Friday, December 05, 2008

If Napolitano Heads DHS, Could She Put Arizona State Government On A Terrorist Watch List?

This column ran Nov. 23, and luckily for me they didn’t announce the Gov’s appointment as head of Homeland Security until after the column ran. My suggested headline was above but I certainly did not expect any reasonable editor to use that headline.

East Valley Tribune, Nov. 23, 2008

So, if President-elect Barack Obama offers heading the Department of Homeland Security to Gov. Janet Napolitano, and if she accepts -- neither of which are certain as of my deadline, and both of which had better remain uncertain until after publication -- what happens?

It fits with the 2008 election results, which meant major change in America, but in Arizona, not so much. Nationally and federally, Democrats did very well, but statewide and locally, Republicans won. Sure, Democrats took two of three Corporation Commission seats -- apparently, the names “Paul Newman” and “Kennedy” are politically potent here as “Stump” -- but other than two-thirds of the “Solar Team,” if it was a Democrat and wasn’t a federal office, 2008 was the new 2004.

If the rumors are correct, Arizona gives up a very popular, savvy, and effective Democratic governor who might have checked the worst excesses of an even-more conservative GOP legislature. It helps the country to have her expertise take on the morass at Homeland Security, but won’t do much for the state.

If Napolitano does get the Homeland Security job, then maybe Americans -- alone among the nations -- will be able to fly without first removing our shoes. Could we perhaps soon take regularly-priced coffee through airport security, or is that too much to ask?

It’s good for the country for Obama to get smart, competent people to serve in his administration, and to have a president whom people are eager to serve, even in difficult positions. Homeland Security is a huge agency, with interagency rivalries making the Pentagon look harmonious, and it’s the offensive line of government: Even if you do your job perfectly, at the end of the day you’re completely beat up anyway, and the announcers mention your name only if things go wrong.

There’s only one job in government that’s going to be worse than heading Homeland Security, and that’s being a state governor during the next two years. It was simpler, and far more fun, during a boom, when any governor could both cut taxes and increase spending. To stick with the football analogies, being governor during this recession will be like coaching a bad team that just lost its best players to injury. If you do the best coaching job possible, you’ll narrow the margin of defeat, but it’s never fun (or good for job security) to lose.

The only grimly ironic news in Secretary of State Jan Brewer becoming governor is that just as everything goes all to heck, in Arizona we’ll know which party is responsible. The collapse of the real estate economy and national recession mean that our state revenues, dependent on development and consumption, are decreasing at rates economists haven’t seen before and didn’t project. In a political climate that rewards people for complaining that both taxes and university tuitions are far too high, it won’t be pretty. And nobody will have any confusion over who’s in charge.

I do have one suggestion for fiscal policy, a “perfect storm” tax. Effective immediately, using that phrase should cost $500. With the increasingly grim economic news, it could raise significant revenue.

Arizona could be a test of the GOP debate whether the party should become more centrist or more ideological. Unfortunately for Arizona, we don’t have centrist Republicans anymore, so we’d be the ideological test case. It’s a lot easier to talk about being fiscally “responsible” than it is to cut health care, schools, and public safety. It also creates the temptation to dive into the social conservative swamps, because passing anti-gay, anti-abortion, and bash-the-minorities legislation doesn’t have any fiscal impact. It’ll be perfect for the new regime, both nasty and cheap.

You know those pundits who fret with one-party control in Washington, the Democrats might “overreach?” They’re looking in the wrong direction. If you want to see overreaching, just wait if we get a governor who thinks just like the legislature does.

Yes, we certainly could have too much of a bad thing.

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