- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011


This presidential campaign season has witnessed the candidacies of several capable individuals burnished with the resume title of “governor.” Governors lead states. Governors propose. Governors fashion agendas. Governors run things. Governors hire and fire. But the title tells us little about what a particular governor actually accomplished. Context means a lot. I once kidded a fellow governor who happened to be governor of Connecticut that there must be little reason for him to get up in the morning because his state ranked first in the nation in per capita personal income. If your folks make more money than anybody else’s, why go to work? My state ranked 45th. I needed to set several alarm clocks. I had to be up and out of bed at the crack of dawn. We were too poor to sleep.

I faced a Democratic House and Senate with comfortable majorities. By combining the suggestions of economists at Oklahoma University and Oklahoma State University on how to grow jobs and income, we enacted an agenda that moved the state to 38th in per capita income. For example, we were the first state in decades to put Right to Work in the Constitution. No state has done it since.

Rating governors isn’t difficult, but you have to bookend them. What did you do in your four or eight years in office, because only your service tour matters? Your predecessors are not on trial. You are the one who is being rated. For example, it is fair to give Gov. Rick Perry credit for Texas-sized tort reform but not for the freedom and prosperity resulting from no personal or corporate income tax and Right to Work. Those were the achievements of Mr. Perry’s predecessors. Gov. Mitt Romney can claim credit for proposing job-creating income tax cuts in Massachusetts, but the job-sustaining presence of a world-class higher-education system was the work of his predecessors - in some cases, scores of years in the past.

The following are basic bookend questions for a conservative governor claimant: “Did you raise taxes? Did you block a tax increase?” Drilling deeper, you should ask, “What did you do for labor freedom? Did you take on the public-employee unions? Did you propose a Right to Work law? Did you liberalize licensure and permitting processes to open up professions and occupations otherwise closed by mindless education requirements? Did you speed up permitting for building and business?” Why, for example, should it take two years to permit a branch bank in California and just six weeks in Texas?

Transportation and education excellence are essential for a growing economy. Are products more easily moved to market following a governor’s term? Did school test scores rise? Have there been dramatic improvements in science and math education? Treading water is not a job-producer. A postscript question should be, “Were small businesses, entrepreneurs and job creators at your side while you governed? Did you follow their advice, or were you captured by those who consume wealth rather than by those who produce it?”

In sum, “Did you raise per capita personal income? Did you advance freedom, individual responsibility and excellence?” Demand examples.

If your governor goes dark, suffers a bout of amnesia or was AWOL on this battlefield for tomorrow, vote for someone else and scrub the statue that your state planned to erect in his name. If he didn’t produce, you can’t afford him or his statue.

Frank Keating is former governor of Oklahoma and was chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

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