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Jewish World Review
Feb. 16, 2009
/ 22 Shevat 5769
Governing in the real world
One big difference between governors and congressmen is that governors are out there on the front lines, dealing with the real everyday needs of their citizens. Whereas members of Congress can afford to retreat into ideology, governors have no such luxury.
Which brings us to Charlie Crist, the popular Republican governor of Florida, who today may well be known nationwide for two things: (a) the deepest tan since George Hamilton, and (b) the man-hug that he shared on Tuesday with President Obama.
Crist epitomizes the gap that separates Republican governors (who are trying desperately to safeguard the welfare of their citizens), and Republican members of Congress (who are opposing the Obama stimulus package that would help the governors safeguard the welfare of their citizens). Many of the Republican governors face huge budget deficits, thanks to the recession; they would welcome the infusion of federal money, which would allow them to keep paying (among others) the teachers and the firefighters and the unemployment checks of the jobless.
In other words, governors have to be practical. They can't take refuge in right-wing talking points that play well on the cable network talkfests, where ideological conflict makes for good TV.
Crist shared a stage with Obama in Florida on Tuesday, and it's hardly because Obama currently enjoys a 64 percent approval rating in Florida polls. Crist did it because he's trying to be practical. In part because the rash of home foreclosures has triggered a major downturn in property taxes, Florida is reportedly facing a budget deficit of $6 billion next year. Crist, like most governors, is required to balance the state budget, which means that various public payrolls, especially schools, have already been slashed. For instance, the state-financed University of Florida has already announced the elimination of 430 faculty and staff positions. (Meanwhile, back in Washington the other day, a Republican senator insisted on national TV that states are not going to institute public sector layoffs, and he insisted that anyone who says it's so is merely "fear-mongering.")
So what's a governor to do? The answer is: Take the money. The Obama recovery package - which is ridiculed by the congressional GOP as "pork" - would bring real money to Florida. Like maybe $10 billion or so. Crist on Tuesday urged passage of the package: "It is important that we do so to help education, to help our infrastructure, and to help health care for those who need it most, the most vulnerable among us. ... It's very tangible to me."
The entire Florida GOP congressional delegation has voted No thus far, despite Crist's entreaties. Senator Mel Martinez explains his disagreements with Crist this way: "He's looking at the bill from a governor's perspective."
Well, that's the point, isn't it? As Obama said Tuesday, in a jab at the congressional GOP, "The thing about governors is, they understand our economic crisis in a way that maybe sometimes folks a little more removed don't understand." Which is why the bipartisan National Governors Association has endorsed the basic thrust of the recovery package, and has urged speedy passage.
And which is why four Republican governors (Crist, California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, Connecticut's Rodi Rell and Vermont's Jim Douglas) have joined 14 of their Democratic counterparts in signing a letter to Obama endorsing the package.
Regarding those four Republican signees, the predictable retort is that the other 18 Republican governors have not signed the endorsement letter. True enough, but that's not the whole story. At least five more Republican governors have already signaled that - notwithstanding the rekindled small-government principles trumpeted by their congressional counterparts - they would in fact be quite willing to take whatever federal money the Democratic-led recovery package might provide.
Utah Gov. John Huntsman has told the press, "This could be the type of stimulus that we could benefit from." Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons says the recovery measure "shows great promise for the partial or full reversal of many of the difficult but otherwise necessary spending reductions we are currently discussing." Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said that although he'd be voting No if he was still in Congress, he will take the money. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley says the money would ease his fiscal woes; in his words, "What everyone wants ... is an expanding budget, not a contracting one." And Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty says, "States have to balance their budgets. So if we're going to go down this path, we are entitled to ask for our share of the money."
Based on the results of the last two congressional elections, when the GOP hemorrhaged House and Senate seats, it's clear that the voters don't consider Republicans to be good stewards of governance. The party's turnaround may hinge on the performance of its state executives, who by definition cannot succeed unless they eschew ideology and deal with reality. Unlike their counterparts in Washington.
A Republican consultant in Miami reportedly groused Tuesday that "politically, Charlie Crist is putting the Florida Republican federal-elected representatives in a very tough spot." Well, that's the point, isn't it?
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Dick Polman is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.
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