The Nation's Governors: The Glamour Is Gone

When the National Governors Association convenes next week in Biloxi, Miss., it is likely to have several members missing the call of the roll.

We could start with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. His political condition was upgraded to stable this week when a majority of the GOP's statewide executive committee voted in favor of a painful resolution of censure rather than call for his resignation.

It's no picnic to be censured by your own party for an extramarital affair you had while hiding from family and staff in South America. But the failure of the committee to urge Sanford's ouster means he'll have a chance to finish his term and restore some of his personal dignity. And given the month Sanford had been having, that counted as good news.

It also counted as relief in the gloom of what has been a year from hell for governors coast to coast.

While Sanford was refusing to offer his resignation, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was baffling the political world with hers. With no warning, the former GOP vice presidential nominee yanked the plug on her tenure as governor. She vowed to stay in the fight for the America she believed in but suggested she needed a different, perhaps larger battlefield. Her announcement divided supporters in the Lower 48 much as her time in office has divided her previous admirers in her home state.

But before the week was over, attention had shifted from these two falling stars to other gubernatorial travails. In Illinois, a former chief of staff to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich pleaded guilty to corruption charges. He is now expected to be part of the case against Blagojevich in court, where the charges that led to the Democrat's impeachment and removal from office may send him to prison.

It was a reminder that this gubernatorial annus horribilis began early with the highly unusual spectacle of a major state impeaching a twice-elected governor (and one whose party controlled both chambers of the Legislature).

Another Democratic governor unhappily in the news was David Paterson in New York. Paterson this week attempted to break a 31-31 tie in the state Senate by appointing a lieutenant governor who could break that tie in the Democrats' favor (much as Vice President Dick Cheney did for the GOP in the U.S. Senate in 2001). But no sooner had Paterson announced his choice than the move was declared illegal by yet another Democrat, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Lest we forget, Paterson was thrust into office last year by the downfall of fellow Democrat Eliot Spitzer, who was caught patronizing a prostitute. Nowadays, according to The New York Times, Paterson's poll numbers are worse than Spitzer's.

Out in California, meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger might be grateful to have problems like Paterson's. Another partisan deadlock forced the Republican regime in Sacramento to enter July without a budget, so the Governator is now issuing IOUs to vendors and employees alike, and banks are saying they will not honor the scrip.

And then there are the governors who remain scandal-free and a step ahead of the fiscal sheriff but are nonetheless suffering from acute re-election problems.

Perhaps the biggest target in this category is New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, who left the Senate nearly four years ago to try his hand at the chief executive role. Although New Jersey has looked prohibitively blue for years, Corzine is now trailing his Republican opponent, Chris Christie, by double digits. With the off-year Election Day coming in November, it's hard to see how former Wall Street whiz Corzine pulls this one out, even with all his millions (he spent more than $100 million of his own winning his Senate and gubernatorial terms).

But there are others looking over their shoulders as well. In Texas, Rick Perry has been governor since George W. Bush left the office for the White House. But Perry's re-election is clouded by an intraparty challenge from Kay Bailey Hutchison, the veteran Republican senator often called the most popular politician in the state.

And in Ohio, where Democrat Ted Strickland was thought to be cruising to re-election, the weakness of the economy is giving new hope to the GOP.

The economy is, of course, the main source of grief for governors of all stripes and in all regions. From Florida to Oregon, state governments are being forced to slash programs, lay off workers and, where possible, raise taxes as well.

Coping with that economy will be the main order of business at the NGA meeting, where frustration is likely to reign. There is not much a governor can do about unemployment approaching double digits (where it's not there already). Yet governors take the heat for all the unpopular measures they must take in a down economy.

Many political scientists and other observers continue to view the states as the laboratories of good governance, a source of hope for civic success. But a combination of hard times and bad behavior has battered this belief. And it has done even more to damage the image of the governor as the glamorous executive, the can-do source of solutions.

As a result, the sense that any gathering of the NGA is a casting call for president has faded.

If the house isn't full in Biloxi, it won't be the sticky Gulf Coast summer to blame.

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