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Governors in the news: 2011 begins with state executives flexing their muscles in many ways
By Eileen McGuire-Mahony
Denying pardons, blocking interviews, ousting appointees, and reversing decade old practices, America's Governors are making the most of their office
Freshly re-elected Massachusetts Governor requests two high profile resignations in any many days
Signaling that he views his re-election as a vote of confidence from voters, Massachusetts Democrat Deval Patrick is taking steps to leave a mark on the state's government through placing his own appointees in key positions. On December 29, 2010, Patrick asked for the resignation of Thomas Kelley, Secretary of Veterans Services. Kelly's popularity with veterans led to outcry, which had no time to dilute before Patrick asked another top official to step down.
The next day, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki was told Patrick wanted to bring in “new leadership”. Bailecki has given a resignation and agreed to stay on indefinitely, in return for six months pay and benefits whenever he is replaced.
Despite winning a second term, Patrick's poll numbers showed him to be consistently the most unpopular Governor in America. Many analysts chalked up his win to the presence of a right-leaning Independent candidate who siphoned votes from the Republican challenger. While directly asking for resignations is new, since November, Governor Patrick has blocked pay raises and crushed pending appointments and promotions.
For what it's worth, long dead outlaw is still an outlaw in New Mexico
Days away from leaving office, New Mexico Democrat Bill Richardson has laid to bed a small media frenzy. Richardson announced definitively that he will not pardon Billy the Kid. Born Henry McCarty, Billy the Kid briefly worked as a ranch hand and was responsible for somewhere between nine and 21 deaths. Attempting to escape prison in 1881, he was fatally shot by Sheriff Pat Garrett. As romanticized in death as he was murderous in life, McCarty's supporters formally petitioned Governor Richardson for a pardon based on a story that, before he died, the outlaw struck a deal with New Mexico's territorial Governor to exchange testimony on accomplices in return for a pardon on three killings.
It is known that Billy the Kid wrote to Governor Lew Wallace in 1879, offering to testify in return for immunity. While Wallace met with Billy the Kid that same year, and told him he had the authority to grant a pardon as well as to annul pending charges, two months after Kid's death, Wallace also told a reporter he had never intended to make a pardon. Additionally, Governor Richardson said he found no reliable proof that any deal was ever struck. Wallace's descendants, now living in Connecticut, agreed, saying their ancestor may have tricked the outlaw into providing information without ever making a pardon. In the end, Richardson's decision came down to a lack of any document indicating Wallace ever went beyond vague promises.
New York's new Governor wastes no time in changing the face of his office
The same say he took the oath of office, Democrat Andrew Cuomo enacted two major changes to the Empire State's gubernatorial office, both meant to symbolize a more open executive branch then New Yorkers have known in years. Concrete barriers that kept citizens well away from the state Capitol, a relic of the post September 11th security frenzy, were loaded into trucks within moments of Cuomo's announcement that he was getting rid of them. Additionally, a hallway immediately outside the governor's personal office was opened up for the first time since George Pataki was in residence. The move effectively makes an entire wing of the Capitol accessible to citizens once more.
Facing a $10 million deficit, Governor Cuomo also pledged to move on resolving the state's finances immediately. He won't deliver his State of the State until Wednesday, but he has already hinted that he will push to cap property tax, allow an income tax surcharge on high earners to expire, and go through with former Governor Paterson's plan to lay off 900 state employees. Speaking on the straitened plight of New Yorkers, Cuomo told the small audience, “Their income isn’t going up, their banking account isn’t going up, their savings aren’t going up. They can’t afford the never-ending tax increases in the state of New York, and this state has no future if it is going to be the tax capital of the nation.”
South Carolina Governor-elect puts her foot down on jail house access for talk show host
The list of people terrified of crossing Oprah Winfrey is legendarily long. South Carolina's soon-to-be-Governor, Republican Nikki Haley, is not one of them. Winfrey was seeking a high profile interview of convicted murderer Susan Smith, incarcerated for life after drowning her two children. Haley told press she will not allow the interview to proceed, citing a long-standing Department of Corrections policy that bars inmates from giving interviews. She stressed that the decision is not a judgment on Winfrey or her show but a refusal to bend a policy regardless of the source of the interview request. Haley also said that giving more media attention to Susan Smith would be a mistake.
Onetime Governor of Utah is a likely 2012 Presidential candidate
When, in 2009, Barack Obama tapped Jon Huntsman to serve as his Administration's Ambassador to China, the Potomac buzz put it down as a shrewd move by the President to head off a potential challenger. Huntsman, who resigned his office as the Governor of Utah to take the position, was a rising star within the Republican party and had already been mentioned as possible 2012 material. In a recent interview, Ambassador Huntsman said he didn't anticipate staying in a diplomatic post indefinitely and felt he had “one more run” left, refusing to clarify any further and leaving the rumor mill to speculate on his plans. Notwithstanding Utah's solid Republican character, Huntsman is seen as part of the moderate wing of his party. Were he to run, his establishment support would likely come from Republicans anxious that a grassroots strain of conservative populism is too far right to win a Presidential election.
- Boston Globe, “Governor forces out 2d agency leader”, December 30, 2010
- The Daily Caller, “NM gov. declines to pardon outlaw Billy the Kid”, December 31, 2010
- New York Daily News, “Gov. Andrew Cuomo's inaugural pledge: New York won't be 'a national punchline' ”, January 1, 2011
- New York Times, “Cuomo Promises Emergency Plan on Finance Woes”, January 1, 2011
- Herald Online, “Haley to Oprah: No Susan Smith interview”, December 31, 2010
- Newsweek, “The Manchurian Candidate”, January 1, 2011