PORTLAND, Maine — (AP) — Deep political divisions between states on abortion, gun rights and other issues overshadow a meeting this week of the nation’s governors, who still hope to find common ground in a polarized climate.
The National Governors Association kicks off its summer meeting Thursday, the first time the group has met in person since 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic began. The session in Maine follows recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that widened the divide between red and blue states, overturning Roe v. Wade and rolling back gun restrictions in New York.
Association leaders say there is still room for bipartisanship, at least on other issues.
“The National Governors Association is the last real bipartisan group getting things done,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who is finishing his one-year term as president of the association, said in an interview. .
Hutchinson hands over the reins of the group to Democratic Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who will be the next president. The two governors announced last month that the association was forming a bipartisan task force to make recommendations on preventing mass shootings, following the massacre at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers.
The task force was announced ahead of congressional passage and President Joe Biden signed a sweeping bipartisan measure against gun violence that includes billions of dollars in new funding for mental health and school safety. The task force is made up of eight governors, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Hutchinson said he sees the group helping guide the implementation of this law at the state level.
“What I see this task force doing is being able to help shape the grant program rules for states to make sure we have the flexibility, that mental health and other resources have least conditions,” he said.
He said he also sees the group providing information on school safety best practices and the red flag laws that some states have enacted that make it easier for authorities to take guns from people considered dangerous.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who is on the task force, said while she is grateful for Washington’s action, she thinks more can be done in the states on a bipartisan basis.
“It’s not about protecting one political ideology or another,” Whitmer said. “It’s about making our communities safer, making our cities safer, making our classrooms safer.”
Another member of the task force, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah, also sought common ground on the gun control debate. He acknowledged that any changes to gun policy would be controversial in his state, but encourages politicians to listen to proposals from all political walks of life, including school safety funding, councilors, school buyouts, and more. weapons and laws on the red flag.
“I’ve asked everyone to be open to all conversations,” Cox, the association’s new vice president, said at a news conference last month.
Hutchinson said he doesn’t see the governors association addressing abortion after Roe’s overthrow. This ruling pitted states against each other, with “triggering” bans taking effect almost immediately in a number of states after the ruling.
Republicans in some states are looking for ways to prevent women from going out of state to get abortions, measures that could include prosecuting abortion providers. In response, some Democratic governors signed measures barring their state’s law enforcement agencies from enforcing other states’ abortion bans. That includes Democratic Governor Janet Mills, whose state is hosting the meeting.
When she signed an executive order last week, Mills said she would “oppose any effort to undermine, roll back, or outright eliminate the right to safe and legal abortion in Maine.”
Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California even ran an ad campaign in Florida criticizing that state’s Republican leaders.
The partisanship was underscored on the eve of the rally as New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu campaigned alongside fellow Republican Paul LePage, a former Maine governor who hopes to unseat Mills.
Nonetheless, Hutchinson said the group has been able to work together on other issues, being a voice for states during the COVID-19 pandemic and during negotiations on the bipartisan infrastructure package. The group meeting this week will include discussions on economic recovery and youth mental health. It will also highlight computer education in schools, which has been a priority for Hutchinson.
“We have to find solutions. We have no other option. We have to lead,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson’s chairmanship of the group has raised his national profile as he plans to run for president in 2024. The two-term governor, who leaves office in January, has criticized former President Donald Trump and urged his fellow Republicans to pass in the 2020 election.
Murphy takes the presidency after narrowly winning re-election as governor last year. An unabashedly progressive, he recently signed legislation making abortion rights into law and a new set of gun control bills.
Murphy, who will also become president of the Democratic Governors Association next year, warned his party to learn from his narrow re-election victory last year, an off-year election cycle when Democrats lost the race. for governor in Virginia.
“I think we need to talk about affordability, opportunity, that the American dream is still very much alive,” Murphy said after signing his state’s record $50.6 billion budget last month.
DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press writer Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan; Mike Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey; Sam Metz in Salt Lake City; and Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.
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