Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Nation's Least Popular Governor ... Lessons for President Obama?


Governor Quinn of Illinois has the dubious distinction of being the least popular governor in the United States today. That puts him in a class of his own.

When economic times are difficult, politicians tend to lose the confidence of many of the citizens they represent. In part that's just human nature when we want to find someone else to blame for our woes. With respect to public officials, I guess it's due in part to them trying to take credit for things when they go well.

As a result, when times are tough we blame the politicians for not doing whatever it is that we believe needs to be done to make the situation better. Leaving aside whether government actions really can improve the economy, which I believe for the most part they can't, at least our elected officials should try hard to do no harm.

But harm is precisely what they all too often do. I wish they'd just stand around and watch, wait and hope. The free market is the best economic "fixer" we have.

To repeat, Gov. Quinn is now the least popular of our country's governors.

But why? Quinn's Lesson has the details:

"Last week Public Policy Polling named Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn the least popular governor in the country. The Democrat's 25% approval rating, which is lower than any other governor, is in part a reflection of the state's economic and fiscal quagmire, but also Mr. Quinn's leadership failures. And it should provide President Obama an instructive lesson in the political perils of punting on reform.

Mr. Quinn took over for impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich in January 2009, right as the state's fiscal troubles began bubbling to the surface. The deficit topped $20 billion over the following two years, which the state closed with accounting maneuvers, federal government stimulus and $7 billion in borrowing to pay its pension bills. The structural deficit, however, remained.

Mr. Quinn eked out re-election in 2010 by running ads that accused his Republican opponent, Bill Brady, of supporting mass euthanization of sheltered dogs and cats. The governor's first move upon being re-elected was to raise income taxes by 67% and the corporate rate by 46%, which generated about $7 billion in new revenues—all of which was consumed by retirement costs. The state's jobless rate, which now stands at 8.8%, spiked even as the unemployment rate declined nationally.

Due to ballooning retirement and debt service payments, the state ended the last fiscal year with $8 billion in overdue bills and chose to raise the cigarette tax as well as hospital fees. Meanwhile, its state pension funds are the most insolvent in the nation. Although Mr. Quinn belatedly took up the cause of pension reform over the summer, he had already whittled away all his political capital and goodwill among Republican legislators by ramming through a massive tax hike, which also reduced the impetus for structural reforms. . . .

Raising taxes hasn't solved Illinois's fiscal crisis but has depressed economic growth. Which helps explains why the governor's approval rating has plunged. Perhaps the president ought to keep Gov. Quinn's saga in mind as he negotiates with Republicans."

The Political Conundrum

Although I don't like politics and the games that politicians play, perhaps We the People aren't always being fair to them.

We claim to look to them for leadership, but in reality we don't want them to lead. We want them to do what we want them to do.

That's not leading, and they're not leaders. Thus, the vast majority of politicians don't even try to lead. They focus on popularity instead. Otherwise why would they govern by the polls and deliver poll tested sound bites all the time?

Leadership and popularity are often confused but they definitely aren't the same thing. One tries to get us to go where we need to go, and the other tries to get in front of the parade and go where we already want to go. Popularity and parade leaders go together.

And what can be popular about choosing between substantial across the board tax increases and accepting reduced benefits in public sector pension plans, school budgets, Medicare and Social Security benefits?

The President's and Governor Quinn's Problems

President Obama says we'll do the popular poll tested "fair" thing and just tax the top 2% of earners a little more. He wants us to believe that reducing income inequality will somehow help fix our nation's debt and deficits problems. Of course, it won't fix anything.

And the real game he's playing -- that game of can kicking instead of addressing the issues of economic growth -- will eventually make him unpopular, too.

In other words, a "leader" won't remain popular if he's not seen as doing the people's work. And fixing the economy and creating jobs is very much seen as doing the people's work right now. In the end, it would prove to be even more popular than nailing the greedy fat cats in the 2% club.

Accordingly, doing the immediately popular thing by taxing the 2% and leaving entitlements largely as is simply won't do the trick.

Times are going to stay tough and economic improvement will be slower than what will be 'acceptable' to We the People. That's my bet anyway.

Our nation and our states have obligations which can't be met unless either (1) a full court press on private sector investment and global competitiveness, including an all-hands-on-deck approach to domestic energy development is initiated and led by the President, OR (2) taxes are raised appreciably for everybody.

It's a simple matter of deciding what to do about taxes, the size of government and entitlements. If we raise taxes too much, we'll slow the already weakened economy. That will risk putting us back into recession and assure high rates of unemployment for years to come.

If we cut entitlements too much and too soon, that will also slow the economy as people will have less money to spend.

So regardless of what's done, in the near term we're going to have a slow economy and high rates of unemployment.

Higher taxes won't be popular and reduced entitlements won't be popular.

A slow economy won't be popular and a high unemployment rate won't be popular.

No wonder Governor Quinn isn't popular. My bet is that things aren't going to get any better for him in 2013 and beyond as We the People in Illinois come to grips with reality.

Summing Up

Tax increases will impede economic growth. But they won't do much harm immediately, since they'll be restricted to the fat cats. The real harm will come later.

So while they will do some harm, they won't do much harm, and they will be popular -- for now.

We have no good choices other than to start telling the truth and tough it out while turning to  the private sector to lead the way out of this mess. But that won't be a popular thing to do. Kind of like selling out to the enemy, I guess.

What we really need are more fat cats to invest, grow the economy, hire workers and generate the wealth that can be used in part to pay for all this debt and eliminate the deficits at the same time. But that's not the party line of either Governor Quinn or President Obama.

So while they'll not be able to 'fix' things in the economy, they will be able to do it real harm.

You see, private sector fat cats are now the bad guys in America. Mitt Romney and the latest election taught us that. And politicians like Governor Quinn and president Obama 'taught' us that, too.

So what now, Governor Quinn, President Obama and the rest of the government knows best gang? We commoners are waiting to hear what you have to say. More important, we're waiting to see what you're going to do.

Alas, my bet is that there's not a whole lot anybody can do anytime soon.

And that certainly won't win anybody any popularity contests.

Thanks. Bob.

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