The State of Her State

Few argue that Janet Napolitano has been a good governor. The question is, why isn't she great?

Tracking her State of the State addresses over the past four years reveals the political beast in Janet.

Out of the gate, besides the budget crisis at the time, she aggressively targeted Arizona failings toward the young and old alike. Besides the assault on CPS, she helped seniors with their prescription medicine bills. She laid out plans for more efficient, effective government operated by people earning above the poverty level. She sounded very pro-business, but it was pro-high-tech, high-end business, a pro-business stance that looks more to education and quality of life than tax breaks and other giveaways.

In her last State of the State, the rhetoric moved considerably to the right — really, a speech any middle-ground Republican could have made. It was politically brilliant. Knowing the left has no alternatives to her, she went right and co-opted Republican issues before they could be used to gain traction against her. But, alas, it was very political.

National Guard troops to the border. Immigration, security, tax breaks.

Truth is, though, Napolitano has as much or more right to these issues as Republicans. For one, back when Republicans weren't even talking about immigration, she was arguing that the federal government has been shirking its duties at its international border with Mexico. She simply argued that the United States, not Arizona, should pay for border security.

To the limited extent a governor is responsible for such things, she went about strengthening security after September 11, 2001. Shortcomings, again, can legitimately be blamed on a lack of promised federal backing.

And that she has pushed for certain tax incentives for Arizona's businesses, especially to help small businesses cope with skyrocketing health insurance costs, has fit ideologically within the centrist idea of promoting "smart growth."

But the question now is: Which Janet will show up for her next State of the State address?

The Political Janet, who will cut and run on tough solutions so she doesn't cut her chances of running the world?

After all, this is the same champion of women's rights who was unwilling for years to run through the political minefield of Colorado City to save young women from horny old polygamists. And on law and order, she was downright sleazy as attorney general when she gave a pass to atrocious conditions in Joe Arpaio's jails to garner the endorsement of "America's Toughest Sheriff."

Or, will we see the Statesperson Janet, who, agree with her or not, will follow through on a bold progressive vision of a state running with elegant precision toward the Greater Good?

If anything, Napolitano's first four years, like Matt Leinart's first few football games, have Arizonans hopeful. Although the full promise is still unfulfilled, flashes of talent and heart suggest a bright future is possible.

And in a way, both have it easy. Like Leinart, Napolitano enters an arena where expectations are so low that success could mean just ascending to mediocrity.

But in time, we will demand more success from both our heroes. The charm of not-totally-sucking will fade. At that point, winning just the easy ones will no longer be enough.


Next week: An examination of the Napolitano administration's efforts on behalf of children in three areas: juvenile corrections, environmental protections for kids, and early intervention for the developmentally disabled.

Week three: The Legacy.

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