‘We need aggressive healing’: How governors are leading divided states

Working with Washington

Trump told governors that they should take control of the pandemic in their states. Early on he left state leaders in charge of securing testing supplies and personal protective equipment, but also didn’t dictate which orders they should implement to control the virus. How should the Biden administration work with states to combat Covid? Should he let state leaders decide what’s best for their states or take a more national approach?

Whitmer: First and foremost, a strategy around consistent and accurate information dissemination would go a long way. Second, the resources to continue our Covid response, as well as building up the administration of vaccines, that’s going to be crucial. I know we are all being lobbied about prioritization within vaccine groupings in terms of who’s eligible and who gets it and what tranche. The fact of the matter is, a lot of that is going to be determined at the federal level. There will be some discretion for the states, and I think that’s OK.

For the state to have some discretion is important. States need to really own a lot of the messaging to different populations. Every state’s different. When I’m talking to people in Dearborn, Mich., a very Arabic community, versus talking to the Upper Peninsula, talking to Detroiters, there are different communities that make up these different geographies. Those unique challenges are going to need to be met at the local level. However, the resources to meet them are going to have to be a part of the federal strategy.

Cooper: We need a better coordinated federal strategy. Operation Warp Speed was well devised and it has held a lot of promise. But we’ve been lacking in most other things from a federal strategy. It has been difficult because this president has taken the position that at times he’s been interested in it, but at other times that we really don’t need to worry about it and actually arguing that people should protest and disobey executive orders that governors have put in place across the country.

A new president might be able to do a favor to some governors by taking some of the political pressure off of them to say we are going to have a national mask mandate. It would be a big help if we had a president that said you should wear a mask, social distance, stay six feet apart, and you should try to wash your hands. If we can have our leaders who are talking about the basic things that really don’t cost anything, that really don’t cause any economic harm, but actually, in fact, help the economy, just that central core messaging, that this is something serious, even if you don’t give us another dollar and we need lots of dollars.

Redistricting by commission

Michigan will rely on an independent commission to draw congressional districts while North Carolina’s legislature will continue to draw districts. What’s your take on doing redistricting through an independent commission?

Whitmer: Our secretary of state will be working with this commission that’s been created by our amendment to the Constitution in 2018. This is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this. I’m excited because I think that this is eminently smarter than having the legislature draw districts where they don’t make a lot of sense. They were gerrymandered. They were designed to promote the current occupant of the seat in winning. That’s why we have such a big disconnect between the people and the decisions that are made in the legislature. This is going to be a great opportunity for us to rectify that disconnect.

Cooper: I’m all in favor of an independent, nonpartisan commission like in Arizona. We need that in North Carolina. It’s worked well in other states that have done it. The key is that we don’t have a citizen initiative. It would have to be the legislature which has the power now to give up that power. I vowed that I would sign a bill to do that.

But what we’re trying to do is create a bipartisan effort here to get this done. Now, as we are entering into redistricting, the Republicans do have a majority in our state legislature. We don’t necessarily expect them to go to an independent redistricting commission. But that’s one way to avoid a lot of the litigation and it’s one way to avoid that very red, very blue districts issue that I talked about. More purple districts, more swing districts are better for negotiation and compromise. We can cooperate without giving up on our principles.