JayOdoriaHe was a colorful figure as governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s richest state, until April. He hosted the Brazilian version of “The Apprentice,” and a sex tape of a guy who looked like him went viral. But in last year’s primaries as the center-right party’s presidential candidate, he chose docility. “João Doria is boring, but capable,” his campaign video proclaimed. His team hopes it will separate him from the two contentious frontrunners in October’s election: leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and populist incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. It doesn’t work. Mr Doria (pictured) was nominated but struggled to attract wider support. When he dropped out of the race in May, his approval rating was 2%.
Brazil’s 27 governors have less power than their American counterparts.they have a CEO, but the responsibility of middle managers. Municipalities are responsible for doctors’ surgeries, primary schools, and garbage collection; it is their emblems that adorn buses and welfare payrolls. The governor can only allocate money for roads, prisons and hospitals. They have little taxing power and rely on the federal government for transfer payments (at least some of which are discretionary). As a result, their work is often overlooked. When voters are asked to rank the layers of government by their importance, national politics come last.
However, since Mr Bolsonaro came to power in 2019, the governors have become more prominent. They have often clashed with the president over mundane issues like state funding as well as larger issues like covid-19 and the environment.
This conflict is “new,” said Oscar Vilhena, dean of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas Law School. In recent decades, presidents have generally lived in harmony with the states. But from the beginning of his presidency, Bolsonaro has blamed state governors for high gas prices and high unemployment. As he downplayed the dangers of covid-19 — which he once called a “little flu” — the virus that has killed at least 680,000 Brazilians — governors stepped in to impose lockdowns and mandate masks, and wrote to U.S. authorities pleading vaccine.
In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that governors have the authority to implement their own policies, such as lockdowns, in response to emergencies such as pandemics. Mr Vilhena said the ruling “redefined Brazilian federalism”. Twelve governors are currently fighting to get reimbursed for the federal fuel tax cap, which has cut into their revenues.
Mr Bolsonaro’s grievances aren’t just directed at the governor. He slammed the mayor and slammed the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. But he seems to feel the greatest threat to national autonomy. The president declared in May that governors are “true dictators during a pandemic.”He accused the state of São Paulo “in addition to declaring[ing] Independence from Brazil”. In 2019, during Doria’s presidency, despite frosty relations with China, Bolsonaro opened an office in Shanghai to facilitate trade. In 2020, Mr. Doria with Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Signing a contract to produce vaccines in his state. A sign on the ring road in São Paulo welcomes tourists to Brazil’s “vaccine capital.”
The governors also addressed other issues, such as deforestation that has accelerated under Mr Bolsonaro.exist police26 of United Nations When the president did not attend the climate conference last year, 22 Brazilian states formed a green coalition with their own goals. Eduardo Leite, the former governor of Rio Grande do Sul, said they were concerned about “how much damage has been done to Brazil’s image”. Last year, the governors of three Amazonian states met with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan to discuss climate change. The meeting was held in the capital, Brasilia, but no one from the federal government was present.
Not all state politicians have taken the same approach. Romeu Zema, the governor of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second most populous state, rebuked other governors for, in his words, “angering” Mr Bolsonaro. “My job is to run the country, not criticize the president,” he said. He supports the fuel tax cap, even though his state finance minister said it would cost 12 billion minas reais ($2.3 billion), or 15 percent of its tax revenue, unless the federal government compensates it. (He’s a member of the Green Coalition, though.)
The tolerance for Mr Bolsonaro appears to have paid off. Mr Zema is the most popular governor in the big state, with 47 per cent support. The contingent of governors up for re-election this year seems markedly less prone to attacking the president than others.
Meanwhile, governors who have tried to leap into national politics have watched their stars fade.When Mr. Doria steps down, more Paulista Disapprove more than approve of him. His back-and-forth with the president, who routinely makes fun of the governor’s leggings, doesn’t seem to be doing him much good. Mr Wright, the first openly gay governor last year, also resigned to run for president last year, losing to Mr Doria.
While governors have become more vocal, their powers remain limited; over the past few years, much of their time has been spent mitigating federal policies rather than enforcing them. This may change. Former President Lula has vowed to be less combative than Bolsonaro. If elected, “the first thing I want to do is bring together the governors-elect,” he wrote on Twitter in August. He leads the polls. If he wins, the renewed hostility between the states and the federal government could dissipate as quickly as it arose. ■