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“Same Dynamics Of Polarization And Bad Ideology As Anybody Else”: No, Governors Are Not Inherently Superior Candidates For President

For a professional political writer, nothing’s more fun than identifying a cliche your less esteemed colleagues are using that never made sense or has stopped making sense and just blowing it up. One that’s overdue for an explosion is the trope about governors making inherently superior presidential candidates. So that was the subject of my latest TPMCafe column.

Once you start looking at the 2016 Republican presidential field from this perspective, the first thing that jumps out at you is how many governors and former governors are struggling with home-state unpopularity or mistakes they made in office or both. It’s entirely possible, for example, that the entire Scott Walker candidacy could be unraveled by his growing problems in Wisconsin, where a lot of people who either voted for him or stayed home are angry at him for his nasty state budget proposals or for his pattern of doing highly controversial things (e.g., making Wisconsin a Dixie-style Right-to-Work state) he disclaimed or didn’t mention when running for office. That’s because his whole electability argument is that he won over swing voters in Wisconsin three times without compromising with the godless liberals. That argument loses a lot of punch if poll after poll starts showing Walker losing his state–by 52/40 in the latest Marquette Law School survey–to Hillary Clinton.

Then you look at Bobby Jindal, who is obviously miserable being, and miserable at being, governor of Louisiana. As a legendary whiz kid, diversity symbol, and rising star in the House, he was probably on the brink of being regarded as presidential timber before he became governor back in 2007. You think it might cross his mind now and then how much better positioned he’d be if he were now a Senator, or even still in the House, where he could pander to the conservative constituencies he is pursuing all day long without having to worry about Louisiana’s budget problems, which he is only making worse?

I won’t go through the whole column, but you get the idea. Perhaps governors aren’t afflicted with Washington Cooties, but they are actually required to do things that people notice, and are subject to the same dynamics of partisan polarization and bad ideology as anybody else. Republicans in Congress can go on and on and on about education vouchers or supply-side economics or privatizing government benefits without any risk of being held accountable for their “vision” being implemented. Governors are living much more unavoidably in the real world.

You can still make the case, I guess, that for this very reason governors make better presidents than, say, senators. But that’s not entirely clear, either. Sometimes governors get a good reputation simply for being in the right place at the right time, like a certain Texas governor who took office just as a national economic boom was gaining steam, and just as a decades-long realignment was pushing the last of his state’s conservative Democratic aristocracy in his direction. So he got to be a “reformer with results,” and his fellow governors had a lot to do with lifting him to a presidential nomination. Was he prepared to be president? Is his brother prepared now? Even though both men have benefited from their father’s vast network of moneyed elites, and from gubernatorial service, that’s really not so clear.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 22, 2015

April 24, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Governors, Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Juicy Target For Budget Cutters”: To Balance Budgets, Governors Seek Higher Education Cuts

Governors in nearly a half-dozen states want to cut state spending on colleges and universities to help close budget shortfalls, often sparking vehement opposition among state lawmakers of both parties.

Republican governors in Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, and Connecticut’s Democratic governor have proposed higher education cuts for the coming fiscal year. Higher education spending traditionally is a juicy target for budget cutters because schools can make up the lost revenue by raising tuition.

But students and their families already are being squeezed by steadily rising college costs. In fiscal year 2013, schools got about 47 percent of their revenue from tuition, up from about 24 percent in fiscal year 1988, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut has suggested a tuition hike to compensate for the cuts, but the Republican governors are urging the schools in their states to find the necessary savings by trimming bureaucracy and consolidating campuses.

University officials argue that past budget cuts have pushed them to the breaking point, forcing them, for example, to rely heavily on adjunct professors and teaching assistants instead of full professors. During the recession, 48 states cut higher education spending. Alaska and North Dakota didn’t. They are the only two states spending as much or more on higher education than they did before the recession, when the numbers are adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a Washington, D.C.-based research group.

Some critics have urged the Republican governors to roll back recent tax cuts to spare the colleges and universities. But so far the governors have balked, arguing that lower taxes have helped working families and attracted businesses.

Nowhere is the controversy greater than in Louisiana, which has a complicated higher education system and a Republican governor who is considering running for president.

Governor Bobby Jindal proposed a budget that would reduce higher education spending by $141 million in fiscal 2016. In recent weeks, he has proposed offsetting some of the cuts by getting rid of some refundable business tax credits, which have a total value of $526 million. But the business community is strongly opposing that idea. That leaves the Republican-dominated legislature in a bind, forcing members to choose between education and low taxes, two priorities they generally support.

