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Saturday, December 3, 2016

WASHINGTON — Governors are displaying split personalities as they launch their 2014 election campaigns: Bash the other party as divisive and wrong about the big issues, but also calmly vow to solve the day’s biggest problems as they work diligently with others.

That dual focus — feisty partisans and thoughtful policymakers — was evident all weekend at the National Governors Association winter meeting.

After a dinner at the White House Sunday evening, the governors plan to meet Monday morning with President Barack Obama and members of his Cabinet. Problem-solving, rather than politics, is expected to dominate the agenda.

This less flashy aspect of this four-day conference, which ends Friday, has been apparent during forums on everyday problems confronting governors. The discussions have been civil, the disagreements polite.

One area of agreement involved avoiding expected National Guard cuts.

“We need to keep the guard and not cut the guard. This is something the governors are united on and something that’s important,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican.

Differences were most obvious on health care. No issue so clearly divides Democrats, who enthusiastically support the Affordable Care Act, and Republicans, who generally want it repealed and replaced.

Disagreements, though, were expressed gently. “They didn’t come to the states, they didn’t come to the governors” when the act was being considered in 2009 and 2010, complained Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, countered that the act was carefully crafted and will eventually be popular.

“What I tell your grandmother, her Medicare works pretty well,” he said. Though controversial when it was created in 1965, he said, it’s now widely accepted.

But the talk often turned to common ground. “Regardless of how you feel about the policy,” said North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, Washington is providing “absolutely no flexibility to the 50 states’ unique needs,” he said.

Much of the discussion was about sharing ideas. “We look at health care in Mississippi as an economic driver,” said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. He talked about “health care zones” where health-care related businesses create jobs in certain areas and receive state incentives.

At another forum, Nixon set a serious tone as governors discussed disaster response.

“It is often important for us to learn lessons from each other,” he said. They then heard from Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, who methodically described strategy and readiness.

“We’re concerned about the worst night in America,” he said, a catastrophe like a major earthquake. He outlined an elaborate plan to be ready for such catastrophes.