G.O.P. Governors in 2 States Defy Odds, Win Re-Election
Copyright 1988 Defying pollsters' predictions, Republican governors in Utah and Rhode Island staged 11th-hour comebacks and narrowly won new terms in last week's elections.
The victories were among the most dramatic of this year's 12 gubernatorial contests, nearly all of which spotlighted education issues.
Over all, voters in eight states--including Delaware, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Vermont, and Washington--returned their incumbent governors to office.
New state chief executives were selected in Indiana, Montana, and New Hampshire, where current governors were either unable or chose not to seek re-election.
Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. of West Virginia, a Republican, was the sole incumbent to lose his bid for a new term. There, voters selected Gaston Caperton, a businessman seeking his first elective office, to lead their state out of its economic doldrums.
One of the most stunning election-night dramas occurred in Utah, where Gov. Norman H. Bangerter earned a second term by a projected 40 percent plurality of the state's voters. With nearly all ballots counted, his Democratic opponent, Ted L. Wilson, had received 38 percent of the votes cast. An independent, Merrill A. Cook, won 21 percent.
Only two weeks before the election, polls had indicated that Mr. Bangerter was trailing Mr. Wilson by as much as 20 percent. Utah educators and politicians had generally agreed that the Governor would become the victim of anger over his decision last year to seek a $166-million tax hike for public schools, the largest in the state's history.
The president of the Utah Education Association, which endorsed Mr. Wilson, attributed Mr. Bangerter's victory to several factors.
First, said the official, James M. Campbell, the incumbent "did a superb job of making his issues heard" in recent debates.
He also said the conservative Governor seemed to latch on to the "coattails" of President-elect George Bush, who won nearly 70 percent of the state's votes. In addition, Mr. Bangerter brought many tax protesters "back into the fold," he said, with a recent plan to limit property taxes.
Mr. Campbell said his group would quickly mend its fences with the Governor. During the campaign, the union president charged that Mr. Bangerter had not "been able to address the needs of education"; the Governor retorted that the union's leaders had been the "major obstacle to meaningful education reform."
Mr. Bangerter "talked to me last week and said he was willing to work with us," Mr. Campbell said. "I intend to roll up my sleeves and work more closely with him."
The union president said the Governor's main task will be to shore up the state's sagging economy. "As the economy improves, we will be able to do more for education than we have in the past," he said.
In Rhode Island, the Republican governor, Edward D. DiPrete, won 51 percent of the votes to Bruce Sundlun's 49 percent in what one observer called "the most bitter and negative campaign" in state history.
Mr. DiPrete in 1986 had easily defeated Mr. Sundlun, a businessman and member of the Providence school board, by convincing voters that he would clean up state government. His huge early lead in this year's rematch evaporated, however, following politically damaging press reports on ethically questionable practices by his administration.
According to Elmer Cornwell, a professor of political science at Brown University who monitors local politics, Mr. Sundlun, a Democrat, "made good use of this ammo that fell into his lap" in television advertisements. The Governor responded, he said, with his own series of negative ads.
"The campaign got to the point where the issues clearly were not discussed," said Vincent P. McWilliams, chairman of the city school board that Mr. Sundlun serves on and one of his backers.
Mr. Cornwell speculated that the Governor won because "as the shock'' of Mr. Sundlun's ads "wore off, people changed their minds."
"There was never a great enthusiasm for Sundlun, either," he added. "If he was more popular, it would have been all over for DiPrete."
Mr. Cornwell predicted that the Republican Governor's poor showing at the polls would limit his effectiveness in his new two-year term. In the past, he noted, the Democratic-controlled legislature "approached him with great care because of his popularity. Now, he's damaged goods."
As Election Day dawned, Indiana Republicans had control of the state's governorship and superintendency of public instruction, and enjoyed a 10-seat edge in the Senate and a two-seat majority in the House.
The political landscape changed dramatically within the next 24 hours, however, with the election of a new Democratic governor, the re-election of the Republican school chief, the gop lead in the Senate down to two seats, and a 50-to-50 seat split in the House--the first partisan deadlock in the legislature since the Indiana Constitution was adopted in 1851.
