A wave of Tea Party governors took office in 2010, propelled by “high unemployment, a demoralized Democratic base, an activist Tea Party, and, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision earlier that year, big bucks from oligarchs like the Koch brothers,” writes David Moberg in “Toppling the Tea Party,” In These Times’ June cover story.
This year, those governors are up for re-election, but this time they have records to defends. Below, read about the players and the odds in those races, as well as other 2014 gubernatorial contests that have high stakes for working people.
Rick Scott (R, Incumbent): The scandal-plagued Scott tried to privatize Medicaid by handing over the health program to HMOs and private healthcare companies, including one in which his wife had a $62 million stake. He’s also enacted laws that will make it more difficult for minorities to vote.
Charlie Crist (D): The former Republican governor of Florida criticized the party for its rightward shift and formally switched to the Democratic Party in 2012. As a governor, he vetoed teacher tenure and supported school vouchers, but he’s now attacking Scott for failing to push the Republican legislature to accept the Medicaid expansion.
The Polling: Scott 38%, Crist 46%
The Stakes: Already expensive and vitriolic, the race offers a good chance for a Democratic governor in the South.
Pat Quinn (D, Incumbent): A self-styled populist who took office after Rod Blagojevich’s fall, Quinn went on to alienate labor by cutting public employee pensions and to clash with powerful Illinois Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But he has also made some unpopular-but-necessary moves, such as raising income taxes to address the state’s fiscal crisis.
Bruce Rauner ®: A member of the 0.01%, investor Rauner wants to “run Illinois like a business” by cutting spending and privatizing government services such as education.
The Polling: No meaningful polls yet, but expected to be close.
The Stakes: Whatever faults Quinn has, Rauner’s are likely to be far worse.
Sam Brownback (R, Incumbent): A former senator and member of Congress, in his four years as governor Brownback has eliminated the state arts agency, cut taxes on the rich and raised them on the poor, passed one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws, and made recipients of welfare and unemployment benefits submit to drug testing.
Paul Davis (D): Davis, the minority leader of the Kansas House of Representatives, promotes his ability to forge bipartisan agreements. He has called the Brownback tax cuts “reckless,” suggesting he might reverse them if elected.
The Polling: Brownback 40%, Davis 42%
The Stakes: Brownback’s low voter approval rating creates an opening for Davis.
Paul LePage (R, Incumbent): The hot-headed Tea Partier has gotten bad press for his off-color remarks — such as reportedly saying that Obama “hates white people” — and his corporate cronyism.
Rep. Mike Michaud (D): A favorite of labor, Congressman Michaud is a longtime paperworkers union member and a 20-year veteran of the East Millinocket mill. He is one of the few openly gay members of Congress.
Eliot Cutler (I): Cutler, a lawyer, narrowly lost to LePage in 2010.
The Polling: LePage 35%, Michaud 39%, Cutler 16%
The Stakes: A chance to oust LePage, if Michaud and Cutler don’t split the Democratic vote.
Rick Snyder (R, Incumbent): Political newcomer Snyder has pushed through a “right-to-work” law, a tax on public employee pensions, restrictions on gay rights and women’s rights, and the shortest time limit on unemployment benefits in the U.S.
Mark Schauer (D): Schauer is a former U.S. representative and state legislator with strong labor support in his campaign against Snyder. He was pepper-sprayed by police while protesting the 2012 “right-to-work” law.
The Polling: Snyder 42%, Schauer 39%
The Stakes: Snyder’s continued cutbacks vs. Schauer’s plans to improve Michigan’s hard-hit economy.
John Kasich (R, Incumbent): During his 1983 to 2000 tenure as a U.S. representative, Kasich was a budget-cutting hawk and helped prompt the 1995 to 1996 government shutdown. He won the Ohio governorship in 2010, where he continued his efforts to slash public spending.
Ed FitzGerald (D): FitzGerald is a former FBI agent and currently serves as executive of Cuyahoga County. His platform is still sketchy, but he has put Kasich on the spot for failing to stop the closure of an aluminum plant, which cost Ohio 700 jobs.
The Polling: Kasich 43%, FitzGerald 38%
The Stakes: Kasich tried to gut public employee union rights and once promised to “break the back of organized labor in the schools.” If given another term, he might succeed.
Tom Corbett (R, Incumbent): Corbett’s 2012 budget proposal included education cuts so steep that his own party overrode him. He has been deemed one of the most vulnerable governors in the country, with little support from Democrats or Republicans.
Tom Wolf (D): Wolf, a businessman who wants to promote job growth, particularly in manufacturing, shot ahead in March polls after a big advertising blitz.
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D): Schwartz strongly supports affordable healthcare, abortion rights and Israel. She resigned as honorary co-chair of the centrist think tank Third Way after its leaders wrote an editorial lambasting populist Democrats.
The Polling: Corbett trails any potential Democratic nominee. Democratic voters poll 36% for Wolf, 9% for Schwartz, and 48% undecided.
The Stakes: This should be an easy Democratic pick-up.
8. SOUTH CAROLINA
Nikki R. Haley (R, Incumbent): The wealthy businesswoman has said that unionized companies aren’t welcome in South Carolina. She’s been criticized for a $127,000 taxpayer-funded junket and for allowing 4.5 million Social Security numbers to be stolen from the state’s unencrypted database.
Vincent Sheheen (D): As a state senator, Sheheen has led the effort to expand kindergarten to 4‑year-olds and is committed to closing corporate income tax loopholes.
The Polling: Haley 48%, Sheheen 39%
The Stakes: A long-shot opportunity to oust an anti-union governor.
Greg Abbott ®: If elected, Abbott, currently the state attorney general, says he would end Obamacare, rein in the EPA and enact stronger voter-ID laws.
Wendy Davis (D): Davis is a state senator who became famous in the summer of 2013 for an 11-hour filibuster to stop a bill restricting abortion access. She negotiated an increase in the cost-of-living for retired teachers and supports reducing the number of standardized tests.
The Polling: Abbott 51%, Davis 37%
The Stakes: Many view Davis as a rising star in progressive politics. While Texas is shifting leftward, thanks in part to its growing Latino population, it may not be changing quickly enough to embrace Davis.
Scott Walker (R, Incumbent): Elected in 2010, Scott Walker epitomizes the new wave of Republican governors enacting pitiless austerity measures. He’s gutted government, union rights and any remnants of social democracy in a state that was once moderately progressive.
Mary Burke (D): Despite her corporate roots as a Trek Bicycle exec, Burke has promised to raise wages, protect labor rights and improve education. But so far, she comes across more as a sensitive soul than a tribune of the people.
The Polling: Walker 49%, Burke 44%
The Stakes: Stopping the symbolic leader of the Republican assault on the industrial Midwest. Ending Walker’s presidential bid before it starts.
Want to know more about how labor and progressives are mobilizing voters in key 2014 governors’ races? Read David Moberg’s “Toppling the Tea Party.”