POLITICO

States Share Obama's Economic Vision

Yesterday, POLITICO posted my opinion piece and word cloud about the State of the Union. It illustrates, perhaps better than any written commentary, President Barack Obama’s economic vision for the nation and a roadmap for getting there.

But I realize that the president’s vision is not just about Washington. States matter, given their central role in enhancing the assets that drive economies —innovation, infrastructure and education. So here’s a “gubernatorial state of the states” — a word cloud of the inaugural addresses of the 37 new or re-elected governors, and the 17 State of the State addresses delivered by this group to date.

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Some differences stand out, particularly given the governors’ obligation to balancing their state budgets. But what’s striking are the similarities. Both the president and the governors are focused on the “economy,” “businesses,” “jobs,” “education” and “economic” progress. These leaders are reaching out to an American public deeply frustrated with the pace of economic recovery and increasingly concerned about America’s economic position in the world.

The governors differ in their approaches to job creation and economic competitiveness. Some clearly understand the importance of targeted investment to their states’ economic future. Michigan’s Rick Snyder, for example, talked about the importance of exports to the economy of the state, given its historic manufacturing strengths. He called for a big new infrastructure project – a bridge from Canada to Detroit — to speed the flow of goods to the state’s (and the nation’s) biggest trading partner.

In New York and Colorado, Andrew Cuomo and John Hickenlooper, respectively, have proposed tailoring state economic investments to the distinctive assets of several major cities and metropolitan areas that drive state economies.

The president may want to look to these governors as essential partners in creating a new economic growth agenda for nation. Governors are on the hook for job creation in tangible ways. They administer many of the investments that the president describes (think infrastructure). They interact routinely with public and private institutions (think universities, large companies) that deliver critical parts of the agenda (think education or advanced research and development). They need to cultivate a tendency toward pragmatism and policy experimentation.

The reality is while political polarization in Washington defines the economic debate, the president might be better served to recognize that the governors may be the allies he can work with to get things done.

In the end, the most important audience for the State of the Union may not have been in the U.S. Capitol but in state capitols.