ASPEN – Taking their remarks Thursday evening at face value, you wouldn’t think that any of the five Republican governors on an Aspen Institute panel had any interest in ever working in the nation’s capital.
“The hardest part of our job is Washington, D.C., because every time we move the ball, they push us back again,” said Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, who took office in 2010 and is running for re-election.
Haley was on an Aspen Institute panel along with Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Christy is the current Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) chair and widely considered a potential presidential candidate in 2016. Walker, Brownback and Haley can also be found on a number of lists of potential Republican candidates.
But there was no mention of the 2016 presidential race Thursday night from moderator Walter Isaacson, the audience or the governors. They were in Aspen for an RGA meeting, and likely, meetings with fundraisers. They spoke to an enthusiastic Greenwald Pavilion crowd as part of the McCloskey Speaker Series.
“I’m incredibly frustrated with both Republicans and Dems in D.C.,” Haley said. “They have done absolutely nothing. We are all stepping up and doing things because we have to, because we can’t wait on D.C., because we refuse to wait on D.C.”
A common theme among the five governors was that the best way for states to create jobs and stimulate economic growth was by cutting taxes on business, recruiting companies to re-locate, investing in employee training and getting people off of welfare and other government programs.
“Tax cuts work,” Scott said.
There was also consensus that Obamacare should be repealed, the border with Mexico should be secured, the power of teachers unions should be diminished, and steps should be taken to reduce prison populations.
“We have too many people sitting in state prisons across this country for nonviolent petty drug offenses,” said Christie, who has been critical of Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana. “We put them in prison; they’re addicted, most of them. We don’t give them any kind of significant treatment — long range treatment — and then we wonder why they go back and commit more crimes to support their habit.”
Christie was not specific about which drugs people are addicted to, nor did he mention marijuana.
He said some people in New Jersey who are arrested for “holding and using,” but are nonviolent first-time drug offenders, are now being sent to one-year mandatory in-patient drug treatment programs instead of prison.
Christie said it costs $49,000 a year to hold someone in prison in New Jersey, but only $24,000 a year to send them to a drug treatment program. And he said the treatment program produces better results and that it’s not being “soft on crime.”
“I’m making the argument to my party: ‘I’m pro life, and if you’re pro life, you have to be pro life when they get out of the womb, also,’” Christie said. “And that gets messy sometimes, because they don’t create trouble in the womb. But when they get out of womb, lots of tough things can happen.”
Brownback, who has five children, then quipped, “Spoken like a true man.”
On the subject of illegal immigration, Christie questioned why undocumented children coming across the border are being delivered to undocumented adults already in the U.S., and why those undocumented adults are being told by U.S. officials to make sure the children now in their care show up for a future immigration hearing.
“So the undocumented people, who haven’t gone through the immigration system, are going to be the ones who are going to the immigration office, and take these children to the immigration office?” Christie said. “It is completely illogical.”
Haley also took a strong line on the immigration issue while taking a question from the audience.
“We are a country of laws,” she said. “When you give up really taking care of those laws, you lose everything this country was made of. They have got to secure the border.”
That drew enthusiastic applause from the audience.
“We do care about these children. We do want them to be safe,” Haley continued. “But we also have our own children to take care. We’ve got our foster children in every one of our states, and we are trying to balance a budget.”
A man from Texas then stood up and said he was “pleased to hear the tenor, the tone and the content of every governor that I’m listening to tonight.”
His review was also met with much applause.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborated on this story with the Aspen Daily News, which published it on July 25, 2014.