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With Washington mired in partisan gridlock, can state leaders push forward?

February 21, 2014 at 6:16 PM EST
In comparison to the dysfunction of Congress, how productive are state leaders, and how willing are they to work across party lines? With the nation’s governors gathering in Washington for their annual meeting, Democrat Pat Quinn of Illinois and Republican Bill Haslam of Tennessee join Judy Woodruff to discuss the minimum wage, organized labor, education and other agenda priorities.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The nation’s governors have gathered in Washington this week for their winter meeting. And with action in the nation’s capital stymied by partisan gridlock, many are looking to the states for solutions to the country’s challenges.

For a sample of what’s happening, we are joined by two governors, Tennessee Republican Bill Haslam and Illinois Democrat Pat Quinn.

Governors, welcome to you both.

GOV. BILL HASLAM, R-Tenn.: Thanks for having us.

GOV. PAT QUINN, D-Ill.: Great to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, I think, as I just suggested in the introduction, people think, well, with all the polarization in Washington, in the states, things must be a lot less polarized. And yet I was reading a story in The Washington Post which suggests that really what’s happened in the states is kind of what has happened here in Washington, the governor in red states go in one direction, governors in blue states going in another.

How do you see it, Governor Quinn?

GOV. PAT QUINN: Well, I hope not.

When I first became governor five years ago, there was really a pragmatic approach of governors, whatever party, to solve problems, whether it’s building roads or doing early childhood education. Those are fundamental things that I think everybody understands. And I sure hope we keep going, don’t you think, Bill?

GOV. BILL HASLAM: Well, I think what governors have in common is, we’re forced to solve problems.

In Washington, you can put them off. Governors have to balance their budgets every year, so we have to make some hard decisions. We have to provide real everyday services to people with mental health issues or running prisons or building roads. We live in a much more practical world than probably Washington does.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s talk about some of the areas where you can either work together or not. For example, President Obama is urging the governors to either work at the federal level or the state level to raise the minimum wage.

And I know, Governor Quinn, this is something that’s important to you to get it up from $8.25 to $10.10 an hour. How do you see that issue?

And, Governor Haslam, how do you see it?

GOV. PAT QUINN: Sure.

GOV. PAT QUINN: I’m fired up, ready to go.

We have a minimum wage right now of $8.25, which is higher than the federal by $1. And we want to get it over $10. I was with the president this morning. And I think he looks forward to working with states around the country to get this done, even if Congress doesn’t act, because there’s a principle as old as the Bible.

If you work 40 hours a week, if you’re a mom or dad raising kids, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty. And I think this is a value issue. And I think some of the Republican governors need to take another look at this issue, because we really should raise the minimum wage. It’s a fundamental issue for everyday people.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: Well, if you look, the Congressional Budget Office come out and said, if you do that, you’re going to lose 500,000 jobs. So, you always have to look at the consequences of an action like that.

Will this make a dramatic difference in the income inequality issue that we’re talking about? I think it will make some, but I think there’s a lot of other issues that will make more difference. And I think the president’s focus on education, I think long term, will make more difference. I think that’s what you’re seeing out of a lot governors is saying, hey, what we really need to do address income equality is address work force preparation.

GOV. PAT QUINN: Well, we’re doing that too. We invest in early childhood education, making sure we — our community colleges are up to getting our work training going.

But when they talk about the minimum wage, this is fundamental values issues. It’s as old, I think — and Francis Pope Francis talked about it. Are we going to have a society of inclusion, where hardworking people raising children, moms and dads, get a fair shot?  They’re working hard jobs.

And I really feel that this is an issue that’s going to be in our country all through this year. And our president’s going to make sure everybody understands it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you see it having a chance in your state?

GOV. BILL HASLAM: I don’t think there’s a big movement to change the minimum wage in Tennessee.

I think, again, if you look at who is actually on the minimum wage, I’m not certain that those are the families that the president’s talking about addressing. I do think there’s a lot — there’s an issue to address. Income inequality is a fair issue. It’s the right one. I’m just not sure that’s the one that is going to make that big a difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, in that connection, Governor Haslam, you were one of the folks in Tennessee who was arguing very much against the United Auto Workers, UAW, having the right to organize workers at a Volkswagen plant.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: Right. Right. Right. Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That vote didn’t succeed for the union.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does this really say that organized labor just is not going to have a foothold anywhere in the South, despite the lower wages?

GOV. BILL HASLAM: No, absolutely not. Organized labor has been there.

I think the workers — remember, the workers actually at the end of the day got to vote on that. And they had to decide was the valuable proposition there for them or not. Volkswagen is providing great jobs with great opportunities. We thought it was important to be a part of that discussion because the state is a big investor.

When Volkswagen came, we put together an incentive package for them. And they’re looking at expanding and they’re saying they want to keep their costs down, and so it’s an important piece to us as well.

GOV. PAT QUINN: I think that was just plain wrong.

