On election day 1990, Pete Wilson and William Weld looked like political twins. Both were moderate Republicans, lifelong public servants who had nonetheless avoided the deadly “insider” label. Wilson had been a state legislator, a mayor, and then a United States senator; Weld had been a local and federal prosecutor. As gubernatorial candidates, they had campaigned as tough on crime, avid environmentalists, supporters of gay rights, and prochoice on abortion.
But if Wilson and Weld were twins, they were hardly identical. Wilson is the classic workaholic, rising at dawn to work out on an exercise regime and often laboring on minute details of policy past midnight. He’s also hypersensitive to criticism, hates to negotiate, and loves to pick fights; one Republican consultant says Wilson “is always looking doe bullets to bite.” Wilson often compares himself to Ronald Reagan – after all, Reagan also backed a hefty tax hike his first year in Sacramento – but in style in and disposition he resembles Jimmy Carter more than the Great Communicator.
Weld, on the other hand, sometimes plays squash in the middle of the day and self-deprecatingly says he’s “a little lazy.” A Massachusetts Republican legislator says Weld, who won his first election last November, readily admits mistakes; he’s flexible but will “go to the mat” when he believes his stands are right. Still, the legislator says, “the governor never gets mad. He’s a very nice guy and everybody likes him.” Wilson likes Broadway show tunes; Weld, the early Rolling Stones.
The differences extend to their policies. Facing a budget crisis, ’Wilson repudiated the legacy of the California tax revolt- he raised taxes by $8 billion and increased spending by half that much. Weld, in contrast, stared down the big-government culture of “Taxachusetts.” He balanced his state’s budget with no new taxes or new government borrowing and cut total spending by 5.5 percent.
Wilson and Weld made these decisions on politics and policy consciously, and their approaches reflect a fundamental split in the way they view government. As two of the most prominent Republicans outside of Washington, they have the opportunity to define the governing ideas of the post-Reagan party. Will the COP adopt the tax, spend, and regulate policies of Pete Wilson’s big-government conservatism? Or will it embrace Bill Weld, the good-government conservative who wants to shrink state programs, keep taxes under control, and emphasize efficiency and private initiatives over bureaucracy? Contrary to Election Day perspectives, neither Wilson nor Weld is a moderate. Both have ideas and ambitions that could remake the COP.
“I sometimes feel like I’ve been campaigning since the day I was elected,” then-Sen. Wilson told Business Week in December 1987. It is his relentless drive, rather than any policy position or legislative accomplishment, that distinguishes Wilson. He is a professional politician, a nonstop campaigner-and very successful at his business. His 1988 Senate race made Wilson the number- one vote getter in the history of California.
No sooner had he chalked up that victory than Wilson had the rarest of opportunities-a chance to run for governor as the consensus Republican candidate. A fissure as destructive as the San Andreas fault splits the state COP along geographic and ideological lines. In the South are the fire-breathing, tax-cutting Proposition 13 babies, many of them social conservatives. The Bay Area, by contrast, is home to the moderates, Atari Republicans who are liberal on social and environmental policy and squishy on taxes.
Under normal circumstances, California Republicans have a pathological compulsion to eat their young: the 1st Commandment (“Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican”) doesn’t apply in the state. In the 1986U.S. Senate primary, right-wing television commentator Bruce Herschensohn lost to moderate Rep. Ed Zschau. When Zschau faced Alan Cranston that November, conservatives wouldn’t give Zschau any money; he lost to Cranston by a few thousand votes. Similarly divisive races are shaping up for the two Senate seats open in 1992.
Although he hails from San Diego, Wilson represents the moderate wing of Zschau and Northern California. He opposed Prop. 13 and supported Gerald Ford, not Ronald Reagan, in 1976. But when Gov. George Deukmejian announced that he wouldn’t seek a third term, Republican conservatives quickly joined moderates to back Wilson. Shortly after Deukmejian’s announcement, Republican Assemblyman Tom McClintock, the most fiscally conservative legislator in Sacramento, introduced a petition in the Assembly asking Wilson to run for governor. McClintock would soon regret that support.
