Misplacing a governor is never good, as we’ve learned in recent days.
You think he’s hiking and it turns out he’s crying in Argentina. So it’s important for Iowans to keep track of our governor, for his sake and ours.
So where is Gov. Chet Culver?
“It’s just like he’s in a state of denial,” said former Gov. Terry Branstad, who, after serving four terms, is an authority on governor tracking.
But I’m not familiar with Denial. Maybe it’s somewhere between Manly and Fertile.
A second opinion?
“He’s living in Fantasyland,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican making his third try to become a located governor.
It turns out Denial and Fantasyland are suburbs of Whopping Budget Mess. And that’s what our governor is sitting in the middle of right now. I suspect he’d rather be in Argentina.
He insists everything’s fine. Nothing to see here, all is well. But the numbers won’t go away.
Revenues are plunging. Conservative estimates say lawmakers will face a $903 million budget shortfall in January, more than double what the state has in reserves. The budget year that ends at midnight tonight is probably well into the red. The budget that takes effect Wednesday is likely far too big to be sustained. It’s time to start scouring ditches for cans.
Culver may be forced to call a special legislative session later this summer or early this fall to plug the most immediate leaks. He’s desperate to avoid that, so he’s fudging the numbers and hoping for the best. This is especially rich political theater around here. Massive flooding doesn’t rate special legislative attention, but lousy arithmetic is another matter.
It’s a critical stretch of Culver’s governorship. The budget could be his biggest vulnerability. And someone needs to tell him that it’s way too late for “everything’s just dandy!” We expect a reality-based response when it comes to our government and our money.
The reality is things are bad and getting worse. “It makes one wonder if he really has a handle on what’s going on,” said state Rep. Christopher Rants, a GOP candidate for governor.
Another former governor, Tom Vilsack, was back last week. And that reminded me of the last budget crisis. Vilsack was no stranger to big spending and fiscal shuffling, but when the budget collapsed, he played it straight, took control of the situation and projected competence.
That’s why, when Doug Gross tried in 2002 to label Vilsack as a reckless spender, it didn’t stick.
Culver needs to show competence at this moment, or the charges are going to start sticking. He’ll be in Big Political Trouble. That’s just down the road from Denial.