I like Bill. He’s a nice fellow. But that was wrong for a governor to interfere with a union election. We have Ford, Chrysler and Mitsubishi which is organized by the United Auto Workers. All three of those companies, they have grown enormously since I have been governor. We have three shifts at Ford, 4,700 workers at Chrysler. Mitsubishi has a new product line.

But for a governor to interfere with a union election, just plain wrong. I don’t think you were doing the right thing.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: Obviously, what is — the state is an interested player.

The other thing is Volkswagen came to us. They were looking at expanding and building an SUV line. They said two things. We need you to shrink the cost gap on what it costs to build a car. And number two, we want to attract a network of suppliers closer. Neither — and then neither of those will be easier if the UAW comes.

Suppliers everywhere had said, we’re interested in coming, but if UAW it comes, flat out we are going to be a lot less interested.

GOV. PAT QUINN: Well, our state, I have Ford and I have Chrysler and I have Mitsubishi. And all of them and their suppliers want to have the workers organized.

They like to work with people who get a fair wage and decent benefits. And I really think this is a value difference again, whether it’s the minimum wage or the right to organize a union. These are fundamental American issues.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: And so, fundamentally, we let the workers vote and they voted for…

GOV. PAT QUINN: Yes, but you interfered with the election. That wasn’t right.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: So did the president. The president tried to interfere as well. So…

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, well, let’s move on to another area where I don’t know if there’s agreement. And that is on Medicaid expansion.

And we know that — we know there’s a lot of dispute in the country still right now about the new health care law. But when it comes to expanding Medicaid, which was offered to the states, it’s something that Illinois is interested in, something Tennessee, you’re still trying to figure out what you’re going to do.

What is your thinking about that, Governor?

GOV. BILL HASLAM: We’re trying to work a better way.

We think more people being covered is the right idea, but we think expanding a system that was designed years ago and which I don’t think anybody would argue works the right way is the right approach to do it. Tennessee has a history of managed care. We were one of the very first states with a program called TennCare 20-plus years ago to institute managed care.

My predecessor, Governor Bredesen, who is a Democrat, saw that it was getting to be too big of a piece of the budget. It was taking up about 35 percent of our overall budget. Had to cut the rolls. And so before we move those — we expand that back, we want to make certain we have a system that is focused on better outcomes for everyone.

GOV. PAT QUINN: We expanded health care.

Over a quarter-million people today in Illinois have health coverage that didn’t have it a year ago. And we took the opportunity to get federal resources to expand our Medicaid program, our health coverage for hardworking people. These are folks who work and do important jobs. They ought to have health coverage.

I actually walked across our state from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan on behalf of decent health care for everyone. And for Tennessee or Indiana or Wisconsin to turn down an opportunity to give people more health care is just plain wrong. And I think that is something we have got to keep an eye on.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: End of the day, states have to be focused on outcomes. And we want a Medicaid program that does focus on outcomes.

We also want a Medicaid program that doesn’t squeeze everything out of — else out of our budget, whether it be higher education, forcing higher tuition or mental health services or anything else.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me — in the final minute, let me ask you two, what are some issues that you think Republicans and Democrats can agree on out there in the country? We’re hearing about some things where you see differently.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: I think — I mean, for instance, like, we have worked with the White House very closely on some education initiatives.

They have said, hey — the White House has led the way on saying, we want to tie…

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re talking about early childhood or…

GOV. BILL HASLAM: No, I think just basically K-12. Secretary Duncan and I have worked together very closely on improving outcomes for students. So there are some real ways we’re working together.

GOV. PAT QUINN: Oh, I think early childhood education is a key part of it.

Our state is involved in that and we want to work with every governor, Republican or Democrat, on making sure that children from birth to 5 get a great, healthy start, an educated start. And that’s something everybody can work on, and I think we should really put our shoulder to the wheel.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: Well, we were pleased this year that Tennessee was named the fastest-improving state when it came to education results. And so I think the efforts that we are putting together are making a difference in terms of preparing people for the work force, which I think is maybe our greatest role.

GOV. PAT QUINN: And then maybe you can raise the minimum wage when you do that? What do you think?

GOV. BILL HASLAM: We’re hoping these folks all get good jobs, where that’s not even an issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, on balance, are the two of you more together or not?  What do say, in a word?

GOV. PAT QUINN: I think there are some policy differences.

(LAUGHTER)

GOV. PAT QUINN: We can all get along personally. You have got to be civil and all that. But I think philosophy-wise, we have got to make sure we invest in people and go forward.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: I think the great thing is Jefferson’s quote about states being the laboratories of democracy really are true.

And you can see the states that have done things to serve their citizens well, to attract jobs and to make the kind of place where people want to live. At the end of the day, that’s the neat thing about states. We’re going to — Illinois is going to take one approach. Tennessee is going to take another. We will see how all that plays out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Haslam, Governor Quinn, we thank you.

GOV. BILL HASLAM: Thank you.

 

GOV. PAT QUINN: Thank you.