Republican governors tell how their handling of the pandemic is boosting their economies

Republican governors have boasted of their success in keeping their states afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic – compared to their Democrat-run neighbors where they say their harsh restrictions, lockdowns and mask mandates have sent residents fleeing. 

Six GOP leaders appeared on Fox News on Wednesday night in Nashville, where the Republican Governors’ Association had begun its annual gathering the day before.

The governors of Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, Iowa, South Dakota and New Hampshire were united in their condemnation of Democrat approaches to the pandemic, and scathing in their assessment of President Joe Biden‘s rule so far.

They all agreed that Biden’s border policies were failing, with the governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, pointing out that neither Biden nor his border czar, Vice President Kamala Harris, had even made the effort to visit.

All six agreed that the Make America Great Again agenda remained at the heart of the Republican Party, although they equivocated on whether Donald Trump should be the person to retain control of their party.

From left: Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; Kim Reynolds of Iowa; Doug Ducey of Arizona; Hannity; Ron DeSantis of Florida; Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and Bill Lee of Tennessee

From left: Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; Kim Reynolds of Iowa; Doug Ducey of Arizona; Hannity; Ron DeSantis of Florida; Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and Bill Lee of Tennessee

From left: Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; Kim Reynolds of Iowa; Doug Ducey of Arizona; Hannity; Ron DeSantis of Florida; Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and Bill Lee of Tennessee

PANDEMIC RECOVERY

Kristi Noem, the 49-year-old governor of South Dakota who is tipped as a future presidential candidate, told host Sean Hannity that her state was thriving, post-pandemic.

The sparsely-populated region, home to 887,000 people, has lost 2,004 people to COVID-19 since the pandemic begun.

At least one in nine South Dakotans have tested positive for the virus, NBC News reported, and in November it was the global center for cases.

Yet Noem – one of the few governors to never issue a mask mandate – insisted her approach had been the right one.

‘We did not close a singe business ever,’ Noem said.

Kristi Noem of South Dakota was one of the few governors not to introduce a mask mandate

Kristi Noem of South Dakota was one of the few governors not to introduce a mask mandate

Kristi Noem of South Dakota was one of the few governors not to introduce a mask mandate

‘We didn’t even define an essential business. The U.S. Constitution, I didn’t believe, had the authority to tell people their business was not essential.

‘I told people I would trust them and I would let them use personal responsibility to take care of their families and keep their doors open and provide for their employees and customers.

‘The people appreciated it.’

Noem said her state had the fastest-growing GDP in the fourth quarter, and lost the least amount of jobs in the country.

South Dakota currently has the lowest unemployment in the country, at 2.8 per cent – tied with New Hampshire, Nebraska and Utah. 

The U.S. average is 6.1 per cent. 

Bill Lee, the governor of Tennessee, said the pandemic, which has killed 592,000 Americans, ‘has been a distraction for all of America, to say the least.’

He added: ‘The health crisis is over. The emergency is over. We have fully opened up and we are moving our state forward.’

Bill Lee, the governor of Tennessee, said the pandemic had been 'a distraction for all'

Bill Lee, the governor of Tennessee, said the pandemic had been 'a distraction for all'

Bill Lee, the governor of Tennessee, said the pandemic had been ‘a distraction for all’

Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis – another potential presidential candidate – said he was most proud of keeping his state’s schools opening and protecting their senior citizens.

‘Probably the biggest mistake in strategy is locking these kids out of school,’ he said.

‘They are not following science. This is politics. It’s a disgrace.’

He also took a dig at New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, who has been roundly criticized for sending COVID-convalescent patients back to their nursing homes to free up hospital beds – a move critics say helped spread the virus and increase the death toll.

‘We prevented COVID patients from being sent to nursing homes,’ he said. ‘I think that mattered.

‘But locking kids out of school for over a year – that will have ramifications for our country and those states.

‘It won’t be days, weeks, months. It will be years, and some kids won’t have a future as a result of this bad policy.’

Kim Reynolds, governor of Iowa – whose state produces 10 per cent of America’s food supplies, she said – pointed to a high level of testing and provisions of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as being key for her state.

Iowa is home to many large food processing plants, particularly in the meat industry.

‘We implemented a robust data program that allowed to us break down it by zip code and identify the positive cases and act,’ she said.

‘And we were able to do it in a responsible manner. We kept the economy open.

‘We are coming back stronger than ever.’

CUTTING TAXES AND REDUCING REGULATION

All six of the governors boasted of how their states were drawing new residents, ‘fleeing’ Democrat-run areas.

Hannity pointed out that California’s population has decreased for the first time in 117 years: Doug Ducey, the governor of Arizona, said that he thanked their Democrat governors for sending so many people to his state.

‘Reagan said if the pilgrims landed in California they would have never discovered the rest of the country,’ Ducey said.

‘Nobody leaves California because they want to.

‘It’s becoming too painful for lack of opportunities.’

The Arizona governor was the only one of the six whose state voted for Joe Biden in November

The Arizona governor was the only one of the six whose state voted for Joe Biden in November

The Arizona governor was the only one of the six whose state voted for Joe Biden in November

He said California’s problem was ‘a result of leadership, policy and lack of quality of life and economic opportunities.’

Noem told the audience in Nashville that her team had launched a campaign to encourage frustrated members of law enforcement to move to South Dakota, telling them that her state would welcome them with open arms.

She said ‘hundreds and hundreds’ from 41 states had responded.

Lee, the Tennessee governor, said that his administration worked to lure new residents with lower taxes and reduced regulations.

‘I think people across the country are looking around, unsatisfied, in many states with life in particular,’ he said.

‘Life in the last year has been tough.

