Governing the Common Good

Govs. Napolitano of Arizona and Sebelius of Kansas share insights and success stories from their common good approaches to state governing.

“That’s why we were elected, to govern for the common good,” Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas declared, kicking off the Center for American Progress’ event last week on “Governing for the Common Good” where she spoke along with Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona.

The event brought together the two distinguished governors to talk about their common good philosophy of governing. Both women spoke about ways that they have used it as a guiding principle and seen its success demonstrated in their states.

Melody Barnes, Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress, provided a frame for the conversation. “The common good is both a moral vision for society and a progressive approach to governing,” she said, emphasizing that the common good has a rich history in American thought as well as in many faith traditions.

Common good philosophy focuses on respecting the interests of the individual while working to improve the needs of the entire community. Govs. Sebelius and Napolitano, both named among Time magazine’s top five governors in America, discussed how they have effectively implemented common good practices in their states, particularly in education and the environment.

Gov. Sebelius emphasized that in order to increase employment, states need to “start with education.” In Kansas, this has meant working to upgrade curriculum, expanding early childhood education, and focusing on vocational schools and community colleges. She also works to strengthen ties between the business community and state and community colleges to help students learn skills that will prepare them for today’s economy. The investment she promotes strengthens the economic mobility of individuals and families, while also boosting the state’s economy as a whole.

Gov. Napolitano also spoke at length about the importance of education. Newborn to five-year-olds are the fasting growing demographic in Arizona, a trend which spurred her to implement a full-day kindergarten program that is “academic” and not simply “half day kindergarten times two.” She emphasized the importance of looking beyond test results and enhancing the education in the schools in all subjects, from math and sciences to fine arts and civics. She also proposed to raise the dropout rate from 16 years old to 18, and said that because “98 percent of jobs that earn a living wage need post high-school education,” the educational system must push students to graduate. With such a young booming population, her approach to achieving the common good is different than that of Gov. Sebulius’, but yet she still promotes general achievement by focusing on her own community’s needs.

Both governors also identified protecting the environment as a key common good issue that has a direct positive impact on all members of their states.

Gov. Sebulius noted that because Kansas is such a windy state, she wants to make the state less energy dependent by upgrading the transmission grid. Investing in wind power will not only boost the state’s economy, but help reduce global warming and increase our national security—results that will better the lives of both Kansans and Americans in general.

Gov. Napolitano spoke from a very different perspective. Arizona is mostly desert, making water management the key state environmental issue. Her recent water efforts have proven so successful that Arizona has actually managed to bank water during growth and draughts. She is also working towards improving Arizona’s solar energy system, aiming to one day “be the Persian Gulf of solar.” By conserving water and working to become self sufficient with solar power, not only are Arizonans kept safe and healthy, but the state collectively benefits both environmentally and economically.

Both governors have made great progress in their states by finding solutions that directly affect individuals and lead to positive outcomes in communities. Yet the solutions that they have found are not a clear match for all states. As they noted, the common good works best when you understand the specific dynamics of a community and can intelligently identify its needs.

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