Thursday, March 9, 2006
How Topinka Could Have Had the Election Iced by Now
The Channel 7 debate of the Republican governor candidates seemed to me like a chasm of lost opportunity for Judy Baar Topinka. Tell you why.
Shes had years to build a staff and put on that staff someone who would serve the state and Judys personal interests very well: an expert on the states economy and budget. I like to think it would be somebody like Blagojevich has: Becky Carroll, a bright young woman, skilled at looking at numbers and equipped with a writing skill. Moreover, I think Id put on the staffor maybe on the Treasurers campaign staffsomeone who would survey various state governors, cull from them the best ideas, attend groups such as the National State Legislative Association, the Republican Governors Association and other organizations and keep a book on fresh, workable ideas. The Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Palenty is an idea trove; Romney in Massachusetts got elected in a Democratic state; Mitch Daniels in Indiana has ideas on welfare (although Id steer clear of his tax idea). Id also sift through other successful governors including Democrats: Janet Napolitano of Arizona, the governor of Michigan. It seems elemental to me that someone like Judy who was thinking of running for governor would have staff assistance to do that.
Having done that for a couple of years, Id have a skull session with the best fiscal brains I could find and devise a programfiscal, government administration, education, corrections, child welfareand have it set forth in a comprehensive fashion. Then before I would announce, Id make speeches as State Treasurer to various key organizations: Chamber, a labor union, the Economics club. Believe it or not Id have a section of the speech devoted to personal outlook on Godculled from Rick Warrens Purpose Driven Life. Devise a philosophy that could take into account Judys pro-choice position and address various sympathetic constituencies. What about the big suburban church that Clinton spoke at and got such a rousing ovation? You have some family-friendly issues that can pick up the slack. What about programs to help working mothers?
You do that long before you announce. A major speech here, a major speech there, across the state while the momentum builds up that Judy is thinking of running. You have a solid book of ideas: chapters on how to curtail spending, how to make the tax load equitable, how to make education equitable. With that in hand, you sit down with your political planners and devise a time-table; you sit down with the best commercial TV packagers you can find and get an estimated budget. You sit down with the business community, let them in on the ground floor about your ideas; have them agree on a budget.
Is that so unusual? Of course not. I was part of an effort that did the same thing as far back as 1960 when a guy wanted to run for governor in another statea state heavily blue, dominated by Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and a bevy of Democratic heavyweights with a powerful Democratic governor, Orville Freeman. . By todays sophistication, what we did was incredibly Middle Ages. I remember the states major problem was in its northeastthe Iron Range. Iron ore was running out and there was a huge downturn. Ore was taxed heavily because it was a resource taken from the ground. But the slag that was produced as a byproduct was once viewed as waste materialbut could be processed so as to extract ore. It was called taconite. My candidate, a businessman, figured out that if the state passed an amendment that allowed taconite to be taxed as a normal manufacturing process rather than as ore, taconite plants could be built and people would be put to work. We checked with the steel plants and they calculated how a renaissance could take place.
Armed with that research, my candidate unfurled what he called a taconite amendment. It was immediately assailed by Humphrey and the Democrats but our response was: well, then, what is your plan to put men back to work on the Iron Range? We beat the best the Democrats had. And it wasnt done with fancy commercials or blunderbuss tactics, but simple logic. Why, I wonder, hasnt Topinka spent the last few years planning a substantive campaign?
You see, whats going to beat her isnt so-called scandal. Whats going to beat her is that she was expected, as one of the states top fiscal officers, to come forth with a program based on her long experience that would win editorial support and qualify as a five-star program of reform, administrative excellencethe works. Watching her in the debate leads me to think shes reacting to issues by pulling gimmicks out of her back pocket. Remember the debate some weeks back when, asked how she would cut the budget, she said shed stop the renovation of the driveway leading to the governors mansion, which isnt be used anyhow? She was serious.
To me, her lack of planning is stunning. She may get the nomination, but all along I thought shed be there with a comprehensive program. Its worse for her not having one than for the others. Jim Oberweis is a private sector guy; Ron Gidwitz is a private sector guy; Bill Brady is a private sector guy and state senator. Not many people would expect them to have a thorough blueprint on state governmentbut they would of Topinka. Why with all the time she had she didnt do this is amazing. Simply amazing.