The Governor's Burden

Today, John McCain ventures to Louisiana to meet with Gov. Bobby Jindal. But, before your veepstakes sirens go off, consider that McCain isn't likely to ...
by | July 23, 2008

Today, John McCain ventures to Louisiana to meet with Gov. Bobby Jindal. But, before your veepstakes sirens go off, consider that McCain isn't likely to name his running mate this week. And, when he does, it probably won't be Jindal.

NBC's First Read reports that Jindal is "no longer considered a top-tier pick after the state legislator-pay controversy." Jindal vetoed the unpopular pay raise, but only after a Hamlet act that cut short his honeymoon with Louisianans.

Jindal's tale isn't unique. Just look at all the problems the most-mentioned governors have been facing. Tim Kaine, Janet Napolitano, Charlie Crist and others have dealt with ailing state budgets that threatened their popularity. Kathleen Sebelius has been in an epic fight with the legislature over a new coal plant. Tim Pawlenty had to respond to the bridge collapse and its aftermath.

The latest governor to add to this list is Alaska's Sarah Palin, who is suddenly embroiled in a political firestorm. Palin fired the director of the Alaska Department of Public Safety last week, a move that has come under serious scrutiny.

All of which suggests something obvious: Governors have to govern, which is quite a pain. That simple truth makes it a lot harder to be a governor with national political ambitions than it is to be a U.S. senator.

When Palin fires someone, he oversees a department with hundreds of employees. Scrutiny is inevitable. How often does anyone care if a U.S. senator fires a member of his or her staff?

Governors, as chief executives, also take the blame whenever anything goes wrong. That includes responsibility for the economy, even though governors can't control national or international economic forces. Senators? Michiganders aren't blaming Carl Levin for the state of the economy.

Senators have to cast votes, but they usually have cover from other members of their party. Even on a hot topic like FISA, did any particular vice presidential prospect's action create a controversy? Only Hillary Clinton, who isn't your typical senator.

In this context, you can see why some candidates, such as Gov. Ted Strickland in Ohio, bow out early. They don't want to seem distracted from their duties as governor and, perhaps even more so, they don't want to be distracted from their duties as governor. Governing a state is enough trouble, without trying to apply for a new job at the same time.

But, you can also see why governors would make good vice presidential candidates. Dealing with a bridge collapse or a budget crisis is a bit different than saying "aye" or "nay" on cue.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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