LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republicans in the Midwest would like you to know something about the government shutdown that closed the national parks and put 800,000 workers on the street: They had nothing to do with it. Please don’t blame them.
That message spilled out of the offices of state legislators, and even governors, in public statements, tweets and interviews as politicians outside Washington scrambled to insulate themselves from the partisan turmoil that sent repercussions across the country.
No shutdowns here, they assured, in one state capital after another. We wouldn’t do that.
“Here in Lansing, we will continue to work hard on solutions to issues facing Michigan’s families,” declared Rep. Al Pscholka, a conservative Republican from southwestern Michigan.
Said Republican Gov. Rick Snyder about his way with budget problems: “We came in, did tax reform, balanced the budget, have done that several years successfully.”
In Missouri, Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey of Kansas City joked on Twitter that he couldn’t tweet because of the shutdown but added: “Oh, wait. We passed our budget, balanced & on time. Nevermind. As you were.”
The shutdown began Tuesday after a group of tea party Republicans in Congress made a last-ditch effort to block funding for President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul. Apparent to all, even in state capitals miles away, were the lessons of the shutdowns during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Many voters blamed Republicans and exacted retribution in the next election.
Should any partisan blame start flying now, state politicians, especially moderate Republicans in the Midwest, want cover.
In Michigan, Snyder, who fought tough battles over fiscal issues with Democrats in the GOP-controlled Legislature, made his state’s budget negotiating process sound like a high school civics class.
His advice to his federal counterparts: “Stop blaming, stop taking credit, get in a room, solve the problem and keep moving forward.”
Rep. Joe Haveman, another Republican from western Michigan, said his colleagues like budget agreements, not blocking them.
Lawmakers got a “budget approved four months early,” he said. “That’s the new normal in Lansing.”
But Michigan Democrats noted that Snyder and the Republicans also rammed a right-to-work measure through the Legislature with no compromise, prompting huge union protests at the Capitol.
Michigan’s aversion to shutdowns was heightened by two brief but embarrassing deadlocks in 2007 and 2009 that brought scorn down on both parties.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, was among those testifying to the virtues of compromise and conciliation. This after months of pitched battles with his Republican Legislature, in which he vetoed 29 bills and waged a cross-state public campaign to kill a GOP-approved tax cut.
While the federal government closes, he said, “We reach across the aisle to balance budgets, control spending and protect our AAA credit rating.”
Most polling immediately before the shutdown showed Republicans taking more heat from the public than Obama. No major polls have been released since workers were sent home Tuesday.
The potential for backlash is especially dangerous for Republicans in battleground states like Michigan where independents, not the tea party, decide elections. The GOP in several Midwestern states takes a less combative approach to interparty differences, in contrast to tea party bastions like Texas, home of anti-Obamacare leader Sen. Ted Cruz.
GOP leaders in the moderate states were eager to point that out.
“We run different than the federal government,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican. “We work to solve problems instead of fighting with each other. I don’t spend my time attacking the Democrats in the Legislature. In fact, we had a very successful session.”
Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and Colorado’s Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper sent a letter on the behalf of the National Governors Association warning Obama and congressional leaders of “severe” consequences from the shutdown or from failing to raise the federal debt ceiling this month.
“Sustainable economic growth requires certainty and predictability from all levels of government,” the letter said.
In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker brought union demonstrators pouring into the state Capitol two years ago when he pushed through tough budget cutting measures. But his largely like-minded, Republican-controlled Legislature has precluded many collisions these days.
This week he asserted that he’s not like the combatants in Washington.
“I think not just in Wisconsin, but in states across the country, there are a lot of governors and lawmakers from both parties who wish the folks in Washington in both parties would act more like the states and less like our nation’s capital,” Walker said.
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