By Carrie Mihalcik / current.com / @CDMihalcik
Governors from across the country are gathered in Williamsburg, Va., for the National Governors Association's annual meeting. Among the topics sure to be discussed are health care reform, gay marriage and renewable energy.
Progressives have made strides in all of these issues recently, but conservative governors continue to make progress difficult on a state level. Republicans currently hold the top position in 29 states.
Although the GOP's angry rhetoric tends to grab all the headlines, there are progressive governors hard at work in the United States. No single governor is progressive on every single issue, but understanding the value of multiple opinions is part of what separates the left from the right.
To give some recognition to the lawmakers who are standing up for liberal values at the state level, we present — in no particular order — the 12 most progressive governors in America:
Jerry Brown, California (D)
Gov. Jerry Brown is a California institution. He has served as attorney general, mayor of Oakland and governor (back in 1974 and again now). When he came into office in 2011, Brown focused on renewable energy as a way to improve California's environment and economy. Job creation in the clean-energy sector has outpaced job growth in any other sector in California, despite two major recessions, according to a report from the Environmental Defense Fund.
Brown describes himself as an "uncompromising champion of a woman’s right to choose" and was endorsed by Planned Parenthood during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. As attorney general in 2008, Brown originally said he would defend Prop 8, which ended gay marriage in California. He later reversed his decision, urging the state's Supreme Court to overturn the vote, and has been an advocate for same-sex marriage ever since. Brown signed a landmark bill in 2011 that added lessons about gays and lesbians to classes in public schools, and he applauded President Obama's recent evolution on gay marriage.
Watch Brown on "The War Room"
Watch Brown on "The War Room"
Peter Shumlin, Vermont (D)
Gov. Peter Shumlin is known for his unwavering liberal views on abortion, gay marriage and universal health care. In 2011, Shumlin signed legislation establishing a single-payer health care system in Vermont to "ensure that health care is a right and not a privilege." Shumlin has also pushed to increase renewable energy projects in the state and move away from fossil fuels. He supports shutting down the state's 40-year-old Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and signed the nation's first ban on hydraulic fracturing.
Shumlin is running for re-election this year. He is being challenged by Republican Randy Brock.
Dan Malloy, Connecticut (D)
Dan Malloy campaigned for governor of Connecticut in 2010 as a strong supporter of the LGBT community, social safety nets and abolishment of the death penalty. So far, he's made good on his campaign promises. Malloy signed legislation specifically aimed at protecting the transgender community by making it illegal to discriminate based on "gender identity or expression." Earlier this year, Connecticut became the 17th state in the nation to abandon capital punishment. Malloy said, "Although it is a historic moment — Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action — it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration."
In addition to being socially progressive, Malloy has been a fierce critic of Republican governors. Malloy criticized New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's budget-cutting agenda, saying, "Hopefully, I take a slightly more intellectual approach to this discussion than Governor Christie has demonstrated."
He also called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's plan to eliminate collective bargaining rights "un-American" and applauded Democratic lawmakers who went into hiding to prevent a quorum in Wisconsin.
Pat Quinn, Illinois (D)
Gov. Pat Quinn's first priority was "restoring integrity to state government" after the impeachment of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. In addition, Quinn has managed to sign legal protections for same-sex couples, abolish the death penalty in Illinois and be a vocal supporter of abortion rights.
Quinn also is an outspoken advocate for the environment. Though he continues to support clean coal in Illinois, he has also backed significant wind and solar energy projects. In 2011, he established an "environmental justice panel" to assess environmental laws and determine whether segments of the population disproportionately bear the health burdens caused by pollution.
John Hickenlooper, Colorado (D)
Gov. John Hickenlooper normally receives praise for his efforts to make Colorado more business-friendly, but he also supports abortion rights, legal recognition of same-sex couples and sustainable development. In May, Hickenlooper led efforts to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples in Colorado, but Republican lawmakers rejected the proposal during a special legislative session.
Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii (D)
When the "birther" conspiracy started during Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Gov. Neil Abercrombie took it personally. Abercrombie, who knew Obama's parents, reached out to Hawaii's attorney general and to the chief of the state's health department about how he could release more explicit documentation of Obama’s birth. He also sponsored a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives that celebrated 50 years of Hawaii statehood and stated that Obama was born in Hawaii. Eventually Abercrombie gave up on the mission, admitting, "Conspiratorial theorists are never going to be satisfied."
