New York – TIME Magazine names the five best governors in America in this week’s issue (on newsstands Monday, November 14th). The five best include: Kenny Guinn of Nevada, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Mark Warner of Virginia. TIME also names the nation’s worst governors: Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, Ohio governor Bob Taft and South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.
TIME consulted academics, political analysts and former Governors to choose the best and worst. TIME’s top performers include Janet Napolitano, who transcended petty partisanship in Arizona and Mark Warner, a millionaire with the audacity to raise taxes in Virginia. “Today, what makes Governors great is not the loft of their dreams but the depths of their pragmatism,” TIME’s Amanda Ripley and Karen Tumulty write in the introduction.
The full story is on TIME.com at: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1129494,00.html
In “What about Jeb and Arnold?”, TIME’s Daniel Eisenberg looks at why the two most high-profile governors didn’t make either the best or worst list. One is the brother of the president, a member of the nation’s reigning Republican political dynasty; the other is a movie star who married into the nation’s most enduring Democratic political dynasty. Between them, they govern two of the biggest states in the country. But while Florida’s Jeb Bush and California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly have the highest profiles of any state leaders in the U.S., neither has been able to translate that celebrity into full-blown success. In fact, each has learned the hard way that star power doesn’t help nearly as much after an election as before one.
The Best Governors in America include (in alphabetical order):
Kenny Guinn, Nevada:
More often than not, incurring the wrath of your own party is a recipe for failure in politics. But in 2003, when Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn fought for the largest tax increase in state history, he not only infuriated his core Republican supporters but also sparked a bitter legal battle and a short-lived recall campaign against him. So it is a testament to Guinn’s savvy and leadership that instead of being wounded in the civil war, he actually came out stronger, eventually broadening his public support and raising his standing among good-government watchdogs, TIME reports. “The state will be better off for years to come,” says Alan Ehrenhalt, executive editor of Governing magazine. As Guinn enters the final year of his busy two terms in office, his signature achievement remains the $830 million tax hike, a still controversial but realistic step to shore up the overstretched budget of the nation’s fastest-growing state. “People say, ‘Well, growth ought to pay for growth,’ but I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t,” says Guinn, 69.
Mike Huckabee, Arkansas:
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is tickled by the rampant speculation that he will seek the presidency. Officially, he’s “keeping all options open,” which is another way of saying he’s trying to figure out how much money he could raise, TIME reports. If Huckabee does run, he would have to find a way—as Governor Bill Clinton did in 1992—to divert attention from some of the state’s dreary realities, like a high poverty rate, relatively large numbers of unimmunized toddlers and poor ACT scores. Still, like Clinton, Huckabee has approached his state’s troubles with energy and innovation, and he has enjoyed some successes. Most notably, he created ARKids First, which offers health insurance to poor children and has helped reduced the percentage of uninsured Arkansans under 18 to 9% in 2003-04, compared with the 12% for the nation and 21% for neighboring Texas. Since he became Governor in July 1996, welfare rolls have declined by nearly half, and last year the state’s economy grew 4.4%, beating the national average of 4.2%. Huckabee, 50, is a good Governor, not just for what he has done but also for who he has become, personally and politically. He is literally half the man he used to be, having lost 110 lbs. after learning in 2002 that he has diabetes and suffering chest pains a year later. He now exercises with martial regularity. More important, but less noted, has been Huckabee’s political transformation. In his early years as Lieutenant Governor and then in the top job, he offered little more than anti-Clinton resentment and capering populism; in 1996 he warned of “environmental wackos who ... want to tell us what kind of deodorant we can use.” Huckabee is now a mature, consensus-building conservative who earns praise from fellow Evangelicals and, occasionally, liberal Democrats, TIME reports.
Janet Napolitano, Arizona:
In her first week on the job, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano took on the state’s budget-deficit crisis. She presented a proposal that eliminated the $1 billion deficit without any tax increases. She persuaded moderate Republicans to vote the bill through with the minority Democrats. Now Arizona’s economy is booming, with a projected budget surplus of more than $300 million and 4% job growth, the second highest in the nation after Nevada. Napolitano has promoted social benefits like all-day kindergartens, a prescription-drug card for seniors and an innovative education policy that focuses on developing practical skills to ensure that students are better prepared for jobs. She has co-opted Republicans to support her agenda through several lures, including cutting business property taxes. And when she wanted to give a children’s book to every first-grader in the state, she bypassed the system completely and over three years has solicited the $445,000 needed from private donors, TIME reports.
