Yesterday a landmark event happened in Michigan. The Wolverine State–which is not simply home of the United Auto Workers but in many respects is the birthplace of the modern labor movement–has become the 24th state to ban compulsory union fees. Workers will no longer be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment. And if history–and other states, like Indiana–is any guide, this action will not only grant workers freedom but also attract new businesses to Michigan. (Michigan desperately needs this, since it has the sixth-highest state jobless rate in America at 9.1 percent.) 

This move came after unions once again overshot, having tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution (through Proposition 2).  

“Everybody has this image of Michigan as a labor state,” Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told the New York Times. “But organized labor has been losing clout, and the Republicans saw an opportunity, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

This victory was important, then, both substantively and politically. And it brought into sharper focus the best news about the GOP these days: Governors. Despite a very disappointing showing at the federal level in November, at the state level things are quite encouraging. Republicans now control 30 governorships–the highest number for either party in a dozen years. (Democrats control 19 governorships and Rhode Island has an independent governor.) 

Moreover, many of the brightest stars in the conservative constellation are governors–people like Mitch Daniels (Indiana), Bob McDonnell (Virginia), Scott Walker (Wisconsin), Bobby Jindal (Louisiana), Chris Christie (New Jersey), John Kasich (Ohio), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), and Nikki Haley (South Carolina), as well as former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

These men and women are models for governance: conservative, reform-minded, growth-oriented, and interested in what works. They tend to be principled but not ideological. They’re problem solvers, they have to balance their budgets, and they are generally popular in their states. As a general rule they practice politics in a way that doesn’t deepen mistrust or cynicism among the citizens of their states.

This period reminds me a bit of the 1990s, when many of the best reforms (in areas like welfare and education) were coming from governors. That’s certainly the case today. And it’s why many on the right were hoping that in 2012 the best of the current class, Mitch Daniels, had run for president of the United States (he opted for becoming, starting next year, president of Purdue University). For now, Republicans could hardly do better than to turn their lonely eyes to state capitals throughout the country.

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