Governors at Aspen institute

From left, Aspen Institute executive vice president Elliot Gerson speaks with Democratic governors Steve Bullock of Montana, John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, Jay Inslee of Washington and Dannel Malloy of Connecticut.

Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana predicted Friday that the hyper-partisanship paralyzing Washington, D.C., will arrive at the state level in ways that do not “bode well for anyone.”

Speaking with four fellow Democratic governors on the Aspen Institute campus, Edwards pointed to his narrow win in 2016, followed by President Trump’s overwhelming victory in the state 11 months later. That, he said, left him perplexed.

“Folks are just anxious,” he said. “We ought not to vilify anyone. I don’t talk about Trump backers as crazy or racist.”

Jay Inslee of Washington had a different take on the president, who he said has united the Democratic Party unlike anyone in the nation’s history.

They, Steve Bullock of Montana, Colorado’s John Hickenlooper and Dannel Malloy of Connecticut spoke to a couple of hundred people on the topic of “Uniting a Divided Nation Starting with the States.” The topics proffered by Institute executive vice president Elliot Gerson ranged from health care, wildfires and climate change to gun control, Russian election interference and the widespread loss of faith in government, with Gerson noting “shocking” poll numbers detailing how people feel about current agencies.

The single most important thing the Democratic Party can do in November is to remove Republicans who have enabled Trump’s “insane” policies, Inslee said to applause.

He said Trump on a daily basis comes out with a policy that damages states in real-time ways. He said there are pilots of ships laden with Washington apples in the Pacific Ocean who don’t know where to go. That is the result of a retaliatory tariff imposed by Mexico, the state’s top foreign market for the fruit, for tariffs the Trump administration imposed on steel and aluminum.

Drawing chuckles, Inslee said he personally invited Trump to campaign in his state for Republicans.

“I would greet him at Sea-Tac Airport with 12 Dreamers [immigrants brought to the country as children] and a box of apples because they can’t be sold anywhere,” he said.

Connecticut’s Malloy was asked about gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. He said common-sense gun legislation enacted since involves respecting the Constitution — and has reduced violent crime by 30 percent in his state. Measures have resulted in better access to mental health treatment, but he said he thought a bill introduced to ban so-called ghost guns, weapons without serial numbers, would easily sail through the state Legislature.

Instead, “it was never called for a vote, in a state where 20 children were killed,” Malloy said.

The panel also discussed prison-incarceration rates, with Hickenlooper touting the success of a program that trains hardened inmates, including murderers, with entrepreneurial skills. Those who have gone through the Defy Ventures program have had a recidivism rate of 3 percent, he said.

“This is a blight on this country,” Hickenlooper said. “We have more people in prison than China and Russia combined.” (According to prisonpolicy.org, U.S. prisons hold nearly 2.3 million people; China and Russia combined hold roughly 2.4 million people.)

Inslee chimed in that he had placed a moratorium on the death penalty, saying, “It’s time to end it.”

The talk turned to climate change and its effects on wildfires in particular.

Bullock of Montana said the fire season in his state is now 68 days longer than it was 30 years ago. Across the nation last year, $2 billion was spending fighting wildfires, money that took up 67 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s discretionary budget, he said, adding that that agency is “broken.” That money would be better spent on improving watersheds and protecting the wildland-urban interface.

Hickenlooper said that amid climate change, the West is getting drier, noting the fire season this year began in March. He called that unprecedented.

The panel also discussed Russian hacking and how well their states are prepared to rebuff it. Malloy said Connecticut employs what he called a “fail-safe method” that requires paper ballots and allows same-day voter registration, so if a person does not appear, for whatever reason, on the rolls, they can cast a provincial ballot.

He said pundits’ statements about the Democratic Party being severed between leftist and conservative members have “no basis in fact.”

“There is nothing to indicate that the Democrats are not united,” Malloy said.

Inslee concurred, saying he has never seen “our Democratic brothers and sisters be blood brothers” like they are now with Trump.

“You are witnessing a nation that has had a bellyful of this unhinged narcissist,” he said, again urging voters to toss out Trump’s “sycophants and enablers.”

 

chad@aspendailynews.com

Chad is a Contributing Editor for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at chad@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @chad_the_scribe.

Contibuting Editor