Newly elected governors Rick Scott of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and John Kasich of Ohio are all battling to slash state budgets.
One is a bald, blue-eyed former hospital executive brand new to public office. Another is a career politician who leads statewide motorcycle tours to boost tourism. And the other is a former congressman and FOX News host who called a cop who gave him a traffic ticket last month an "idiot.''
All three are newly elected Republican governors facing massive political upheaval over their slash-and-burn approach to state spending and rejection of billions of federal dollars for high-speed rail projects.
Call them the "Three Scrooges": Rick Scott of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and John Kasich of Ohio. Walker and Kasich replaced Democrats, and Scott replaced a Republican-turned-independent.
"In each case, you're experiencing the difference between politics in theory and politics in practice, and I think you're going to see more of it,'' said Republican strategist Susie Wiles, who engineered Scott's 2010 campaign. "The reality for states is that they have to balance their budgets, and there is a finite number of ways to do it.... You've got to take the medicine.''
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The three governors sit at the center of a nationwide debate that pits a tea party movement threatening to mow down any tax-and-spenders in its path against labor unions and advocates for children, the elderly, and the poor. In a sign of the anti-establishment movement's influence, Scott unveiled his bare-bones budget earlier this month at a tea party rally, breaking with the tradition of formal announcements in the state capitol.
In another sign of the blurring of lines between campaigning and governing, Kasich has been Tweeting encouragement to his compatriots in Florida and Wisconsin. "Kudos to @FLGovScott for siding w/taxpayers & saying no to wasteful passenger rail,'' he wrote Wednesday. "Props to @GovWalker for new reforms to public employee unions that give taxpayers more rights,'' he added Thursday. Walker called Kasich earlier this week to "commiserate," his staff confirmed.
Whether the three governors from key political battleground states succeed could have implications for the 2012 election, when voters will decide whether the newly empowered GOP improved the nation's fiscal health or cut too close to the bone. With 18 of the 23 winning Republican candidates for governor in 2010 in their first terms, they are largely charting new terrain.
"I think what you're seeing is Republican governors willing to take on the tough issues in their states to balance their budgets, while the president is punting,'' said Michael Schrimpf, spokesman for the Republican Governors Association. "It's quite a clear contrast for voters looking for a chief executive who will make decisions about solving unsustainable spending.''