Arizona's First Political Blog
E-mail Anonymous Mike at zonitics4-at-yahoo.com
By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.
Friday, January 9, 2009
For a Few Posts More...
Three more posts on Janet Napolitano should just about do it, then hopefully that will be about it. Nothing I said before but let's call this a summarization of her political legacy or, if you will, her political epitaph.
If Napolitano magically vanished from the face of the planet after Election Day 2006, her legacy would have been secured while she was at the height of her powers. In 1998 she managed to win the Attorney General race after the Republicans committed fratricide in the primary. In 2002 she barely won her first gubernatorial race during tough economic times and the alt fuel scandal. In 2006 when she ran for re-election, she was dominant that her massive margin of victory was magnified by the fact that no Republican of prominence wanted to run against her. It capped off a first-term of gushing revenues that allowed her to run as both as a spender and tax cutter, a reputation of her being able to manhandle the Republican Legislature, and the perceived ability to effectively manage the executive branch.
Her political future was as bright as the June sun. What was the next step? Senate? Heck, for a while last year she was even talked about as a possible VP pick.
Now... in the early days of 2009, all of that seems like ash.
Let's forget about the popular opinion polls about Napolitano because much like the real estate bubble did, her poll numbers should be the next thing to pop. I'm going to ask you, what did she do? What are her prominent, "count-on-one-hand" achievements?
All-day kindergarten? Okay chalk that one up to her. Keep going... her little biotech capital venture fund? Okay, you got that too. Any ballot initiatives? After all with a Republican Legislature, that would seem to be a great place for a purported political Colossus of Janet to make her mark, to translate her hegemony into policy. Hmmmm.... TIME and state trust lands initiatives never even made the ballot due to technicalities. That's sort of like never making it to your Super Bowl game because you forgot when the game was being played.
What else? Managerial effectiveness? Okay throw out the prison standoff from a few years ago, the Veterans Home fiasco that happened twice under her watch, and the ongoing problems at CPS.... Anything else? Oh yes, she boosted spending and we see where that has gotten us.
I would say that her achievements, and therefore much of her legacy, rest on 3 things:
1) She was able to exploit differences within the Republicans in the Legislature, either by peeling off moderate votes or by simply stonewalling on issues like the budget until the Republicans caved. So in comparison to the Legislature, which is one of the most ridiculed public institutions in the state, she looks like a genius in comparison.
2) Her image as a moderate Democrat, the one who could run as both a spender and tax cutter, was only possible because the inconsistencies in her program were never exposed by being pushed back onto her base. Democrats didn't dare ask why taxes were cut instead of more money spent or why more ambitious programs weren't implemented because there was no one willing to stand up and speak. The critical time was in January 2006 when revenue was gushing in and it was clear that she would face no serious opposition to re-election, that would have been the time to start constructing some of the more transformative liberal programs that her supporters were hankering for... but she did nothing. She was completely unwilling to shave up a few points from her massive lead in order to translate that popularity into lasting policies.
3) She was in office during flush times. It's always better to be lucky than good and part of being lucky is to know when to be in office. Her election in 2002 was propelled in part by the tough economic and fiscal times back then and her re-election was propelled by the flush times of 2006. It doesn't take a political genius to win as an outsider in 2002 and as an incumbent in 2006, but some wanted to give her that label and so it stuck.
In short she was a tactician, not a strategist. Somebody willing to exploit current trends and weaknesses in the opposition and her own ranks in order to move an incrementalist agenda, either out of ideological disposition or out of innate caution born out of political ambition. There's nothing wrong with that and many a long and successful political career has been built on such an approach. It, however, is the antithesis of being a leader which is why at the greatest moment in her reign as governor, she will fail and bring the Colossus of Janet crashing down.
However that's tomorrow's story.