The reason for the fleeting unity was reapportionment. California will add seven congressional seats to its 45-member delegation in 1992, and Republicans would dearly love to undo Democratic gerrymandering. The last time districts were drawn, Democrats held both the state house and the governor’s mansion. Today, although neither party has a big edge in voter registration, Democrats occupy three-fourths of the seats in the state Senate and 26 of the 45 congressional seats. If Republicans had undertaken their usual primary bloodbath in 1990, a Democrat might have easily won the governor’s race. Instead, conservatives figured a Republican governor – even a moderate one – would give the party a chance to veto any reapportionment plan that kept the Democrats entrenched. So while Bill Weld was pumping out $1 million of his own money into a Massachusetts primary campaign, Pete Wilson was cashing campaign checks and preparing for a Democrat opponent.
He had a tough time against former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein – a centrist who supports the death penalty, a probusiness “outsider” more conservative than Democratic party regulars. Reapportionment solidified Republican support for Wilson. But independent voters narrowly favored him for three other reasons; his opposition to hiring quotas, his antitax rhetoric, and his promise to appoint conservatives to the state bench. Those were the only substantive differences between the candidates. Wilson got 49 percent of the vote, Feinstein, 46 percent.
Wilson’s ad campaign was run by Larry McCarthy, a creator of the Willie Horton commercials. Wilson didn’t have Willie Horton, but he did have Willie Brown. The state Assembly speaker is a 26-year veteran and the most feared politician in the state. Brown, the consummate power broker, relishes his ability to break campaigns and careers. The speaker once described a series of ads he orchestrated as “the biggest con job” in state history. In his TV commercials and on the stump last year, Wilson warned that Feinstein would appoint Brown as her “vice governor.” Instead, it is Wilson himself who has teamed up with Brown.
Republicans have 31 votes in the 80-member Assembly, plenty to sustain a veto. And the California Constitution requires a two-thirds majority in both the Assembly and the Senate to pass tax hikes-meaning the Assembly Republicans can block any increase if they vote as a group.
Unlike Deukmejian, who pumped up law-enforcement spending but whose legislative agenda consisted mainly of budget vetoes, Wilson is an activist-many say the most ambitious governor California has seen since Pat Brown in the 1960s. “He sounded like Dianne Feinstein when he gave his State of the State address,” Willie Brown said approvingly in late July.
Despite the lopsided defeats of several environmentalist ballot initiatives in 1990, Wilson has pushed for a California Environmental Protection Agency to regulate pesticides and an aggressive $630-million program called “Resourceful California” to buy up land for preservation. “Though we face a serious budget crisis,” he said in April, “California will not cut back state environmental protection.”
Even more sacrosanct to Wilson is a series of state-funded prenatal and early-childhood programs he called “preventative government.” Such spending, the governor believes, will save welfare money down the road. The new cuts totaled $5 billion. But that’s all the cutting Wilson attempted. The rest of the gap was filled by $1 billion in accounting tricks and a whopping $8 billion in new taxes. (A Los Angeles Times analysis of the budget shows that $3.6 billion in “cuts” are actually still more accounting gimmicks and some unclaimed federal revenue. The Times also notes that general-fund spending in this budget increased by 7 percent. And future revenue projections are based on an economic growth rate of 3.5 percent this year, 10.5 percent next year, and 8 percent annually after that.)
Despite having attacked Feinstein for just such proposals, Wilson raised income-tax rates for families making more than $100,000 a year. He also went along with a 1.25-cent hike in sales taxes (putting the rate at 7.25 percent statewide, higher in many counties). The range of taxable items expanded, too, with the first-ever tax on newspapers and magazines and a confusing new tax on “snacks.” For example, under the snack tax, doughnuts packaged on a grocery-store shelf are taxable; doughnuts bought from a bakery aren’t. Commentators from David Brinkley to the anchors of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” have poked fun at the befuddling tax.
With the support of Speaker Brown, Wilson had little trouble rallying the Democrats behind more taxes and spending. He then alternately threatened and cajoled moderate Assembly Republicans to buck their conservative leaders and pass his program. Wilson eventually wooed the defectors he needed.
Wilson promises to remember the nine Assembly members who backed his tax and spending hikes and threatens to campaign against the Republicans who crossed him. GOP Assembly leader Ross Johnson lost his leadership post to a pro-Wilson assemblyman right after the budget passed. Tom McClintock, who spearheaded opposition to Wilson’s tax hikes, says sources in Sacramento tell him that he is “number one on Wilson’s hit list” for a primary challenge in the 1992 campaign.
And the governor isn’t just out to punish his opponents in the budget fight. Rather, he plans a facelift for the California Republican Party. He wants to trim away the antitax social conservatism of Orange County and sculpt a party representing “compassionate conservatism.”