Lawyers for both parties were frantically scouring the state's archives last week for some clue as to what rules will govern selection of the Speaker of the House, who appoints the heads of the chamber's committees. Normally, the majority party automatically wins the chairmanships because House members elect the Speaker.
Most educators and politicians agree, however, that despite the gop's slim edge in the Senate and regardless of how the House situation is resolved, Gov.-elect B. Evan Bayh 3rd's 52 percent to 48 percent win over Lieut. Gov. John M. Mutz provides him with a mandate to change some elements of the state's school-reform program.
Mr. Bayh said during the campaign that he wanted to refocus a substantial portion of the state's "A+ Program" on students at risk of school failure. He also said the effort--which was championed by retiring Gov. Robert D. Orr and State Superintendent H. Dean Evans, both Republicans--has been characterized by state mandates, an emphasis on quantity over quality, and "a sense of wandering."
"Bayh has strength, and the Republicans know that," said Fred Nation, a spokesman for the Governor-elect. Saying that Mr. Bayh's proposed changes are of "a minor nature," he added: "We have every reason to believe that both sides will work together."
Robert D. Garton, the state Republican party's de facto leader now in his capacity as Senate majority leader, said he "looks forward to meeting" with Mr. Bayh soon to discuss education and other matters.
He noted that Mr. Evans's 55 percent to 45 percent victory in the race for state superintendent "sends a message that voters are not prepared to dismantle the A+ Program."
"Over half of the Democratic senators voted for that program," Senator Garton said. "I think the Governor-elect will want to maintain it as well."
Mr. Garton said Mr. Bayh's influence in the legislature will be enhanced by his lieutenant governor, Frank O'Bannon, now Senate minority leader and said to be respected by both parties. Mr. O'Bannon will serve as Senate President.
Others also noted that Mr. Bayh will appoint the members of the state board of education, which they said will limit Superintendent Evans's ability to resist the Governor-elect's proposals. Mr. Evans could not be reached for comment.
In West Virginia, voters turned Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr., a Republican, out of office, despite his charge late in the campaign that his Democratic opponent, Gaston Caperton, opposes voluntary prayer in public schools.
Mr. Caperton, who vehemently denied the allegation, won 59 percent of the votes cast to Mr. Moore's 41 percent. In 1984, West Virginians overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to allow silent prayer in schools that was later struck down by a federal district court.
Observers said that the state's severe economic woes were the main cause of Mr. Moore's undoing, and that attacking them will be Mr. Caperton's biggest challenge.
James Caruth, executive director of the West Virginia Education Association, predicted that citizens would grant Mr. Caperton a "honeymoon period" in which to develop a response "to these severe problems."
"We do not anticipate that Gaston will correct all of these problems overnight," Mr. Caruth said. "People realize that Moore had the state on a seesaw for four years that threw us deep into debt."
In other gubernatorial elections:
Montana. The Republican candidate, Stanley G. Stephens, a retired businessman, defeated the for4mer Democratic governor, Thomas L. Judge, by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin. The current Republican governor, Ted Schwinden, did not seek a second term.
New Hampshire. In the race to succeed Gov. John Sununu, Judd Gregg, a Republican U.S. Representative, won 61 percent of the votes to Paul McEachern's 39 percent.
Delaware. The Republican incumbent, Michael N. Castle, was re-elected with 71 percent of the votes cast. His opponent, Jacob Kreshtool, a lawyer, received 29 percent.
Missouri. As expected, Gov. John Ashcroft, a Republican, easily defeated State Representative Betty C. Hearnes. The vote was 65 percent to 35 percent in Mr. Ashcroft's favor.
North Carolina. Voters returned the Republican incumbent, James G. Martin, to office. He won 56 percent of the votes to Lieut. Gov. Robert B. Jordan 3rd's 44 percent.
North Dakota. The Democratic incumbent, George A. Sinner, was re-elected with 60 percent of the votes cast. Leon Mallberg, a Republican businessman, won 40 percent.
Vermont. Gov. Madeleine M. Kunin, a Democrat, won a third term by a 56 percent to 43 percent margin over Michael Bernhardt, the state House's minority leader.
Washington. The incumbent Democrat, Booth Gardner, coasted to an easy victory over Bob Williams, a Republican state representative. The outcome was 63 percent to 37 percent in Mr. Gardner's favor.