Abercrombie signed legislation legalizing civil unions in Hawaii in 2011 and voted against a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage while serving in the House. Abercrombie also voted against the 2002 resolution that authorized President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and has remained unwavering in his opposition to the war in Iraq.
Martin O'Malley, Maryland (D)
Gov. Martin O'Malley has taken progressive stances on abortion, gay marriage, immigration and several other issues. During a 2010 gubernatorial debate, O'Malley said that he supported federal enforcement against illegal immigration, but added that "new Americans" were not to blame for the recession or the rest of the country's problems. O'Malley went on to sign legislation that extended in-state tuition breaks to illegal immigrants at Maryland's colleges and universities. O'Malley also sponsored a same-sex marriage bill that was signed into law in March. Opponents to the law collected enough signatures for a referendum to reverse it, and it will appear on the November ballot.
O'Malley has also been critical of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Recently, on ABC's "This Week,"he slammed Romney for having offshore bank accounts.
"He bet against America when he put his money in Swiss bank accounts and tax havens and shelters and also set up a secret company, the shell company in Bermuda,” O'Malley said.
Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island (I)
The first independent candidate to be elected governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee was at one time a Republican. During his time in the U.S. Senate, Chafee was the only Republican to vote against authorizing the Iraq war. He left the GOP in 2007, saying, "It's not my party anymore."
Since being elected governor in 2010, Chafee has supported abortion rights, stem-cell research, same-sex marriage and a number of other progressive issues, including abolishment of the death penalty. In June, Chafee signed a bill that decriminalized the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana.
Christine Gregoire, Washington (D)
Christine Gregoire has been governor of Washington since 2005, but she announced on June 13, 2011, that she would not seek a third term. During her time in office she has focused on environmental issues and job creation. Washington ranks among the top states in the nation for producing wind power and manufacturing equipment to generate solar energy. Gregoire also signed a bill this year legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington.
"I'm proud our same-sex couples will no longer be treated as separate but equal," she said. Opponents have challenged the law, and it could face a referendum on the November ballot.
Hear what Gregoire has to say on "The War Room" about gay marriage in Washington.
Deval Patrick, Massachusetts (D)
In 2006, Deval Patrick became the first black governor of Massachusetts and only the second in the country. Before he was even sworn into office, Patrick announced he would eliminate an agreement former Gov. Mitt Romney signed with the federal government allowing state troopers to arrest and detain illegal immigrants. He then oversaw the implementation of the state's 2006 health care reform, which was enacted under Romney (and, as you well know, was the model for the Affordable Care Act, which Romney now opposes). Patrick has called Romney's recent attempts to distance himself from the policy "extraordinary." Patrick called the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act a real victory, saying the Massachusetts model of health care reform has done wonders for the state.
Patrick has also protected the state's same-sex marriage law from anti-gay amendments as well as expanding it to allow same-sex couples from other states to get married in Massachusetts.
Watch Patrick talk about health care in Massachusetts.
Andrew Cuomo, New York (D)
During his first year in office, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made gay marriage a priority. He worked with state lawmakers and gay advocacy groups to create a same-sex marriage bill that would gain bipartisan support. After signing the bill into law, Cuomo said, "The other states look to New York for the progressive direction. ... What we said today is, you look to New York once again."
Cuomo has also stood up for women in New York by supporting reproductive rights and tougher penalties for repeat domestic violence offenders.
During his time as attorney general, Cuomo won popularity by probing Wall Street titans who were ensnared in the financial crisis. He won settlements after pursuing investigations of student-loan companies, Medicaid fraud and Wall Street credit-rating agencies.
John Kitzhaber, Oregon (D)
Gov. John Kitzhaber knows his way around the governor's office. He served as governor from 1995 until 2003 and successfully ran for the office again in 2010. Kitzhaber, a former physician, took on the huge task of overhauling Oregon's health care system. He created an insurance exchange system in the state and set up a system of "coordinated teams" of medical professionals to focus on preventive care. The Obama administration signed off on the state's plan and is directing some $1.9 billion to the state over the next five years to help transition to the new system. Kitzhaber praised the Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. If the court had struck it down, Oregon's new insurance exchange could have been in jeopardy.
Kitzhaber, a longtime opponent of the death penalty, placed a moratorium on all executions in the state.
"I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer," he said. Kitzhaber says the death penalty should be replaced with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
(Photos: Getty Images, Governor.vermont.gov, Governor.wa.gov)