In many places, a widening gap is recasting the role of governors. Well into the 1990s, state executives considered themselves more pragmatic than members of Congress; they regularly shared ideas across party lines and often sought to emerge nationally by bridging ideological disputes. Some of that tradition endures. But now, governors are operating mostly along parallel, and partisan, tracks. On each side, they are increasingly pursuing programs that reflect their party’s national agenda—and enlisting with their party on national disputes such as health care reform. “Everything has been infected with the national political debate,” says Bruce Babbitt, who served as Arizona’s centrist Democratic governor for two terms and later as President Clinton’s Interior secretary. “And it’s really destructive.” Tommy Thompson, who launched a flotilla of innovations emulated by governors in both parties during his four terms as Wisconsin’s Republican chief executive, agrees. “Anyone who looks at this in an impartial way has to say we have become a more partisan nation,” he says. “I think we have [become] much more doctrinaire with our philosophies and much more locked into our positions.”
In this week's National Journalcover story, Ronald Brownstein and Stephanie Czekalinski discuss the growth of partisanship in the states. In the video above, go behind the story with Ronald Brownstein himself.