State Senator Conrad Appel, a Republican, said in an interview that if the higher education cuts Jindal proposed all go into effect “it would be really serious” and a big blow to colleges and universities. He said he wants to scale back the proposed cuts, but wasn’t prepared to say exactly how.

“If we vote to replenish, some of the cuts will be mitigated to some extent,” he said. But, he noted that the Louisiana public university system has “structural inefficiencies” that will mean more budget cuts in the future. He said he told college administrators last week that they should take steps to cut their budgets, whether that means consolidation of campuses or other methods.

“What I don’t recommend is for higher education to ignore the opportunity to fix the problem,” he said. “Either they are going to fix it or we are going to fix it for them and they won’t like it.”

Robert Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, said that since Jindal became governor in 2008, the number of full-time employees at state colleges and universities has decreased 23 percent due to budget cuts, and that schools have been raising tuition along the way. But now, he said, “they are about to price themselves out of the market.” He said the flagship school, Louisiana State University, “still has some headroom” to continue tuition increases, but most of the small schools in the state system don’t have that luxury.

John Griswold, a fine arts professor at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, said his state is a test case for cuts to higher education.

“The conditions in Louisiana were perfect for testing an assault on state-funded higher education,” Griswold said. He noted the state has a conservative governor, legislative rules that preclude cuts in most spending except for higher education and health care, and an economic downturn prompted by the drop in oil prices.

“Similar conditions exist in other states, so conservative politicians elsewhere can also demand deep cuts to higher ed, based on populist appeals to ‘good business’ and an end to ‘welfare mentality,’” he said.

Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a potential presidential candidate who has cut state income and property taxes by $541 million during his tenure, has proposed cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system.

According to Walker, that amounts to a 2.5 percent cut, but other analysts have put the figure as high as 13 percent. The fact-checking service PolitiFact split the difference, assessing the reduction at about 6 percent. The cut would be exacerbated by the fact that there is a tuition freeze in place.

“Through flexibility and empowering current leaders from across the system, (University of Wisconsin) System and campus leadership will have the tools necessary to deliver a high quality education in a strategic manner while saving taxpayers $150 million a year,” Walker’s spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said.

Meanwhile, two Republican state lawmakers have called for changes in the governor’s budget that would lessen the cut, including raising out-of-state tuition and requiring the university to spend down reserve funds.

“We will work toward a smaller, more manageable cut instead of the $300 million cut proposed in the governor’s budget,” the two, Reps. Dean Knudson and John Nygren, said in a press release last week.

In Illinois, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner recommended a reduction of nearly 6 percent in direct spending on state colleges and universities. Despite the cut, Rauner argues that “this budget proposal continues to offer state support to our public universities” through contributions to the universities’ retirement system and insurance benefits for university employees.

But Rauner faces strong opposition from the Democratic-controlled legislature and from the state’s universities.

Senate President John Cullerton said on his Facebook page that the governor’s budget cuts will “undermine access to health services, child care, affordable college and retirement security for working- and middle-class families” and vowed that the legislature will amend it. While Rauner has proposed cuts in a range of areas, the education chunk is drawing the most attention.

In Arizona, the Republican-led legislature went further than Republican Governor Doug Ducey in cutting higher education, agreeing to a $99 million cut, down from an earlier legislative proposal of $104 million. Ducey had proposed a $75 million reduction as a way to pay for business tax cuts. Universities and proponents of higher education fought the governor’s cuts so doggedly that they prompted a backlash in the legislature, which upped them.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow called the action a “drastic remedy to the state’s budget troubles” and one that will come back to haunt the state when it has fewer college graduates contributing to the state’s economy.

In Connecticut, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy proposed cutting $10.6 million from the University of Connecticut system and an additional $20.6 million from the state’s regional universities. Malloy has expressed support for tuition hikes, after several years of urging that tuition merely keep pace with inflation.

In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback since 2011 has pushed through a 25 percent reduction in the state’s top income tax rate, lowered sales taxes and eliminated a tax on small-business income. As a result, state revenue has declined by $685 million. Brownback now is looking to make cuts in education and elsewhere in an effort to balance the books.

Walter McMahon, professor emeritus of economics and education at the University of Illinois said cutting higher education to close budget gaps is “very, very shortsighted.”

“Spending on education is really an investment,” McMahon said. “As money is invested in human capital formation, each graduate is in the labor force for over 45 years and contributes increased earnings and tax revenue to state coffers.”

He added that statistics show that more educated people live longer, healthier lives and commit fewer crimes, allowing states to spend less on health care and prison costs.

