly the opposite is true. These Republicans stand a good chance of being ousted if voters are engaged and turnout.

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