‘They have been looking for a long time, but suddenly the differences between our states and those blue states are stark.

‘Their kids have been out of school for a year. In Tennessee all of kids are in school.

‘Tennessee is the third lowest tax per capita state. Our regulation in this state is really different than in these states that increased regulations.’

Chris Sununu, the governor of New Hampshire, said that the Biden administration was handing out too much money to states, and expecting control in return.

To nods of approval from his fellow governors, he said they were all pushing back against federal over-reach.

New Hampshire's Chris Sununu said that he was concerned about federal over-reach

New Hampshire's Chris Sununu said that he was concerned about federal over-reach

New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu said that he was concerned about federal over-reach

‘You are seeing Republican governors as the last line of defense against true socialism,’ he said.

Hannity joked that people were welcome to move to their six states, as long as they did not import their liberal values with them.

DeSantis, the Florida governor, said that was not happening.

‘These people that are coming – they are registering as Republicans.

‘And I also have come across a lot of people who were Democrats, and lockdowns turned them into Republicans.

‘They said: I am in California and they are locking my kids out of school. I come to Florida they are in school and people are free and happy.

‘I think process caused people to reevaluate prior commitments.

‘If you have a political party that puts the interest of teacher’s unions over kids accessing an education, that tells you all you need to know about the modern Democrat party.’

BORDER POLICIES

Ducey, the only one of the six whose state – Arizona – borders Mexico, accused the Biden administration of being ‘AWOL’ in his region.

‘It hits us first and the Biden administration is not only anti-wall, they are AWOL,’ he said. ‘Absent without leave.

‘President Biden and Kamala Harris have not been been to the border.

‘It’s tough to get a phone call with Secretary Mayorkas.’

Reynolds, the governor of Iowa, said their party would be strongly criticized if they failed to visit the border.

‘For them not to even go to the border – we would have been laid out if we were that irresponsible and didn’t show up,’ she said.

Migrants are seen in Tijuana lining up to cross the border and claim asylum on May 20

Migrants are seen in Tijuana lining up to cross the border and claim asylum on May 20

Migrants are seen in Tijuana lining up to cross the border and claim asylum on May 20

In this March 30 photo, young unaccompanied migrants, from ages 3 to 9, watch television inside a playpen at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, in Donna, Texas.

In this March 30 photo, young unaccompanied migrants, from ages 3 to 9, watch television inside a playpen at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, in Donna, Texas.

In this March 30 photo, young unaccompanied migrants, from ages 3 to 9, watch television inside a playpen at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley, in Donna, Texas.

Young clildren lie inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in Donna, Texas, on March 30

Young clildren lie inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in Donna, Texas, on March 30

Young clildren lie inside a pod at the Donna Department of Homeland Security holding facility, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in Donna, Texas, on March 30

She said the crisis, which has seen 178,000 people cross the U.S.-Mexico border in April, was the result of the Biden administration’s determination to undo Trump’s policies.

‘What is frustrating is they created this crisis and could stop it tomorrow,’ she said.

‘It is impacting every state across the country.

‘He was so determined to remove all of the Trump policies protecting United States citizens.’

Sununu, in New Hampshire, agreed that the problem was not just affecting border states like Arizona.

‘This is not a southern border crisis. It’s an American crisis. It’s a humanitarian crisis,’ he said.

‘Those videos are real. You see what is happening to the kids and the families. It has an impact across the country.

‘Everyone has to acknowledge that and be part of the solution.’

Noem said South Dakota has declared that they will withdraw state funding for groups that welcome refugees to her state.

‘It’s my job to put the people of South Dakota first. I will do it with every tool I have,’ she said.

Lee said Tennessee objected to unaccompanied migrant children being flown to his state, without his knowledge.

‘We are demanding transparency. If you bring them here, we want to know about it,’ he said.

‘If you do something in secret, you are doing it because you know the people won’t want it.

‘When we have a government that is disregarding the will of the people, I have a real problem with that.’

ELECTION INTEGRITY

Hannity told the six governors that he wanted their opinions on voter ID and election integrity.

The issue is particularly pointed for Doug Ducey, the governor of Arizona, given that his state is currently carrying out a partial recount of November’s election.

In Maricopa County ballot papers are being checked for traces of bamboo by a fringe organization that seeks to answer whether the ballots were imported from Asia.

From left: Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; Kim Reynolds of Iowa and Doug Ducey of Arizona

From left: Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; Kim Reynolds of Iowa and Doug Ducey of Arizona

From left: Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; Kim Reynolds of Iowa and Doug Ducey of Arizona

On Tuesday a prominent proponent of the election fraud conspiracy theory, MyPillow.com founder Mike Lindell, turned up at the Nashville gathering with the intention of confronting Ducey and the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, for not doing enough to challenge the results in their states. 

Georgia and Arizona, both swing states, voted for Biden.

Lindell was thrown out of the meeting, he told Politico, before he could enter the dinner on Tuesday and confront Ducey.

‘This is our fourth audit,’ said Ducey, defending his state’s results.

‘There have already been three audits, this is the fourth one. The first three came out clean.

‘Let’s see what this fourth one says but I think if you look at Arizona and what’s happening in other Republican states, we really have a compendium of best practices.’

DeSantis also insisted that Florida – a swing state which voted for Trump – was confident in their electoral procedures.

‘As you remember we counted 11 million votes on election night in Florida – very transparent. We did great,’ he said.

He acknowledged the 2000 Bush v Gore fiasco, noting: ‘We didn’t do great in the past.’

Noem, whose state is solidly Republican, said: ‘No problems in South Dakota.’

She added: ‘People in South Dakota understand America First – they believe in it, and if anything, what 2020 has taught them for 2021 is how much more important it is.’

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