Wherever possible, Wilson picks fights with the right. Distrustful of ideology, he has referred to conservative hard-liners as “fucking irrelevants,” leading some to call themselves “F.I.s” with pride. During the budget battle, pro-Wilson forces routinely referred to Assembly holdouts as “cavemen,” a term the usually gray Los Angeles Times also promoted.
Since Wilson’s abortion views are more popular than his tax raising (even Orange County voters lean toward the pro-choice side), he tries to conflate the two issues. In a July Scripps-Howand news story, for example, he implied against all evidence that the budget fight wasn’t about taxes but abortion. “I find it interesting,” he said, “that the people who have been the most vocal critics [of the budget compromise] also aggressively have the [anti-abortion] agenda.”
But an anti-Wilson backlash lives. Consider two July special elections for vacant Assembly seats. In Orange County, a Wilson-backed city council member lost to an underfunded conservative. In a Sacramento district, Wilson backed B.T. Collins, a charismatic Vietnam veteran and former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s chief of staff. After getting at least $35,000 in Republican National Committee money, Collins squeaked by an anti-abortion tax cutter so stridently conservative that some of the anti-Wilson forces privately felt uncomfortable supporting her.
These days, Wilson has a fan club whose membership list most Republicans wouldn’t envy. Such praises as “fair,” “responsible,” and “pragmatic” regularly flow from Democrats’ lips. Wilson told The New York Times, “I’m not complaining about how I’ve been treated by the Democrats.”
For McClintock, who once enthusiastically backed Wilson, this time has been particularly tough. McClintock isn’t merely a rhetorical bomb-thrower. A former Assembly minority whip, he wants to give the California GOP a positive agenda that includes such programs as school choice, and he has mounted two respectable, though unsuccessful, campaigns for the job of Republican Assembly leader. McClintock, who periodically dashes over to a laptop computer to pull up exact figures on the magnitude of spending increases, thinks Wilson’s budget policies have hurt not only the taxpayers but also the party.
“Had I known then what I know today,” he says, “I would have actively campaigned for Dianne Feinstein, simply because she wouldn’t have dared to raise taxes as much as Pete Wilson has done.”
Wilson’s goal, claims one of his deputy chiefs of staff, is a permanent long-term downsizing in state government.” In Sacramento, downsizing apparently means higher spending and new government programs. In Boston, it actually means making government smaller.
“My first day here,” recalls Massachusetts Treasurer Joseph Malone, “I walked into the State House and saw 12 teller windows in the lobby. I asked, Are we running a bank? We had 12 state employees who did nothing but cash checks for elected officials and other government workers. We tied up $1.2 million-not earning interest-to have money available to cash checks. We also had to pay $50,000 to insure the cash in case we got robbed. So I wondered-Why don’t we put in an automatic teller machine?” Those teller windows are now closed.
Yep, times have changed on Beacon Hill. Gov. William Weld, backed by fellow Republican Malone and just enough state senators to sustain a veto, survived two bitter budget fights in his first six months in office and closed a deficit of almost $3 billion without new taxes or additional borrowing. John Moffitt, Weld’s chief secretary and senior policy adviser, argues that this administration wants to do more than balance the budget. “We want to change the political culture in Massachusetts,” he says.
In November 1988, Gov. Michael Dukakis lost more than the White House-he lost most of his supporters in the Bay State. A regional recession exacerbated by cuts in defense contracts for area firms had turned the Massachusetts Miracle into mush. The candidates who ran to succeed him in 1990 shared one theme: They weren’t Mike Dukakis.
Weld had never won an election before and was hardly the favorite to win this one. Massachusetts isn’t friendly Republican territory: Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Bay State 3 to 1. Weld’s ideology was also hard to pin down. He ran conservative Rep. Phil Crane’s 1980 presidential campaign in the state, but he represents the patrician, moderate wing of the Republican party. Conservatives backed Steven Pierce, the minority leader in the state House of Representatives and a tough social conservative. Pierce won the nonbinding state Republican convention by a 3-to-2 margin. Several of Weld’s closest friends and advisers urged him to drop out of the race.
But the lanky Yankee hung in there. In the September primary, he beat Pierce with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Then he narrowly defeated acerbic Boston University President John Silber in the general election, getting 48 percent of the vote to Silber’s 45. “Beating John Silber was actually the easiest thing we did last year,” says Moffitt, who ran Weld’s campaign.