Kathleen Sebelius, Kansas:
For Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, the problem was simple. “There were too many cars in the parking lot,” she says. Right after the Democrat surprised political experts in 2002 by winning the Governor’s race in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats almost 2 to 1, she needed to erase a budget deficit estimated at $1.1 billion. A commission that Sebelius appointed to find government waste discovered that the state owned hundreds of cars it didn’t use, so she sold 700 of them and forbade state agencies to buy more. The money earned from the car sale was small, but it showed that the new Governor was determined to find savings anywhere she could, from having all state agencies join together to bid for computers to asking state housekeeping workers to wear their own pants instead of government-issued ones. Through spending cuts, fee increases and some borrowing, Sebelius was able to balance Kansas’ budget in her first year in office without raising taxes or cutting funding for education, TIME reports.
Mark Warner, Virginia:
“The man who was the biggest factor in the closely watched Virginia Governor’s race last week wasn’t even on the ballot. And that’s why Democrats are starting to think that outgoing Virginia Governor Mark Warner may finally have figured out what it will take for their party to start winning in the South again,” writes TIME’s Karen Tumulty. “All sides agreed the morning after the election that what carried Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine to victory—in a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat for President since L.B.J.—was Warner’s popularity. Part of it is style: Warner won narrowly in 2001 by courting gun owners and working the NASCAR circuit, even though he grew up in the New England state of Connecticut and is worth some $200 million. But the real political miracle is the fact that Virginians have only grown to love him more as he has slashed popular programs and raised taxes.”
The Nation’s Worst Governors (in alphabetical order):
Kathleen Blanco, Louisiana:
Failures aren’t born. They’re made. Before Hurricane Katrina, it wasn’t the job of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to plan for the evacuation of the elderly and poor from New Orleans. Afterward, she wasn’t in charge of the federal response. But it was her job to give her constituents heart by looking decisive, steadfast and capable. Even if she wasn’t. When it mattered most, Blanco appeared “dazed and confused,” says Bernie Pinsonat, a bipartisan political consultant in Baton Rouge, La. When NBC’s Matt Lauer asked her whether it was hard to find words to reassure the public, she tried to muster optimism, then circled back to despair. “You know, our people out here are so fearful. They’re so worried ... It’s a nightmare.” The public might have forgiven her. But, Pinsonat says, “you’ve got to convince them you’re in control.” Instead, Blanco waited seven weeks to appoint a recovery commission. She was slow to call the legislature back into session to deal with a nearly $1 billion decline in tax revenue. Her suggested cuts—to education and health care—came under fire last week as unrealistic. In 21 years in state politics, Blanco, a Democrat, was always cautious and deliberative. But those qualities have turned into liabilities, TIME reports.
Mark Sanford, South Carolina:
As a U.S. Representative in the 1990s, Mark Sanford often slept on an office futon instead of renting a Washington apartment. That kind of conspicuous frugality helped him get elected Governor of South Carolina in 2002. But a growing chorus of critics, including leaders of his own G.O.P., fear that his thrift has brought the state’s economy to a standstill. This summer, Standard & Poor’s lowered South Carolina’s coveted AAA-bond rating to AA+, citing unemployment of 6.3% and a per capita income ($27,172) stuck in the nation’s bottom fifth. The state had just lost its bid for a $500 million Airbus plant; Sanford was widely accused of making a miserly effort to lure the aerospace giant. Business leaders are losing patience with Sanford’s vetoes of budget items like trade centers and tourism marketing. Even G.O.P. bosses charge that he is worse at economic development than at grandstanding, as when he visited the legislature last year carrying piglets to protest what he considers pork-barrel spending, TIME reports.
Bob Taft, Ohio: The only thing more stunning than the spectacle of a quivering, hangdog Ohio Governor pleading no contest in August to criminal charges is the fact that he is still in office. Bob Taft, the Republican great-grandson of a U.S. President and son of a Senator, could have received a two-year jail term for failing to report, as state law requires, 47 golf outings paid for by others, but a municipal-court judge let him walk after slapping him with a $4,000 fine. Taft has since ignored thunderous demands for his resignation, even from many onetime allies. The Governor was widely considered an inept, ineffective leader even before he ran afoul of the law. As Ohio’s manufacturing economy shriveled, his most identifiable initiative was a minuscule literacy campaign. The worst may lie ahead for Taft, who has 14 months remaining in his term. He faces a lawsuit alleging that he and other state G.O.P. officeholders awarded generous public contracts to campaign contributor, TIME reports.
Contact: Ty Trippet, 212-522-3640 or Kim Noel, 212-522-3651