Leadership’s Tough In Troubled Times

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - April 13, 2011
| Del.icio.us

A little over eight years ago, cigar-smoking, fanny-patting, Hummer-driving Arnold Schwarzenegger swaggered into the California governorship. The over-muscled Austrian-born actor promised to clean up Sacramento and bring fiscal responsibility to a state gone broke under wimpy Democratic governance.

Schwarzenegger’s star immediately rose in the political firmament. His approval ratings soared, and before his administration’s second birthday fans were talking of a constitutional amendment to make it possible for the foreign-born “Governator” to run for president.

Then, in 2007 at the beginning of Schwarzenegger’s second term, our current Great Recession crept onto the national stage. The housing bubble that helped launch it hit California especially hard, and all that star power and all that swagger couldn’t save Arnold. By 2008, Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings had sagged. Then they plummeted. No one, but no one, could be heard talking about an amendment that would allow the guy with the funny accent to run for president.

Hawaii knew a similar story. In 2002, Linda Lingle became the first Republican to win the governorship in 40 years. Riding the Islands’ housing boom and a minis-cule unemployment rate, Lingle became immensely popular - so popular that in 2006 Democrats couldn’t find a major figure to run against her.

Then came the Great Recession and Furlough Fridays for Hawaii’s public schools. Lingle’s approval numbers fell, and in a recent Daily Kos horserace poll on the 2012 contest to fill Danny Akaka’s United States Senate seat, Lingle lost to every Democrat who’s been rumored to be interested in the race.

So who did the voters of blue states California and Hawaii turn to in rough times? Two well-worn Democrats: Jerry Brown and Neil Abercrombie. But in almost every competitive state where Democrats held a governorship, voters opted to give Republicans a try.

So Brown and Abercrombie inherited the same bushel of problems that made much of Schwarzenegger’s and Lingle’s second terms nightmarish: high unemployment rates, budget crises, furloughs and at least two of the third rails discussed here last week - raising taxes and touching old folks’ entitlements. In short, a great mess of yech!

And we in Hawaii’s public and press have responded in our usual fair and balanced manner. A few of my colleagues in the scribblin’ trade have declared Abercrombie’s administration a failure after less than five months in office. A couple of others have carried their fairness and balance across Punchbowl Street to pronounce Mayor Peter Carlisle’s administration wanting.

The letters section of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser drips with venom from readers appalled at the imperfections of our newly elected leaders. The same venom can be found, of course, on the editorial pages of newspapers in every state capital, on the cable channels and in the blogosphere.

In Madison, Wis., most of it (along with mass demonstrations) is directed at Republican Gov. Scott Walker; in Albany, N.Y, against Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In state-houses and city halls around the country, politicians are struggling with problems far larger than their ideologies or their egos, problems that have been accumulated - and ignored - for decades.

Our present four-year-old economic crisis, at all levels of government, will not be solved in four months or four years. It will require time, patience, understanding, smarts, the long view and compromise - and sacrifice - from politicians and citizens alike.

With all that, we may still see good governors and mayors pilloried and dispatched with little appreciation and lower approval ratings. But we may, we just may, come to appreciate them over time. Will they lead, and how?

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