As Janet Napolitano leaves Arizona for greener pastures, we should acknowledge that she was an innovative governor who changed the culture of her office. But not in a good way.
Her predecessors recognized the need for responsible management of the budget. Napolitano's reaction to both lean and fat budget years was basically the same: spend, spend, and spend some more. The result is Arizona's huge budget deficit.
Napolitano also earned the dubious distinction of being the first Arizona governor to introduce debt to balance general fund budgets. Debt for operating expenses is wildly imprudent and unconstitutional to boot.
Governors typically employ staff to work with the Legislature on pending legislation. Napolitano, though, repeatedly claimed that she didn't comment on legislation until it "hit her desk." This fomented a needlessly confrontational relationship between the branches of government.
Napolitano also set veto records. Vetoes may occasionally be necessary, but they are a poor substitute for good communication and at least trying to work together.
Unfortunately, Napolitano was so popular with the media that she was largely excused for such antics as intimidating a state commission into illegally changing "Squaw Peak" to "Piestewa Peak." She was allowed to hijack money meant for other projects to fund the Western States Climate Initiative. She got by with claiming credit for the positive effects of tax cuts she had fought against.
Incoming governor Jan Brewer should move aggressively and conspicuously to restore sound practices to the office. We don't want the legacy of the past six years to become the Arizona way.
Tom Patterson is Chairman of the Goldwater Institute, former state Senate Majority Leader, and an emergency room physician. A longer version of this article originally appeared in the East Valley Tribune.
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