Monday, January 23, 2006

Jim and Rod: Chasin' The Dream In '06

Last week, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) and Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) both gave their State of the State addresses for 2006. In and of themselves, the speeches sounded like they always do. Both Doyle and Blagojevich looked back (I suspect to pat themselves on their respective backs) to their accomplishments and laid out the "legislative agenda" for the coming year. An agenda, incidentally, that will most likely be ignored by legislatures in each state that are controlled by the opposition party. Well, either ignored or compromised out of relevance.

The similarities between Doyle and Blagojevich do not end there, however. Each man, a first-term incumbent Democratic governor, faces re-election this year. When this is the case, the state of the state address is often seen as the unofficial kickoff for the re-election campaign. Both men also face a difficult road to re-election, but let's make a wild prediction before we get into a deeper consideration of each case.

Jim Doyle will have an easier time getting re-elected than Rod Blagojevich.

Why do I say this? In general, both men are not as popular as a supporter (which I am not of either) would hope with less than a year to election day. Both are facing mounting ethics questions concerning campaign finance, the cause du jour as of late. I believe ultimately that it is how each man has led and the persona that the electorate sees their leader as possessing that could tip the scales leading to a Doyle victory and a Blagojevich defeat.

First, Wisconsin and Jim Doyle. A disputed poll taken in October of last year showed Doyle in a dead heat with Republican challenger U.S. Representative Mark Green (R-Green Bay). The dispute, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out is the small number of respondents and the statistical model on which the poll was based. Even when it was redone, the results were still placing Doyle and Green at almost even keel, at least statistically.

To be sure, Doyle faces a tough battle to stay in office. A curiously timed ethics reform bill may seem to some like trying to sweep corruption and funding "mishaps" under the rug before the election. In a broader scope, Doyle, a Democrat, faces a re-election campaign in a predominantly Repuclican state. From my understanding, Madison and Milwaukee are the two biggest strongholds of the Democrats in Wisconsin. The rest of the state, with the exception of the Native American reservations in the north, seems pretty solidly Republican. Naturally, Green and the other GOP challenger, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker will pull out a tried and true weapon out of the Wisconsin GOP arsenal. They will invariably continue to paint Doyle and his supporters as Madison and Milwaukee liberals who are out of touch with the concerns of the "real" Wisconsin.

Although Doyle has the benefit of being an incumbent, he cannot rely on crossover votes alone. It seems to me that there is little of the cross-party feelings for Doyle that there was for former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson, who served from 1987 to 2001 (making him Wisconsin's longest-serving governor). He, much like former Illinois Governor James R. Thompson (R) was a Republican who Democrats would vote for. There is no such feeling, it seems, for Jim Doyle.

What does Doyle have, you ask? Wisconsin's economy, especially the manufacturing sector, has done well since Doyle has been governor. I, however, think that this is a poor way to assess an executive's performance, as the economy is driven primarily by private individuals. I have always questioned this link, but people seem to think that it is important. The government can meddle in the economy, but growth and expansion mostly take place when the government backs off or removes hinderances to economic growth (anyone remember the 1992 Presidential election?)

He also has an asset that The Capital Times (Madison) oddly portrays as a weakness. They say that Doyle is an "effective, if unimaginative, leader" who has failed to inspire people to vote for him again. Granted, the shoes of Tommy Thompson are hard to fill. He made Wisconsin a model for welfare reform and school choice. The school choice program, incidentally, was mentioned by Doyle in his speech and he said it should be extended statewide.

Why do I and the Capital Times differ? Think of your political leaders. So what if they lack some imagination, especially a governor? Most of what the governor wants to happen gets diced up by the legislature anyway. There is never any shortage of ideas in and outside of the party. If Doyle is having trouble, I am sure that his party and supporters can fill his plate to overflowing with suggestions for legislation. "Effective," in this case, I take to mean that he fills the bullet points in the job description and dosen't break the rules (the jury is still out on this).

So the guy is boring. In my completely subjective opinion, Doyle seems mostly harmless. Typical disrespect for what I think should be the purpose of a state government and way to quick to throw money around but, hey, he's a politician. It's what they do. Doesn't make it right, though.

Would you rather boring yet effective or charismatic and ineffective? He is a bit underwhelming, but this is not necessarily bad. I am not sure how many people would feel this way.

That is the choice that faces Wisconsin voters come this November.

Next, Illinois, Blago and what I see as his more serious problem of re-election.

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