The conventional wisdom coming from the 2012 election was the Republican Party is in decline. We lost on messaging, tone and policies that alienated growing minority communities. What that narrative misses is that conservative principles and Republican leadership are thriving in the states, providing the way forward for the GOP.
There now are 30 Republican governors, the highest number in 13 years. In 26 states, Republicans hold a majority of the seats in both the House and Senate chambers.
As many in Washington seek to increase the tax and regulatory burden on businesses, Republican leaders in the states are competing to create business-friendly climates to grow jobs. They are balancing their budgets. They are transforming K-12 education to prepare a new generation of skilled and educated workers.
The Southeast is leading a renaissance in American manufacturing. Conservative, pro-growth policies are shifting the major growth corridors to the Great Plains, the Intermountain West, the Gulf states and the Southeastern industrial belt, according to a major new report for the Manhattan Institute by Joel Kotkin. Boeing Dreamliners now are built in South Carolina. Four of the top six states in Business Facilities’ annual rankings of Automotive Manufacturing Strength are Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. They are home to BMW, Honda, Volkswagen, Nissan, Toyota, Ford and Hyundai.
In December, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sasol Ltd., a South African chemical and synthetic fuels company, announced the single largest manufacturing investment in Louisiana history.
Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels used right-to-work legislation, tax reform and regulatory relief to create the fourth fastest private-sector job growth in the nation coming out of the recession. Understanding the need to keep up globally and with his Midwestern neighbors, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder boldly supported a right-to-work law last year that will make his state, the birthplace of organized labor, more competitive.
Texas has a job-creating juggernaut because of its business-friendly climate. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has challenged Gov. Rick Perry in a friendly jobs-race competition. The Florida unemployment rate has dropped below the national average, the housing market is rebounding and tax revenues are increasing without a tax increase.
Republicans are also balancing the demands of economic vitality and protecting natural resources. While New York continues a moratorium on fracking, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett supports it, boosting a natural gas industry that helps sustain 239,000 direct or indirect jobs.
The six states through which the Keystone XL pipeline would run not only want it, but so do two-thirds of all Americans, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Yet the White House hasn’t approved it, seemingly because of opposition from environmental groups.
Conservative states are creating a climate where entrepreneurs are welcome, people are getting back to work and schools are focusing on the needs of children instead of unions and bureaucracies. People are noticing. A new Pew Research survey shows just 28 percent of Americans rated the federal government positively compared to 57 percent for state government. Half the Democrats in Republican-controlled states were happy with their government.
Four of the most popular governors in the country – Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada – are from states that supported President Obama last year.
Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio made tough fiscal decisions and took on powerful public-employee unions, but their policies are paying off and their popularity is rising. Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma has made education reform a priority, supporting accountability for schools and teachers, higher academic standards, early literacy and school choice. According to a recent New York Times poll, she has the second-highest approval rating among governors up for reelection next year.
Across the country, many other GOP governors and state leaders are making student achievement the focus of education. They are passing and implementing sweeping reforms and allowing for new education innovations to be tried and scaled, including flipped classrooms and blended and online learning that is customized to the student.
The success of conservative principles is the best kept secret in American politics. Media outlets thrive on conflict, and sometimes we are all too willing to oblige. As Republicans, we must focus on a positive message about our success and our vision. Instead of spending all our time and resources saying why President Obama and the Democrats’ ideas are wrong for Americans, we must provide clearly articulated alternatives.
American greatness comes from the power of individuals – not the government – to create wealth and opportunity through competition, innovation and empowerment. Not only must we pursue reform, we must do a much better job communicating how these reforms protect and promote the genius of America.
Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999-2007.