 

By: Elaine S. Povich, The National Memo, March 30, 2015

March 31, 2015 Posted by | Governors, Higher Education, State Budgets | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Governors As Mini-Presidents”: Being A Governor Is Not The Same As Being The Commander In Chief

In a Sunday Show appearance mainly given notice as indicating his apparent eagerness to challenge Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, Martin O’Malley did something that is sadly common but ought to be mocked out of existence: pretending that being a governor is not only an adequate but a complete preparation for the presidency. Get this (from JP Updates‘ Jacob Kornbluh):

O’Malley, who came as close as he can to announcing a 2016 presidential run, cited Maryland’s state sanctions on Iran’s economy under his tenure as one example of how he had already slowed Iran’s rush towards acquiring a nuclear bomb. Maryland had “passed some of the earliest and strongest sanctions against Iranian nuclear development of any state in the nation,” he asserted.

C’mon, give me a break. This is the foreign policy equivalent of the exceedingly annoying tendency of governors to take personal credit for national economic booms, like a child in a car seat pretending to drive his parent’s automobile. I say this as someone that worked for three governors and have had opportunities to closely watch many others–including O’Malley. I like and admire these people, as a group, far more than Members of Congress. But in trying to counter Washingtonian prejudice against politicians who aren’t performing in the Big Top, they sometimes go too far.

O’Malley isn’t remotely as egregious on this score as Scott Walker, who is rhetorically trying to reshape the world in the image of the view from his window in Madison. But he still ought to cut it out. He’s been a two-term big city mayor and a two-term governor. He’s qualified to run for president by any reasonable standard. But the idea that if elected he can smoothly move into the Oval Office and assume the responsibilities of Commander-in-Chief without some culture shock is simply not credible. That’s true of Very Senior U.S. Senators, for that matter. Truth is, there is only one putative candidate for president who is entirely acclimated to the foreign policy challenges of the presidency, and in my opinion, that should offset a lot of the carping we hear about her lack of specific “accomplishments.”

In any event, governors should stop trying to project themselves as mini-presidents. Being a governor is a big job, and an important job, and a job that tells you a lot about its occupant’s qualities. But it’s really not the same thing.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 30, 2015

March 31, 2015 Posted by | Commander In Chief, Governors, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“So Far, So Feeble”: GOP Governors Have A Problem; The Ways They Govern

Even as Republicans boast of their chances to take over the United States Senate come November, their party’s governors across the country are facing dimmer prospects. From Georgia to Alaska, right-wing ideological rule imposed by GOP chief executives have left voters disappointed, disillusioned, and angry.

The problem isn’t that these governors failed to implement their promised panaceas of tax-cutting, union-busting, and budget-slashing, all in the name of economic recovery; some did all three. The problem is that those policies have failed to deliver the improving jobs and incomes that were supposed to flow from “conservative” governance. In fact, too often the result wasn’t at all truly conservative, at least in the traditional sense — as excessive and imbalanced tax cuts, skewed to benefit the wealthy, led to ruined budgets and damaged credit ratings.

Consider Gov. Scott Walker, famous for surviving the recall effort that Wisconsin’s outraged citizens mounted in response to his attacks on labor. While seeking to end collective bargaining in 2010, Walker also passed a series of regressive tax cuts that he vowed would bring at least 250,000 jobs. By sharply reducing state aid to schools and local governments, he temporarily closed a structural deficit – but this year, with state tax revenues declining precipitously in the wake of his tax cuts, Walker is facing a $1.8 billion budget deficit. And as for the jobs, most of them never materialized. Wisconsin is near the bottom of Midwestern states in creating new jobs.

In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback was equally faithful to right-wing orthodoxy. With the advice of Arthur Laffer, the genius responsible for Ronald Reagan’s exploding deficits in the 1980s, Brownback imposed an historically huge tax cut on the state. Declining revenues meant huge reductions in state services, especially education. And, as furious Kansans have discovered, the Brownback experiment has achieved poor employment growth combined with…yes, a massive budget deficit of nearly $350 million this year.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett’s first budget in 2011 included major tax cuts for corporations that cost about $600 million annually. By this point, it should be obvious who was required to pay for those favors: the children served by the state’s education system, who saw a billion dollars in cuts to their schools and programs, from kindergarten through college.

This year, the state is facing a budget shortfall of over $1 billion, but Corbett doesn’t seem to have learned much. He has demanded further income tax cuts that will benefit the wealthy – and will cost Pennsylvania another $770 million in annual revenue. And what about his promise that the state would become number one nationally in job creation? As of last summer, it ranked either 47th or 49th, depending on the data measured.

