If Dukakis runs for president, what happens to the Bay State?
TWO jobs certainly are better than none. But are they really better than one? And can anyone in the political arena do justice to two supposedly full-time jobs? That is a question Gov. Michael Dukakis must be pondering as he considers running for president. As ambitious, motivated, and capable as he may be, there is no way he can be on the campaign trail miles from Massachusetts and mind the state's business at home.
If Mr. Dukakis is to make more than a token bid for his party's 1988 nomination, he will have to leave much of the day-to-day executive leadership to others. But no matter how loyal and competent the governor's underlings are, there are things that only an elected head of state can do. And it would hardly serve the governor's political purpose were he to let things drift in the Bay State for the next 18 months while he was out on the hustings.
Contributing to the Dukakis challenge is the location of his state in America's Northeast. This means traveling farther from home than others competing for the nomination. Clearly it will be easier for those out of office, such as former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart and former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, to pursue their quests for delegates.
Even members of Congress, like recently declared Democratic presidential contender Richard Gephardt of Missouri, may find it less difficult to take time away from their office than a state chief executive. Being governor is a 365-day-a-year job.
Were Dukakis to run for president, there is no way he could hope to rest on the accomplishments of his administration, like the much-touted employment training program, by which hundreds of poor people have been helped off welfare rolls into paying jobs. The governor, to enhance his appeal, will need new initiatives in various directions. His performance in the commonwealth is bound to receive as much attention as what he may do or say on the campaign trail.
Despite his trumpeting of his administration's successes and the Bay State's strong economy, it is questionable how well known the governor is among grass-roots Democrats elsewhere.
The risks of any governor being away from his executive chair for more than a few days at a time are considerable. How well things went at the State House would depend on not only the effectiveness of those left in charge, but also in the cooperation of legislative leaders in advancing various key programs on the Dukakis agenda.
Obviously there is a lot more to being governor than successful relations with the state Senate and House, something that in the past has required more than a little Dukakis attention.
The governor, whether at his desk or on the road, is responsible for the operations of the executive branch and for the quality of services. Bay State government cannot mark time while its elected leader gives it only partial attention.
With the governor out of state, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy's role would presumably increase. Were the governor to pursue the presidency and win, she would move into the governorship for the final two years of his term, which would give her an advantage over several prominent fellow Democrats already eyeing a run for governor in 1990.
While using incumbency in one office to reach for a higher rung on the elective ladder is an old story and has become an accepted practice in the political arena, it may not be in the best interest of the public, or even those involved.
Surely it would be easier for Dukakis to pursue the presidency if he had retired as state chief executive last year, instead of seeking reelection. It would have freed his energies to organize his campaign, raise funds, and sell his ideas, without fear of criticism for perhaps neglecting some of his gubernatorial duties. More important, it would guarantee Massachusetts the talents of a leader who would focus undivided attention on the commonwealth.
No matter how smoothly things might go, were he to campaign for president, even if ultimately unsuccessful, he could hardly overlook the fact that when he was reelected overwhelmingly last fall, voters had every right to expect that he would serve a full term. His job-hunting for something better, and within weeks of renewing his gubernatorial oath of office, could leave a bad political taste with many Bay Staters.
Regardless of whether Dukakis becomes a presidential candidate, consideration might be given to some kind of state constitution restriction that would require an officeholder seeking higher elective seat to resign, or step aside temporarily.
That way there would be less likelihood of anyone trying to do two jobs, candidate for higher office and officeholder, at the same time, - and perhaps performing neither task well.