Life didn’t get any easier after the inauguration. Dukakis had stopped managing the state’s fiscal affairs when his presidential campaign ended. The recession had caused tax receipts to plummet. Unemployment had risen from 3.2 percent in 1987 to 9.5 percent; other welfare claims pushed spending skyward. And even though the Dukakis administration had annually raised taxes, it had also relied so heavily on borrowing that the state’s bond rating was the lowest in the nation. Wall Street financiers said any new Massachusetts securities would be classified as junk bonds. The new governor would have few options.
As Moffitt notes, there are three ways to take care of a deficit: tax, borrow, or cut spending. “We pledged no new taxes,” he says. “Wall Street said, No new borrowing. So we had to cut.”
And cut immediately. The $13.5-billion 1991 budget was $830 million in the red when Weld took office. So Weld furloughed state employees for 10 days, delayed funding Dukakis’s “play or pay” healthcare plan for two years, and got approval from the legislature to make other budget cuts unilaterally. He also took a bold supply-side move, repealing a new 5-percent tax on professional services. The Democratic leadership was so discredited after the election that Weld could push through almost anything he wanted.
Weld has a powerful legislative weapon to use against the Democrats-16 Republican votes in the 40-member Senate, enough to uphold his veto. (Republicans are outnumbered 121 to 38 in the House.) And, unlike Wilson, he has used that advantage to hold down taxes and spending.
Before Weld, the Massachusetts governor and legislators used to decide what they wanted to spend, then raise taxes to pay for it-essentially the approach Wilson used in California. “Now,” Moffitt says, “we see what revenues we expect to collect and then decide how much we can afford to spend.”
A number of Weld’s budget-cutting moves were one-time procedural maneuvers such as the employee furloughs. But he also took on the Massachusetts welfare state. The July budget all but eliminated General Relief-a $213-million program serving 40,000 people who don’t usually qualify for AFDC and other welfare benefits. Weld’s budget included enough money to fund the program for only six weeks. The governor raised a few eyebrows (and drew some fire from the left) when, as he signed the budget, he said, “We want to make the safety net a trampoline as opposed to a hammock.”
Another controversial move drew attention from conservative pundits. An employee in the Department of Public Welfare found that the Bay State qualified for $5 13 million in federal Medicaid reimbursement it hadn’t claimed in the past. This windfall put the Massachusetts budget in the black for fiscal 1991 and provided $200 million in revenue for the current year.
While out-of-state fiscal watchdogs roundly criticized Weld for accepting the federal largess, area conservatives heaved a sigh of relief. State Rep. Peter Blute, a vocal advocate of tax cutting and privatization, says, “The governor delivered a 1991 budget that was nearly $1 billion smaller than last year’s without new taxes or new borrowing. For this, he deserves all the credit in the world.”
Indeed, the budget Weld signed spends 5.5 percent less than the one he inherited. But Weld offers more than merely tax cuts and spending restraint. He speaks of a different way for the state to do business: entrepreneurial government.
Wilson’s vision of a “downsized” government that will “steer rather than row” is articulated by Chief Secretary Moffitt. He says the issue in providing government services is not “public versus private,” but instead “monopoly versus competition. We don’t ask what services government should or should not provide.” Instead the Weld administration tries to find the most efficient way to deliver services to the citizens of the state.
The benefits of moving from public to private provision of services, Weld said in June, are “those benefits that accrue, not from charity, but from the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market: management efficiencies, technological innovation, programmatic change.” Before the state will privatize an existing service, it demands contracts that clearly spell out the scope of the work to be performed: competitive price bidding; limited-term contracts that have to be renewed frequently; and strict oversight mechanisms-and opportunities to renegotiate contracts if services don’t get delivered.
A prime target for privatization, and perhaps the most vis- ible symbol of the struggle between the old Democratic patronage system and Weld’s entrepreneurial approach is the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in Boston. In 1982, the legislature created the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority to operate the Hynes Center and an adjacent parking garage. The state Senate president’s chief of staff, one Francis X. Joyce, was given life tenure as the MCCA’s executive director.
Revenue from the garage was supposed to provide enough money to operate the Hynes Center without further subsidies. Instead, says Rep. Blute, “it’s become a classic boondoggle.” A study conducted by the state treasurer’s office estimates that the convention center is a net drain on state tax coffers.
