The presidency aside, politically, being a governor is the best place to be… right?
You run a big organization, so you can claim executive experience. You get to make important decisions on your own and not be bogged down by opponents digging through your voting record, so you can claim you’re your own man or woman. And best of all, you get to not be in Washington, so you can claim yourself as an outsider to the shady business perpetually presumed to occur there. Plus, there is the awesome linguistic anomaly “gubernatorial” that you get to keep close at hand for when things get dicey. Don’t eff with it.
Republican governors have it even better. They’re supposed to believe in the sanctity and superiority of state government and states’ rights, so they can claim blanket disavowal and widespread disapproval of all manner of DC doings. In keeping with that, they frequently exercise wild abandon provoking or unleashing invective at the Establishment (when that Establishment is Democrats). Texas’ captain of the capitol, Rick Perry, exemplified this most inspiringly in threatening to take his Lone Star and secede last fall. His bold proposition made me long for the days when all Texas governors did was ignore a ringing phone on the day of a lethal injection.
And those GOP generals of the statehouse are certainly making the most of it: the Republican Governors Association raised over twice what the Democrats’ similarly named group put up during the fiscal quarter just ended. For those keeping score, that’s RGA $19 million, DGA $9.1 million. That would be like Obama having more than twice the cash of McCain. Oh, wait, he did.
That backdrop to this weekend’s National Governors Association summer meeting in Boston (what, Cape Cod was booked?) made for some interesting grist and fodder. (Being around all those guvs didn’t keep David Paterson from saying he wished he had made himself a Senator.) As we stand today, the teams are pretty close to even. 26 Democrats, 23 Republicans, and Charlie Crist of Florida as the regurgitated Republican who became an Independent in his attempt to be a Senator.”Contenders, ready! Gladiators, ready! Go!” What issues will rise to the top? The economy is a good bet.
And so that topic came aggressively to the fore with many a statesman chiming in on the Stimulus and how it led us to the current landscape.
Democrat and Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said she felt the Dems in DC didn’t sell the $787 billion bill persuasively enough with the public. She was not alone among the donkeys; others, like Arkansas Democrat Mike Beebe, felt the expectations game was botched. (As someone who lost his job days before Obama was elected, I never thought this thing would only take a quick year to fix.) The consensus was that Obama and co. did not convey that it was absolutely vital to avert a crippling depression, yet that it might still only leave us at best with a challenging recession. Um, does anyone remember stories, like this one?
Of course, most of these are the same governors who clung to the funds their states received from the Stimulus like they were the Tree of Life. This is pretty stupid. You’re criticizing the message about the Stimulus from over a year ago, though you needed the money and had no better ideas? Past is prologue: what happened to looking forward?
In addition to their criticisms, some also believe, as economists like Paul Krugman do, that more (unpopular) deficit spending is necessary to assure we are on the way out of this hole. If that’s what they believe, why don’t these Dem-a-govs band together with some coordinated talking points and colleagues and try to make it more popular? They can afford to in the sense that only seven of them are up for reelection this year.
Oh, but here comes a sleeper issue to remix the messaging match-up: immigration!
Governors from both parties complained publicly about the dust-up over the controversial immigration law in Arizona. Republicans argued that the federal government’s attempts to strike it down are an unwarranted assault on states’ rights (nailed it!), while Democrats bemoaned the Administration giving the divisive issue prominence in the run-up to the fall’s vote.
Arizona’s Jan Brewer, who signed that state’s immigration law into effect for July 29, doesn’t look like an illegal immigrant. But she does looks like an alien… from Mars Attacks! She says the law didn’t come up when she met privately (-cough-bullshit-) this weekend with her predecessor, Janet Napolitano, who left her state post to become “Supreme Diva & Madam of Homeland Security.”
The Justice Department’s attack on this law, before it goes into effect, seems unwise strategically. Nationally, the law polls evenly or even favorably. If it succeeds in trouncing the legislation now, Justice will be perceived as an overreaching federal interloper. If it does not, it simply looks weak. It would be more prudent to let it go into effect, monitor hawkishly for racial profiling incidents, nail those stories to the wall, and bring a case then with the chance of more public momentum. Democratic Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter echoed that sentiment, saying, “It’s just an easier case to make. I just think that law enforcement officers are going to have a terribly difficult time applying this law in a constitutional way.”
Be that as it may, Democratic governors should not speak out on this. Why make the party look weak with an un-unified front? Why draw more attention to a politically dubious and legally challenging situation? And yet they are. Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, another Democrat, candidly exclaimed, “Universally the governors are saying, ‘We’ve got to talk about jobs.’ And all of a sudden we have immigration going on.” Why even say that? Stay on-message yourself and just talk about jobs! One of the only Democratic governors to stand arm-in-arm with the White House on immigration was Bill Richardson. And he’s Latino, so he better.
By throwing poop at the TV when your party is on the outs, you’re not nearly as accountable as if your team has the ball. But by ragging on a Washington that your party controls, you’re perpetuating the cycle. So now, on both of these issues, a Democratic Congressional or Senate candidate has to take additional flak from the highest-ranking state official in their party on front pages of their local papers and in top stories on their local TV affiliates.
Maybe being a governor is not all it’s cracked up to be. Nationwide, most of their approvals ratings are abysmal. Democratic governors are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Criticize other Dems, but know that you’re still going to be the Democrat on the top of the ticket in four months. Speak out in support and you’re going to have to hold firm at the attacks… but at least you can stand on principle and stand by your man, the president, who most of you endorsed not long ago.
Some palette cleansing food for thought: rewind a few years… when did GOP governors break rank with the Bushies? It’s just not done! I suppose Arnold Schwarzenegger did a few times, but that’s because he knew he was the only one who could beat the crap out of the whole Cabinet. And, unlike these 49 other folks, because he didn’t ever have to worry about mounting a presidential campaign. Oh, funny story, by the way: the Governator decided not to show up in Boston.