As stakes rise, so do clashes between states

States are fighting over abortion rights, energy and culture wars.
FILE — Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis takes to the stage to debate his Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in Fort Pierce, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2022. (Crystal Vander Weit/TCPalm.com via AP, Pool, File)

Republican and Democratic governors find themselves increasingly at odds as Congress leaves contentious issues like abortion rights and restrictions and combating climate change to the states.

Blue state governors have ordered law enforcement agencies not to cooperate with colleagues in states where abortion restriction laws allow patients or providers to be prosecuted. Red state governors on the Southern borders have been busing migrants to more liberal states, without the slightest veneer of a head’s up.

And two states — North Dakota and Minnesota — are even likely to end up in court over energy policy.

While friction between states is as old as the nation itself, gridlock in Congress has thrust ever more pressure on states to respond to the problems and needs of their residents. On top of that is a political climate in which parties are becoming more influenced by their extreme wings, which political scientists say is a big factor fueling tension.

“States are always competing with each other,” said Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California-San Diego. “The deepening layer of the deeply partisan divide in the country deepens the divisions between states, [especially as] states have rushed in to fill the vacuum of inaction at the national level.”

According to a Gallup poll from January, party preference is evenly divided across the country — 45% of voters call themselves Republican or lean toward the GOP, while 44% call themselves Democrats or Democratic leaners.

Some of the edgy exchanges reflect a system in which governors are laying the groundwork for a potential presidential run in 2024.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), both seen as potential presidential aspirants, have had heated exchanges over social media and in speeches demonizing each other as the archetypal examples of among the worst their respective parties have to offer.

Both Newsom and DeSantis easily won re-election bids in 2022, freeing them to embrace partisanship in a way swing-state governors cannot.

But competing policy positions are also fueling interstate battles. 

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D), who spoke at an event Thursday hosted by Politico that coincided with the National Governors Association’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C., said he believes more skirmishes between states are likely. 

Asked whether the pending litigation over clean energy legislation he signed earlier this year presaged other clashes between red and blue states, Walz pointed to broad differences over abortion rights.

“The only abortion provider in North Dakota moved across the river two miles to Moorhead and they’re in Minnesota now,” Walz said. “And I think we all know that the same clientele that was looking to have reproductive services is going to attend that one. I think as states start to put up these barriers you will see a little bit more of that.” 

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) told the audience that the state had set aside $4 million for legal fees to sue its neighbor for effectively seeking to regulate the energy produced in North Dakota and allegedly violating the interstate commerce law. 

Walz argued that the law does no such thing and that would be what Minnesota would prevail in court should the state be sued. 

In the midst of the congenial atmosphere of the bipartisan National Governors Association meeting, Walz and Burgum said they get along fine about everything else. 

That’s not the case in the Pacific Northwest. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has issued an order requiring state troopers to refuse to cooperate with most subpoenas, search warrants or court orders from states with laws that ban or significantly restrict abortion access — states like neighboring Idaho.

“It is a clear and present danger,” Inslee said of Idaho’s restrictions on abortions after the Supreme Court’s decision striking down abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. “We knew this was going to happen.

He is also backing two bills in the legislature that would protect data from being used to prosecute abortion and block another state’s right to use Washington courts to crack down on abortion.

Similarly, in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) called the state an “oasis” for abortion rights. His state borders four others that have cracked down on abortion. The fate of abortion in a fifth state, Wisconsin, could depend on the outcome of a critical Supreme Court election later this Spring.

“People come to Illinois to exercise what are their fundamental rights and they are being denied in other states … around us,” Pritzker said. “And then another ring of states around them. So think about …how far you have to travel if you don’t live in Illinois in order to exercise those rights.”