Under MCCA administration, both the center and the garage have begun to fall apart. Renovations, estimates the state auditor, will cost $500 million. To make matters worse, the authority is embroiled in a lawsuit with a construction company that has, already cost $3 million in legal fees; if the MCCA loses, it will have to pay $30 million in fines. And the authority, the Boston Globe reports, is diverting money from repair funds to cover ils operating deficit.
In the 1992 budget, the legislature approved a $5-million subsidy for the Hynes Center. Weld vetoed the subsidy. Like Treasurer Malone, who now serves as chairman of the MCCA’s board of directors, the governor wants to sell the parking garage and, if revenue doesn’t pick up, the convention center itself.
In response, Executive Director Joyce blasted Malone-his boss-in the Globe, claiming the treasurer is driven by “reckless political ambition” to undermine Joyce and his staff. Malone’s response? “I suggest they start serving decaf over at the convention center.” Fans of entrepreneurial government recognize how powerful a message the Hynes Center battle sends to the old guard: If the state privatizes the Hynes Center, other havens of Democratic patronage could follow.
As an elected official, Malone provides Weld with independent prodding he couldn’t get from an appointed treasurer and with needed political cover. Unlike the stereotypical Boston Irish politician, who doles out political patronage as easily as he shakes hands and kisses babies, Malone is a staunch advocate of downsizing. “Malone and Weld are trying to outdo one another on privatization,” says Blute.
Malone can already point to successes. As the administrator of the state lottery, he ordered a review of the state-employed couriers who collect daily lottery sales. Some couriers drove $20,000 cars; on average, they made only 15 stops per day. Malone got rid of the couriers and contracted with United Parcel Service to handle lottery pickups. UPS drivers make 150 stops a day and save taxpayers $2.75 million in annual pickup costs. The state-employee unions screamed, but Malone became a populist hero. Just after he canned the couriers, he says, fans at a Boston Bruins game recognized him and chanted his name.
On privatization, Weld’s ambitions are more impressive than his accomplishments. The governor has established a State Task Force on Privatization and backed the Pioneer Institute’s “Better Government Competition” to generate money-saving ideas for state government. Among the winners: a proposal by the Reason Foundation to sell Boston’s Logan Airport, generating $700 million from the sale and $18 million in annual property-tax revenue; a recommendation from a state employee that private firms operate pharmacies in state hospitals; and a plan from a parking lot operator to convert unused state-owned real estate into revenue-producing parking lots. The administration is now studying whether these moves will indeed save money, and if so, how many of them they can implement without the legislature’s approval.
Massachusetts’s downsizing is still far from irreversible, and some fiscal conservatives blame Weld for worrying too much about balancing the budget and not enough about implementing structural reforms. So far, the only privatization outside the treasurer’s jurisdiction has been for the care of several dozen mentally retarded residents. The private care is both more personal and cheaper-a fine example of getting more for less-but it represents a very modest beginning.
Jeff Jacoby, chief editorial writer for the Boston Herald, also zings the governor for not trying harder to change people’s attitudes about government. “When Bill says the safety net should be a trampoline and not a hammock,” Jacoby says, “he’s also got to explain why that is a compassionate position. He’s got to show why welfare dependency doesn’t help the poor. Massachusetts is no haven for conservatism or libertarianism. Bill Weld needs to take every opportunity to use the bully pulpit to tell the people why his vision works and why it is right.”
Last year, journalist Fred Barnes caused a stir in political and public-policy circles when, in The American Spectator, he identified a new type of political animal: the Big Government Conservative. Unlike conservatives in the Reagan administration, who ideologically opposed many government programs, Barnes wrote, conservatives in the Bush White House like government and aggressively push more spending for their pet projects. They also share a benign view of government activism that serves “conservative” ends-drug-free neighborhoods, home ownership, and the like.
For ambitious politicians like Wilson, big government seems essential. The electoral system rewards officials who offer benefits to easily identified groups of constituents, and the media spotlight people who establish interesting programs. Keeping a lid on taxes and spending may have worked for George Deukmejian, who had no higher ambitions, but it’s insufficiently flashy for a would-be president like Pete Wilson.
As Wilson has discovered, however, big government is hard to pursue these days. You can’t buy “preventive government” and millions of dollars of wetlands without finding the money to pay for them-and, at the state level, that means socking the taxpayers. While the federal government can run deficits, governors have to balance their budgets. And heavy borrowers such as Massachusetts now find Wall Street a less hospitable place to raise money.
