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Having won many elections this month, Republicans are trying to change their party's image. And that includes the party's image as an exclusive club of white men. That's one thing being talked about at a gathering in San Diego this week, where the Republican Governors Association is holding its annual meeting.
There are lots of governors and governors-elect this year, because Republicans won nearly two-thirds of the governors races. As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, diversity is the big theme.
INA JAFFE: Wednesday's main event was called the New Face of the GOP. It featured all the governors-elect, including two Hispanics, an Indian-American woman, and the first woman ever elected governor of Oklahoma. Yet in many ways the new crop of Republican governors-to-be looked and sounded very much like veteran Republican officeholders, such as former congressman and Governor-elect of Ohio John Kasich.
Governor-elect JOHN KASICH (Republican, Ohio): I'm not just interested in balancing the budget in Ohio, I'm going to balance the budget and I'm going to cut taxes, because Ohio has to become more competitive.
JAFFE: And It's not just the GOP that was made new in this past election. It was the voters, said South Carolina Governor-elect Nikki Haley, who will be the nation's first female Indian-American to serve as governor.
Governor-elect NIKKI HALEY (Republican, South Carolina): We are seeing an awakening across this country where I've never seen people more spirited about their government and elected officials so scared. It's a beautiful thing. We need to keep it that way.
JAFFE: In the coming year, just about every governor, regardless of ethnicity, will be dealing with the recession and serious budget deficits. Mary Fallin, who will be Oklahoma's first female governor, sees an opportunity there for...
Governor-elect MARY FALLIN (Republican, Oklahoma): Right-sizing government, asking the question: Is government services relevant, efficient, effective? And if it's not efficient and effective and relevant, then we need to change it, fix it. People just want to get a government that works for them.
JAFFE: The Republican Party may have fielded a more diverse slate of candidates this year, but they didn't necessarily get the support of minority voters. For example, Hispanic voters backed Democrat by margins of about 2 to 1 almost everywhere but Florida, where Cuban-Americans have traditionally voted Republican.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, the vice chair of the Republican Governors Association, said that a lot of work remains to be done but that the diversity of Republican candidates sends a message.
Governor TIM PAWLENTY (Republican, Minnesota): By making sure that our party is welcoming and elevates and celebrates leadership from all backgrounds, all walks of life, and these are examples of that.
JAFFE: But Governor-elect of New Mexico Susana Martinez said that Republicans have failed by not talking with minority voters about basic governmental philosophy. She knows this from her own example. She was a registered Democrat about to run for district attorney when a couple of Republicans engaged her in just that way,
Governor-elect SUSANA MARTINEZ (Republican, New Mexico): We had this very long conversation. My husband and I walked away literally and got in the car and said, oh my god, we're Republicans.
JAFFE: And Martinez said that it's not even necessary to get Democrats to switch parties for Republican candidates to succeed.
Governor-elect MARTINEZ: If you're willing to get out into those communities and just have conversations, they're willing to cross over and start voting for individuals instead of just for the party.
JAFFE: But South Carolina's Nikki Haley was looking beyond the idea of ethnic diversity. She was celebrating what she called the new wave of governors-elect here, who stood for something truly new and rare in politics.
Governor-elect HALEY: These are governors that don't care about re-election. They just want to get things done for their state.
JAFFE: There was not enough time to poll the other governors-elect, however, to see if they agreed with that assessment.�
Ina Jaffe, NPR News, San Diego.
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