When Good Jobs Aren’t Good Jobs

by Brien Jackson

Chris Bowers laments the pattern of Democratic governors in red states leaving their jobs for the federal government:

Yesterday, Kathleen Sebelius emerged as the Obama administration’s top choice to lead the department of Health and Human Services. I was disappointed, partially because I thought Rosa DeLauro would be a more effective, more progressive choice. However, Sebelius had a good run as insurance commissioner in Kansas, and is also a Governor, both of which give her solid experience for this role. And besides, at least the industry-supporting, health care-cutting Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen didn’t get the nod. So, Sebelius is both experienced, and way, way better than Bredesen.

Mainly, I was disappointed because Sebelius at HHS takes away what was by far our best chance to win Sam Brownback’s open Senate seat in 2010. While we needed Sebelius to win that Senate seat, HHS didn’t need Sebelius specifically, there are plenty of non-horrible Democrats who could have handled the job. This move reminds me of former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano becoming director of Homeland Security. Not only was she our only chance to defeat John McCain for Senate in 2010, but because she has left the Arizona Governor became a Republican. So, our electoral prospects dimmed in multiple ways.

All of this makes me wonder about the thought process Napolitano and Sebelius had in accepting their new cabinet posts. Is heading up a large federal department really better than being a Governor, a Senator, or even both?

Well, not really. Or at least not always, but it certainly is at times. Bowers goes on to put together a pretty good list of reasons why someone might prefer to be a member of the cabinet to being a governor but, oddly, leaves out the most obvious one; it’s hard to be popular governing a state during a recession. Bad economic times mean tough times for state governments. Taxes have to be raised, services have to be cut, people get laid off, it’s very messy stuff that leaves a lot of people unhappy, and the governor takes the blame for it. That’s why most of the former governors you see hanging around the Senate held office in the mid-1990’s, economic expansions are fun times to bea governor, in so much as you get to cut taxes and increase services, which makes people happy.

So yes, Sebelius and Napalitano are relatively popular in their states right now, and that’s sort of the point. Giving them a new job for a while keeps those feelings more or less in tact, and let’s someone else take the heat for what the states are going to have to do over the next few years, as opposed to crushing their good reputations. It might not help in 2010, but neither would having them serve as the face of a government forced to lay off cops and teachers to meet the budget.