Magazine article Newsweek

The Sexiest Governor

Magazine article Newsweek

The Sexiest Governor

Article excerpt

WHAT IS BOB DOLE'S America? The only real substance in his standard speech comes when he pulls a laminated card from his pocket and awkwardly reads the 10th Amendment--the one that says all powers not explicitly assigned to the Feds are reserved to the states and the people. Federalism. Devolution. Send government out of Washington to where Dole himself hasn't lived since the 1950s. Nobody ever won an election shouting "Give me block grants or give me death!" But state government is where the action is, and dull Republican governors are now the Brad Pitts of politics.

The sexiest governor alive (though you wouldn't know it looking at him) is John Engler of Michigan, short-listed by the press for the vice presidential nomination after Colin Powell seemed to demur. With the GOP's Southern base, Dole needs just one big Midwestern state to reduce Bill Clinton's Electoral College margin for error to zero. Ohio's popular Gov. George Voinovich is much closer to Dole, but viewed as "moderate" by party regulars--the same kiss of death applied to New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman. Engler, 47, is Roman Catholic (a key swing constituency), Buchananesque on abortion and uninspiring enough that he wouldn't overshadow Dole. He has cute 16-month-old triplets whose photographs are constantly updated on his Web site. He annoyed Dole by staying neutral too long and letting his top aide run Lamar Alexander's national campaign. But that's not fatal. He flunked his Vietnam draft physical by being two pounds overweight. That could hurt. On the other hand, fat people vote, too.

In any event, the political wise guys are in heat over Engler, which means, of course, that Dole will probably pick someone else. The early money is rarely right. But whatever happens, Engler represents state-of-the-art GOP governance. In terms of getting what he wants, he is phenomenally successful. After winning by a hair in 1990, his popularity sank to 18 percent under charges of "heartlessness." But he stuck with his budget-cutting, tough-on-welfare program and was re-elected with 61 percent in 1994. Now his numbers are even higher, and he dominates the state. Engler did this not as a conservative ideologue, but by liberal experimentation--if liberal means using government to advance social goals. He's innovative, practical and cunning.

And the man is a walking advertisement against term limits. Elected to the legislature at 22, he has never held a job outside politics. Knowing where the levers are, Engler has managed to cut taxes, expand preschool and preventive-health spending and overhaul the criminal-justice system. He reduced inequity between school districts by transferring funding from onerous property taxes (which were cut, on average, by a third to a half) to an increased but still reasonable sales tax, a huge change. …

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