Monday, January 30, 2006

Is Doyle a One-term Governor? -- SYKES WRITES


THURSDAY, Oct. 9, 2003, 6:11 a.m.
Is Doyle a One-term Governor?

(Note: An edited version of this column appears today in CNI newspapers. This was written BEFORE Tuesday's landslide recall of Gray Davis -- another lackluster governor who raised taxes, tacked left when he got into political trouble, relied on Indian casino cash, as was seen as a captive of special interests like trial lawyers and the teacher's union.)

By Charles J. Sykes

A governor’s first year in office is a lot like a pavement of wet concrete. In his first few months he has a chance to make an impression in the public mind before it hardens. Once it sets, though, that image is extremely hard to change.

Tommy Thompson’s banked goodwill from his first year gave him a Teflon quality that allowed gaffes and missteps to slide off harmlessly. Tony Earl’s shaky start on the other hand made him the Velcro governor. Everything stuck to him. Taxes. The budget. The economy. Packer losses.

And Jim Doyle?

It’s not a pretty picture.

Doyle managed to kill his honeymoon faster than a guy who gooses the bridesmaid during the ceremony.

He set the tone for his relationship with the legislature by granting eternal gambling compacts to the Indian tribes in return for generous campaign contributions and modest help with the state budget deficit.

For many voters, the casino giveaway was their first impression of Doyle, but his defining performance may have been his veto of the property tax freeze.

While winning the legislative round, a new poll suggests just how badly Doyle lost the public debate on the issue. The poll, conducted for Wispolitics.com by UW Political Scientist Ken Goldstein, suggests that Doyle was not able to sell his line on taxes even to his own hard core base.

The poll found that fully 40 percent of likely Democratic voters in the state agreed that property taxes are too high and needed to be frozen. Only 47 percent agreed with Doyle that the freeze was a “hypocritical gimmick” that could “cripple job creation, deny police and fire resources the need and cut education by more than $400 million.” And these are Democrats.

The poll found that 47 percent of the Democratic voters would support a constitutional cap on spending, a likely Republican initiative in coming months.

Perhaps worst of all, more than one out of five Democrats (22 percent) say that Doyle has failed to keep his no-tax increase promise.

But Doyle may have other problems as well. Having run as a moderate, he has tacked sharply left, vetoing bills that would have given local school districts the option of not hiring convicted felons and requiring that voters actually be able to identify themselves before they voted. Other vetoes will likely anger supporters of gun rights and school choice.

This might not matter so much for a politician who was better known and liked. But Jim Doyle is a species of the genre politicus lacklusterus, a charisma-deprived breed that wins points for earnestness, but which is avoided at social events. And remember that Doyle rolled into the governor’s office without winning even 40% of the Democratic primary vote and with only about 45% of the general election vote.

His first year was a chance to introduce himself to a skeptical majority. But the concrete is hardening; and Jim Doyle’s may not like what people are writing in it right now.

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