Personalities and the ways political actors perceive one another are large factors in determining patterns of collaboration or competition. There has always been much academic debate about whether external challenges matter more than internal historical--institutional structures inherited by decision-makers. (17) New England regionalism has always depended on governors who managed to get along and understood the value of bringing different interests together and finding ways to build the kind of regional knowledge and capacity essential for addressing challenges of interdependence. But operating in different contexts and playing for dissimilar audiences have never been easy for governors.
In the past, the staff of the NEGC understood the challenges associated in selling a regional vision within competitive state structures. They did what they could to collaborate closely with the personal political staffs of the governors in each state. In turn, there was support and understanding among governors that good regional governance brought positive outcomes for all, especially in areas like transportation, energy and the environment. To be sure, there were challenges along the way, but there were governors who were champions of regionalization. They made sure that key people in their administration were involved. This sent a strong message that it was a priority. (18) Even when the regional commission was cut in 1981 and there were fewer resources for regional coordination, there remained a political commitment to bringing different interests together and promoting common shared objectives. With the lead of governors like Michael Dukakis and his commitment to funding these kinds of activities, the other governors in the region rallied in support of the regional idea.
But that was a different time when governors in the region shared common concerns about federal redistributive policies that took money out of the Northeast, and then spent it in the South or the West. This common regional quest to defend the region, especially when economic conditions worsened, made it possible for Republicans and Democrats to work together closely in a common cause. When many of these regional programs were abandoned federally (with the exception of the Appalachian Regional Commission) it became more difficult to find common causes capable of uniting Republicans and Democrats across state boundaries.
In recent years, partisan differences between states have intensified....