It’s the governors, mind – Part I

22. October 2018, 12:29 Uhr

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It is a remarkable, recurring feature of American elections: House, Senate, and of course, Presidential races get all the attention when in fact, many of the day-to-day policies relevant for households and businesses are made elsewhere: In the governor mansions and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the state houses.

These midterms, at that, happen to be one of the most decisive elections in terms of these leading state offices, with far-ranging consequences for the interaction with and the implementation of much of President Trump’s agenda. Gubernatorial elections are up in a full 36 states this November, and even though many of these are foregone conclusions, just as many are real nail-biters this time around. So let’s delve into the individual races:


Florida: Just as neighbouring Georgia, Florida might bring about one of the greatest upheavals in modern American political history: The election of an African-American as governor in a state of the Deep South. In the Sunshine State, that would be Andrew Gillum (D), the mayor of the state capital, Tallahassee. His Republican opponent Ron DeSantis is one the state’s current US Representatives, has served in the Navy and is a lawyer by training; apart from the two leading candidates, there’s an unusually crowded field of another five candidates running for governor. Gillum is a ‘veteran’ of local politics (if that can be said with regard to his young age), having served a total of fifteen years first in Tallahassee’s city council and, since 2014, as its mayor. He is a proponent of a $15 minimum wage (double the national rate) and focusses on progressive social policies in general, whereas DeSantis is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump. While Gillum wants to increase corporate taxes to fund additional spending on the state’s educational system, DeSantis aims to keep taxes low and cut regulation. In terms of economic policy, he certainly is the less interventionist of the two, though his demonstrative linking to Donald Trump might yet prove to be deleterious: Just as the President, the Republican Congressman has vowed to move against immigration which is a traditional minefield in Florida. Should he become too single-minded concerning this policy area, it might prove to be detrimental to business due to the fallout from cracking down on economically helpful immigration too hard. Gillum, by contrast, seems leaning a bit too hard on state interventionism for business comfort, so that both leading candidates have their negatives from a business point of view. The election of the Democrat, however, might serve better to heal the open wounds in multi-racial Floridian society after years of rather divisive figures in state politics (with the exception of former governor Jeb Bush). In that case, however, he would be confronted by a state legislature controlled by the Republicans which is completely unlikely to flip in this election cycle.


Georgia: Georgia is indeed on everybody’s mind these midterms – well, of the political pundits, at least. One of the core states of the Deep South and the old Confederacy (and yes, that still counts today – everybody familiar with the South knows that all too well), the home state of former President Jimmy Carter might be about to spring a sensation: The Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams stays an excellent chance to become the state’s (as well as the South’s) first female African-American governor ever (perhaps in a tie as far as the latter criterion is concerned, should her brother-in-arms in neighbouring Florida, Andrew Gillum be elected, too). Running against her is Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who managed to win his primary in the run-off only after having been defeated in the first round, though. As a third-party candidate, Libertarian Ted Metz might very well tip the balance eventually. Abrams is a venerable war-horse of state politics, long-time member of Georgia House of Representatives and Minority Leader of six years, while Kemp served in the state’s Senate and, since 2010, as Secretary of State; Abrams is a lawyer by training, while Kemp graduated in agriculture. The Republican is a small business owner (Kemp Properties), too, and vows to implement his related experience in shrinking the size of the government and reducing regulation; in general, however, he appears very much focussed on social policies such as law and order (in this, he resembles his Republican ‘running mate’ down south in Florida). Abrams aims to spread the metropolitan, liberal attitude of the state’s capital, Atlanta, to the rest of an otherwise very rural state, which might prove to be most helpful to international businesses planning to invest in Georgia. Abrams would be facing a Republican-controlled legislature, though, which almost certainly will not flip to the Democrats. Her open-minded approach to the state’s outlook and openness to the world provides a refreshing contrast to the somewhat introverted “Georgia First” perspective Kemp has adopted in mimicry of President Donald Trump.


Illinois: The cradle of Abraham Lincoln’s political life has been enjoying the doubtful fame of sporting one the most corrupt state governments in the whole country. Infamous party machines created and oiled in Chicago, which on its own used to be governed by the Daley clan for decades on end, took root in Springfield, the state’s capital, too – and the incumbent in the governor’s mansion, Republican Bruce Rauner has failed to sufficiently disentangle himself from this mess, which was mirrored in the primaries where he only barely managed to be re-nominated. Also, he has slashed spending on higher education and public transport as well as infringed unionisation of state employees so that he, just like his party colleague in neighbouring Wisconsin (see below) has become a highly divisive, controversial figure; the state economy’s record under his tenure is dismal, too. Consequently, his bid for re-election is one of the most probable, relevant pick-ups for the Democrats, if the polls are correct: J.B. Pritzker is a hugely successful venture capitalist and human rights lawyer, boasting to help those left behind while simultaneously improving the conditions for start-ups in the state. His election over Rauner, hence, superficially should not make much difference for business, but ought to turn out helpful in the longer run by making the state’s policies more calculable. To his favour, the state’s legislature is controlled by the Democrats already, so that he could implement his policies far easier than Rauner.


Iowa: Kim Reynolds is the Republican incumbent in the Hawkeye State, running for election for a full term after having succeeded former governor Terry Branstad in 2017. Reynolds is of humble working class origins (her main selling point) and aims to double down on her started work on improving STEM education and protecting trade relations with foreign countries amidst the Sino-American trade war. Democratic businessman Fred Hubbell, by contrast, wants to add spending for healthcare and education, and explicitly states his intention to pay for that by slashing subsidies and tax breaks for corporations. From a business point of view, it is all but impossible to differentiate between the two: While Reynolds seems the more down-to-earth candidate with an already impressive record for her short time in office, Hubbell’s private enterprise credentials make him more likely to balance education and healthcare spending needs with sensible fiscal policies. So it’s just as well that the race is a genuine toss-up. In any case, both candidates would be likely having to work with a Republican-controlled state house which is unlikely to change sides.


Kansas: This is rare three-horse race with Laura Kelly (D), Kris Kobach (R) and Greg Orman running as an independent. Kelly was born into a military family and continuously moved place in her childhood, often overseas. She is dead set against former governor Brownback’s tax cuts and vows to rescind them in favour of increased education spending, whereas the former law teacher and clerk Kris Kobach is an outspoken immigration hawk with some kind of a tumultuous personal history related to the topic. Aiming to maintain a low tax rate, his emphasis in the primary was on immigrants’ and voters’ registration, handing him an extremely narrow victory over the state’s lieutenant governor. Independent Greg Orman, who already (and unsuccessfully) attempted to unseat the Republican Pat Roberts in the 2014 Senate election, presents himself as the alternative to partisan politics, referring to his credentials as a highly successful, self-made businessman and entrepreneur. From a business point of view, Orman’s  election ought to be favourable, with Kobach’s much less certainly so, and as opposed to Kelly’s undoubtedly more interventionist leanings even if often in favour of sensible policies. By contrast to many other observers, we think that Orman’s running is more a problem for Kobach than Kelly, simply because Orman is the less controversial candidate for business-minded voters while Kelly’s base is a completely different one. Orman, though, would be having to co-operate with a deeply conservative state legislature certain not to change.


Alright, that’s the first instalment of our coverage of the elections for governor this November. Next Monday, we will publish the second part right here – stay tuned.