Michael Dukakis has been proving to be quite a juggler of sorts on the American political stage. For the past 18 months he has managed to keep the Massachusetts governorship and his candidacy for president of the United States in the air at the same time.
Now comes what could be his toughest performance - a 50-state, virtually nonstop campaign for the White House while keeping Bay State government under control.
Despite pleas from several directions urging him to surrender the Massachusetts reins and devote himself completely to the presidential campaign, Mr. Dukakis rejects the idea.
Yet, barring a major crisis in the commonwealth, it now seems all but certain that the governor will have no more than two days a week, perhaps less, for minding the store on Beacon Hill.
And thus far there is no indication he is ready to turn more gubernatorial work over to Evelyn Murphy, the Democratic lieutenant governor, who says she is willing, ready, and able to step in when and where needed.
The Dukakis refusal to step aside, even on some kind of an unofficial leave-of-absence arrangement, if that could be managed, despite certain risks has some definite advantages.
As a sitting governor he continues to have a forum away from the campaign trail for attention-catching ideas and proposals.
Were he to quit the governorship or move to the sidelines temporarily, he would risk being chided by critics for walking away from a job to which he was reelected less than two years ago. Obviously he would have to bow out of the governorship next January if he were to win the presidency. But by then he would have served at least half of the current gubernatorial term.
Mr. Dukakis is convinced he has done an outstanding job so far running the state while campaigning for president, even though he has been at his State House desk often less than three days a week over the past six months. And he feels he has the staff and support he needs to deal with whatever gubernatorial challenges that might come along between now and the Nov. 8 election and beyond.
Dukakis critics, especially Massachusetts Republicans, like GOP chairman Raymond Shamie, and David H. Locke, the state Senate's assistant minority floor leader, can be expected to make the most of any problems by calling for a full-time governor.
Certainly if the going gets too tough and Dukakis finds his gubernatorial duties don't give him enough time for the presidential campaign, particularly in the final weeks before the election, he might have to expand Miss Murphy's role.
Clearly the coming weeks would be easier if the legislature wound up its work for the year in mid-July. Since that didn't happen, legislative leaders, who have gone out of their way thus far making it as easy as possible for the governor to do his job with a minimum of time-consuming lobbying, will do what they can to keep the lawmaking fires damped down until after the November election.
In that way Dukakis would not have constantly look over his shoulder to see what is going on in the legislature or perhaps be called on to veto measures that might be popular with lawmakers but not so helpful to his presidential campaign.
Another reason Dukakis could hardly be persuaded to resign his office is the disruption in state government that that could bring. Lieutenant Governor Murphy would surely want to have her people in key administration posts, which would mean that more than a few Dukakis aides, including most cabinet secretaries and key agency heads would be out of work sooner than anticipated.
A flock of unemployed Dukakis aides would do little to strengthen the Dukakis presidential bid.
Since it is questionable how many Beacon Hill loyalists a President Dukakis could take with him to Washington or fit into various federal government slots, some members of his administration might not be all that disappointed were the governor to stay on in the commonwealth's executive chair.
Some members of the Dukakis team would probably be retained, at least for a while, by Miss Murphy. Others who have not been close to the lieutenant governor or even on the fringes of her political organization could hardly hope to stay on should she become governor.
George Merry is a longtime observer of the Massachusetts political scene.