States, Cities Provide Top Talent to Clinton Cabinet

Article excerpt

Dissecting the "diversity" issue, speculating who's conservative or liberal, a friend of Hillary or not, the media has missed a critical point about a number of Bill Clinton's top appointees.

It is that this presidentelect has been able to draw on a constellation of remarkable talent--people who, like Clinton himself, proved their mettle at the state and local level, but were closed off from federal executive service for the life of the Reagan-Bush administrations.

While Washington floundered on the shoals of executive-legislative gridlock, this talented crew proved government can work in America.

Models of the 'can-do" school are the two governors tapped by Clinton for his Cabinet-South Carolina's. Richard Riley to be secretary of Education, and Arizona's Bruce Babbitt tapped for secretary of the Interior.

Riley transformed the politics of rigidly conservative South Carolina with a combination of disarming kindheartedness and canny tactical skills. A fervid believer in children's welfare, he was able to win passage of education and health reform measures vitally important to a state that had been plagued by illiteracy, low worker skills and poor Vablic health. His coalitions for children embraced business executives, chambers of commerce, hospitals, county governments and community leaders.

When the legislature seemed about to quash his school reform measure, Riley sparked a popular advertising-speaking-letter-writing campaign that literally overwhelmed the opposition.

The RAND Corp. later hailed the bill, which combined higher student and teacher performance standards with a $240 million a year sales tax increase, as the nation's "most comprehensive single piece" of school reform legislation.

Babbitt was Arizona's first truly strong governor, leaving his imprint on every area from the environment to hightech economic development to child care.

Before Ronald Reagan teok up the cause, Babbitt was talking about New Federalism, advocating a trade-off of functions between Washington and the states. Years ahead of Clinton himself, Babbitt conceptualized a new, nonideological brand of Democratic politics--pragmatic, programmatically innovative, fiscally cautious.

Babbitt's most lasting contribution may be a precedentshattering ground-water management law that should ensure adequate supplies for parched Arizona well into the next century.

His method: to get the competing interests into a room and keep them there until a compromise agreement emerged.

Grazing, mining or any other Western interests who think they can roll over this Interior secretary better think twice. Each year of his 10 years as governor, Babbitt told author David Osborne: 'I selected one or two or three issues and used everything at my disposal--initiative, referendum, the bully pulpit, the press, brow-beating, tradeoffs, threats, rewards--to get what I needed. …