So far, so feeble – and it is scarcely more impressive in the other red states whose governors face reelection this year.

The politician tasked with rescuing his party’s beleaguered governors is none other than their colleague from New Jersey, Chris Christie, who serves as chair of the Republican Governors Association. From that perch, of course, the blustering Christie hopes to run for president – an aspiration that may recede still further from his grasp with each lost governor’s mansion this fall. Emotional as he tends to be, Christie surely empathizes with his fellow governors – because his very similar policies have landed New Jersey in equally precarious condition.

So it is puzzling to hear voters in places far from the Garden State – such as Iowa and New Hampshire – tell reporters that they admire Christie because he “saved New Jersey.” Evidently they don’t know that the state’s finances have been sufficiently terrible to provoke not one but two downgrades in its credit rating this year alone.

But bad bond ratings aren’t the only woe confronting the Big Boy, as President Bush called him. Christie is perfectly suited to his leadership role among the GOP governors – if only because his economic record may well be the very worst of any American governor in either party. The question that voters must answer, this November and two years from now, is when these failed fiscal and economic “experiments” – and the suffering they have caused – will at last end.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, October 1, 2014

October 2, 2014 Posted by | Governors, Red States, Tax Revenue | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The States Are Not An Alternative America”: Republican Control Of Governorships Does Not Indicate A Solid Majority Of “The People”

There are two perpetually silly memes going around the commentariat these days in connection with the very limited but loudly expressed self-examination of the Republican Party, both involving the GOP’s relatively strong standing at the state level.

The first, which I’ve attacked before (here, here and here), and will keep attacking as long as it rears its ugly head, is that there is this essentially moderate (or at least “pragmatic”) brand of Republican pol operating at the state level who “gets it” and is free of the ideological manias of Washington-style GOPers. Give them the leadership of the party, it is often said, and “reform” will take care of itself.

When you start looking for these “pragmatists,” however, they seem to be in short supply. You can apply the label to Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell, I suppose, but these gents are not about to be handed the leadership of the national party, having just been excluded from the national party’s most important 2013 event, CPAC. Looking deeper in the gubernatorial ranks, though: Does Paul LePage “get it?” Is Rick Scott a “reformer?” Are Rick Perry or Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley or Phil Bryant or Mary Fallon or Scott Walker or Jan Brewer “non-ideologues?” Is John Kasich really “reaching out” to non-GOP constituencies? Is Rick Snyder exhibiting freedom from conservative litmus tests? No, no, no, no and no.

A closely associated meme, which CNN’s Roland Martin articulates in a well-meaning but misguided column, is that Republicans by focusing on state politics are actually running the country as the two parties wrangle in Washington. So:

[M]any Republicans have told me they couldn’t care less about Washington, because legislation with real impact is being proposed and passed in the states. That’s why you’ve seen groups quietly backing initiatives on the state level and bypassing the hot lights and screaming media in Washington….

Think about it: Obama won Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Nevada, all states with GOP governors. So clearly voters in those states chose the Republican alternative in statewide elections, but when it came to the presidency, said “No thanks.”

I’m not buying for a second this silly notion that the GOP will have a Damascus Road experience and drastically change. It’s not going to happen. There will be some movement on the national level, but Republican grass-roots organizers are very well aware that the message the GOP is selling statewide is a winning formula.

Sorry, Roland. Republicans are touting their success at the state level not because they don’t care what happens in Washington, but because they didn’t win the presidency or the Senate in 2012 so what else are they going to tout? Their control of 30 of 50 governorships does not indicate a solid majority of “the people” in the alternative America represented by the states, but just a majority of state governments according to measurements whereby Alaska and North Dakota count the same as New York and California. And most important of all, their victories in 2010 and defeats in 2012 did not represent some self-conscious “split decision” whereby voters preferred Republican leadership at one level and Democratic leadership at another, but different election cycles that featured different electorates. So even if Democrats decide, as Martin wants them to do, to “focus” on state elections as Republicans allegedly have, 2014 will be tough for them because of the landscape and the shape of the midterm electorate, just as Republicans, no matter where they are “focused,” will face a stiff wind in 2016.

Sorry to keep harping on these issues, but Lord-a-mighty, these are fairly simple empirical matters that an awful lot of well-compensated and highly visible writers and talkers just can’t seem to get straight, or don’t want to because it interferes with a desired grinding of axes.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 19, 2013

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Governors, States | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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