Bill Weld’s entrepreneurial government suggests a more positive model of conservatism. He is both a fiscal tightwad and an activist. But his pet projects include such government-limiting initiatives as privatization and school choice, allowing him to increase competition and shrink the size of government while establishing a reputation as an innovator. Call him a “good-government conservative.”
Good-government conservatives have an entrepreneurial message: They laud efficiency, innovation, and flexibility. They want taxpayers to receive the maximum amount of service per dollar, and they believe the best way to keep service providers lean and honest is to force them to compete. If a program or an agency doesn’t deliver, they want to know who’s responsible and what it takes to fix the problem.
Good-government conservatives focus on ends rather than means. Weld notes that 78 pages of regulations controlling state child-care providers dictate “everything from mandated staffing ratios to the required kinds of dress-up clothes.” But alternatives that include volunteers and “foster grandparents” aren’t allowed because they don’t meet the state specs. Weld wants to toss out those restrictions.
The differences between conservatives of the “big-government” and “good-government” models seem subtle. Good-government conservatives aren’t libertarian purists, after all, and they can fall prey to the lure of regulations, which, unlike big new programs, don’t demand tax increases. In general, Weld is skeptical of economic regulations, which he says, “encourage complacency, reward stagnation, and inflate prices.” But he calls environmental policy “an exception to my overall libertarian cast”-and he has embraced a strong command-and-control approach, supporting a bill that requires packaging to be reusable five times, made of 25-percent recyclable materials, or 25-percent smaller than the same packaging used five years ago. When he endorsed the packaging bill, Weld said, “government may have to become more intrusive rather than less.”
Some of the good-government triumphs in Massachusetts sound symbolic-replacing check cashers and lottery couriers- but those actions suggest a commitment both to efficiency and to limiting government itself. Why, after all, should the Commonwealth of Massachusetts be in the courier business? Before Weld and Malone, no one even asked the question.
Weld, says U.S. News writer and political analyst Michael Barone, is someone “who sees government doing four times more than it should and [is] trying to cut it back.” The Weld administration provides an opportunity to see whether gradualism, backed by limited-government principles, can earn rewards in the electoral system.
Ultimately, the success Wilson and Weld enjoy in reshaping “moderate” Republicanism will be measured by how far each rises electorally. Both governors have their eyes on higher office, although they remain coy about their ambitions. The 57-year-old Wilson sees himself as an alternative to Dan Quayle for president in 1996. Rumors say that Weld, only 46, next has his sights on Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in 1994. (A late-July Boston Herald poll had Weld running ahead of Kennedy, in a speculative race, 59 percent to 34 percent.)
Some also see Weld as a potential president. Several close advisers, including Moffitt, apparently believe Weld can better enhance his credentials as a reformer and an innovator if he seeks a second term on Beacon Hill rather than a brief stay on Capitol Hill. For now, Weld is keeping his options open.
The electoral system should provide plenty of feedback to both men. If Pete Wilson faces heated budget battles each year, and a damaging 1994 primary challenge from the right, he could easily lose to a Democrat in the general election. And if Weld loses two Republican Senate votes in the 1992 elections, the Democrats on Beacon Hill could thwart any future downsizing. Weld could be a lame duck for half his term.
The governor who draws raves from the purveyors of conventional wisdom is, of course, Pete Wilson. Lou Cannon of The Washington Post writes that, in the budget crisis, “Wilson demonstrated leadership that will win him respect and make him a formidable contender” for the 1996 presidential nomination. David Broder calls Wilson “the most interesting and important American politician outside the White House today.” Weld has received some coverage in the business press for his tax cutting but has been largely ignored by political reporters.
If good-government conservatism takes root in other states, it will be despite, not because of, the media. This summer the mavens of Beltway punditry needed a wake-up call, for they missed the real story in the nation’s state houses. Who cares if a lifelong politician, backed by a liberal legislature, pushed through tax increases? In Massachusetts, a first-time election winner unapologetically defied his state’s prevailing culture by cutting taxes in the face of a $3-billion deficit.
Bill Weld signed the Massachusetts budget on July 10. The producers of “The MacNeilkhrer NewsHour” wanted Weld to be on the show the next day with other governors facing budget stalemates.
Assistant Treasurer David Railsback says the show’s producers didn’t realize that Weld had just signed the budget. When they discovered the crisis was over, they canceled Weld’s appearance. “In effect,” muses Railsback, the “MacNeilLehrer” staff “said to the governor, Get out of here. We want people with a problem.”
Rick Henderson is assistant managing editor of REASON.