Looking forward – beyond November

June 18th, 2010

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This piece was originally published in Politico.

By: Gov. Jack Markell and Jim Kessler

From Nevada to South Carolina, from Kentucky to Maine, a new political reality is dawning. As establishment Republicans bend over backward to appeal to the most extreme tea-party-type elements of their base, they’ve upended last year’s conventional wisdom that an anti-Democratic fervor was beginning to sweep the nation.
It’s now clear that November could be brutal for all establishment candidates and incumbents — not just for Democrats.

In this environment, how can Democratic incumbents survive — and thrive?

Governors may have found the answer and are looking to reframe the 2010 midterms. They argue that the most important way to approach November is not as a left-right ideological argument or as an insider-vs.-outsider choice but, instead, to ask people to make a simple decision about our shared future: “Should we go forward with a plan or backward to the failed policies that launched this national recession?”

When moderate and independent voters head to the polls in November, Democratic governors want that question to frame their decision. If that is the choice voters face, they insist, Democrats will succeed.

At the root of that choice is a concept that dominates our core national character. We are a country that believes that brighter days are ahead. It is part of our collective DNA to strive for a better life for our children. That American optimism is what Democrats must speak to and the message we are delivering.

This is a country in which, at the ballot box, voters repeatedly choose the party that gives them real reason for optimism and shares their confidence in our ability to build a better future together.

As Democratic governors show voters this promise of a better future and offer real plans to harness our economic potential, we can again demonstrate to them that one party is looking to move America forward.

Behind this muscular and optimistic view of America are policy ideas that reward innovation, entrepreneurship and education. These ideas require pro-growth Democratic governors, who will settle for nothing less than a strong middle class and long-term economic strength and job growth.

We recently unveiled 100 policy ideas that we recommended to both incumbents and candidates — ideas like a property tax holiday for people who put others to work renovating a home or small business; a more affordable path to a college degree for people willing to forgo amenities of college life in favor of coursework; an initiative to help adults finish the college degree they did not complete when younger and a budget-neutral, jobs-producing plan to allow people to make their homes and businesses energy-efficient by financing renovations through their utility bills.

For Democratic governors, this is not only an effective frame for elections but also an accurate one. When campaign trappings and sleights of hand are stripped away, Republican governors and candidates are running on a platform of returning to the failed policies of former President George W. Bush. And we know — painfully — where that got us.

As America slowly emerges from near-economic ruin created by that administration, a new economic landscape is taking shape. It’s an economy of opportunity for those prepared to seize it. One party is focused forward, helping families who want to work prepare for that future. The other party is crowing over perceived failures and has its sights set squarely backward.

The truth is, since the Great Recession began, Democratic governors have shown the resilience necessary to pilot the ship of state through turbulent waters and to set a new course for our future.

We stood with middle-class families, fighting for unemployment insurance and help to retrain workers who lost their jobs and figuring out ways to help small businesses start hiring again.

Republicans are standing in the way of so many efforts that would help middle-class families survive and thrive.

To be sure, the tough economic challenges we face create challenges for all elected officials and candidates. Voters are understandably impatient, with too many parents still struggling to make ends meet. Our governors and candidates are putting the focus back where it belongs — on creating good jobs for the middle-class families who built this country.

It would be devastating to turn back to the ideas that created the Great Recession and brought on double-digit employment, took America from record surpluses to record deficits and cost Americans trillions of dollars in home and retirement wealth.

When we look behind us, we see the wreckage from the economic hurricane. But this hurricane was not an act of nature; it was an act of men and women who were in charge and chose the wrong course.

When we look ahead, we see clearing skies in the distance. We see green shoots emerging from the devastation. We see the seeds of growth and prosperity, as shown by five consecutive months of job growth.

But this recovery is not a natural phenomenon; it is the result of hard work, planning and vision.

Today, until Election Day, voters are faced with this choice: future or past, a new course forward or a worn path back to certain failure, prosperity or mediocrity.

That is the argument that Democratic governors across the country are making. If that is how this race is framed, 2010 could be a pleasant surprise for Democrats in state capitols — and in Congress.

Jack Markell is governor of Delaware and chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. Jim Kessler is vice president for policy at Third Way.