Declaring Emergencies and Banning ‘Latinx’: First Acts for 9 New Governors

After a midterm election year in which statewide races were almost entirely wrapped up in national issues — abortion and democracy — the nation’s newly elected governors are showing their ambitions with a mix of virtue-signaling on national issues, currying favor with their political bases and, for some, reaching out to broader constituencies.

With the direct responsibility of running their states, governors must also quickly produce detailed budgets that put their priorities in full view. Elected last year, nine new governors have been busy in their first weeks in office.

In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican who served as a press secretary in the Trump White House, took swipes at the left, on critical race theory and “Latinx.”

In Massachusetts, Gov. Maura Healey, a Democrat, announced an essay contest for students to decide which former governor would get a portrait to be hung in her office. (John Hancock or Samuel Adams? Michael Dukakis or Mitt Romney?)

From the symbolic to the substantive, here is a look at some of what the nation’s new governors have done in their first weeks in office.

Katie Hobbs with her family during her inauguration ceremony in Phoenix.Credit…Rebecca Noble for The New York Times

The Democrats

Katie Hobbs, Arizona

  • Governor Hobbs established an independent commissioner position to review the use of the death penalty — a response to the botching last year of Arizona’s first executions since an eight-year pause following another botched execution. She also created an independent commission to evaluate Arizona’s prison system.

  • She asked a bipartisan panel to recommend ways to improve the “accessibility and security” of Arizona’s elections.

  • She released a $17 billion budget proposal that would, among other things, increase education funding and create a child tax credit for low-income Arizonans.

Josh Green, Hawaii

  • Governor Green — who was inaugurated in early December, a month before the rest of the new governors — declared an emergency over homelessness and said he would spend more than $1 billion on affordable housing and public housing.

  • He also signed several emergency proclamations related to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and a lack of medical airlift capacity.

Wes Moore, Maryland

  • Governor Moore, the first Black governor of Maryland, started his term with celebrity appeal, inviting Oprah Winfrey to introduce him at his inauguration.

  • He released a $63 billion budget proposal that focuses heavily on education and transportation, and includes expanded tax credits for parents and immigrants.

  • He issued an executive order to establish the Maryland Department of Service and Civic Innovation. One thing it could oversee would be a program he suggested to let high school graduates do a paid year of community service.

Maura Healey, Massachusetts

  • Governor Healey created a new cabinet-level position, climate chief, as part of an executive order establishing a state Office of Climate Innovation and Resilience. She also started the process of creating a cabinet-level housing secretary.

  • She announced an “equity audit” in which every state agency will examine equity issues under its purview: everything from public transportation ridership to health. The audit could identify disparities by gender, race, sexual orientation or other characteristics.

  • Ms. Healey and Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll announced an essay contest for Massachusetts students to decide which former governors will get a portrait in each of their offices.

Tina Kotek, Oregon

  • Governor Kotek signed three executive orders related to Oregon’s housing crisis. One declared a state of emergency in large parts of the state, another called for the creation of 36,000 new homes a year, and the third ordered state agencies to make reducing homelessness a priority.

  • She also asked state legislators for $130 million in funding to combat homelessness, including by helping people who are at risk of becoming homeless.

Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania

  • Through an executive order, Governor Shapiro opened the vast majority of jobs in the state government — 92 percent of them — to people without four-year college degrees.

  • He also signed another executive order creating an Office of Transformation and Opportunity to lead efforts to keep businesses in and attract businesses to Pennsylvania.

  • He announced a package of ethics rules for executive branch employees, including an ethics training program and a modified ban on accepting gifts from lobbyists.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders waves to supporters after taking the oath of office in Little Rock, Ark.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

The Republicans

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Arkansas

  • Governor Sanders banned the word “Latinx,” a gender-neutral alternative to Latina or Latino, from state documents, calling it “ethnically insensitive and pejorative.” (The term’s increasing usage has been a subject of right-wing mockery, but most Hispanic Americans reject it and the broader debate over it does not fall solely along liberal-conservative lines.)

  • She also signed an executive order forbidding public schools to teach critical race theory, an academic concept that is not generally taught before college but that conservatives often use as shorthand for a wide range of teaching about racial injustice.

  • She announced a hiring and promotion freeze for state employees and instituted a requirement that the governor’s office approve new rules and regulations.

  • She repealed Covid-related executive orders from her predecessor, Asa Hutchinson, a fellow Republican. Those orders had created committees, task forces and advisory groups to address the pandemic and its effects.

Jim Pillen, Nebraska

  • Governor Pillen announced a series of “priority bills” — measures that he wants the state legislature to take up right away — to lower taxes, and he created a state office focused on broadband access.

  • He designated January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month and Jan. 16 as Religious Freedom Day.

  • He also appointed his predecessor and campaign benefactor, former Gov. Pete Ricketts, to an open seat in the Senate.

Joe Lombardo, Nevada

  • Governor Lombardo’s first executive order rescinded Covid-related mandates put in place by his predecessor, Steve Sisolak, a Democrat. This was mostly a symbolic move, because those mandates — including stay-at-home, masking and social distancing orders — weren’t active and hadn’t been for a long time.

  • He signed another executive order to review hiring practices in the state government, which has a high vacancy rate, and to require the state Administration Department to “transition the state work force to prepandemic, normal and customary office conditions” by July 1.

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