Western governors go one, two

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE – Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano  beat New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to a cabinet post in the Barack Obama administration by two days.

Originally Richardson’s appointment as Commerce Secretary was to be announced before Napolitano’s, but Obama decided to leave him off economic team announcements.

For awhile that was interpreted to be a slight or an indication that Richardson had problems. But now, it is being interpreted by the national press as an attempt by President-Elect Obama to give Bill his own special time in the spotlight.

Why? Because Richardson apparently came in second for secretary of state, which disappointed him and had the Hispanic community upset.

That may be why Richardson gave part of his speech in Spanish and didn’t translate it.

Some of Napolitano’s first announcements may give us an idea of what to expect here and they don’t bode well with those who are anxious to get on with it.

Napolitano says she plans to stick around Arizona until her confirmation as Homeland Security Secretary is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Late January is a pretty good target date.

That means she will be present for the opening of the Arizona Legislature on Jan. 12 and will be working on $1.2 billion in necessary budget cuts until then.

Richardson could have a very similar schedule. He’ll have some pet programs he will want to protect from a sometimes unfriendly Legislature and an incoming governor with whom there is some friction.

But his problems are nothing like Napolitano’s. She must protect her pet programs from a Republican-controlled legislature and an incoming Republican governor.

Supporters of traditional Democratic causes are aghast. They envision many programs being shoved aside as Republican leaders rub their hands in eager anticipation.

Not only will pet projects be on the chopping block, the 2009 Arizona Legislature may be very busy reintroducing many of the 180 bills she has vetoed in the past six years.

Arizona doesn’t have a lieutenant governor. The state constitution passes the governorship down the line of state elected officials, according to their position on the ballot.

And that makes Secretary of State Jan Brewer Arizona’s next governor.

As a member of the Arizona Legislature for many years, Brewer introduced constitutional amendments creating an office of lieutenant governor. At the time Brewer’s main argument was that secretaries of state generally are unqualified to ascend to governor.

Brewer has no comment on the current situation, although she is better qualified than most because of her legislative experience.

Whereas New Mexico has had great stability in the governor’s office for many years, such is not the case for Arizona.

Prior to Gov. Napolitano, three of the last six governors had moved up from secretary of state and one had moved up from attorney general, the next Arizona office in line.

For a state with politics as stormy as Arizona, having a lieutenant governor-in-waiting is a good idea. Of the three governors elected before Napolitano, Gov. Evan Mecham was impeached and Gov. Fife Symington was convicted.

Many political watchers had felt Obama would pass over Napolitano because she’s about the only Democrat who seems able to win statewide office in Arizona.  She was considered a top prospect against Sen. John McCain in the 2010 Arizona U.S. Senate race.

The situation in Arizona will be interesting to watch because it involves a switch in parties between Gov. Napolitano and her successor.

Will Gov. Brewer and her Republican legislative colleagues run roughshod over Napolitano’s policies upon which she was elected?

Most Democrats and some Republicans are predicting it.

When Republicans gained control of the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature in Texas and Colorado earlier this decade, they immediately redrew congressional districts in their states to give Republicans more seats.

No one is predicting that in Arizona, but it could happen.

Write Jay Miller at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com