Monday, April 2, 2012

Essay on State Policy

Essay on State Policy

Governors’ Role in Shaping State Policy
The twenty first century is, in many respects, a very special time for American politics. The importance of political executives continued to grow as the policy implications of an expanding governmental sector affected more and more citizens. Despite the apparent setbacks of Watergate and Vietnam, the American president remains at the center of the federal government. In a similar vein, governors are the central figures in state governments.

The importance of governors has increased for two interrelated reasons. First, over the last thirty years numerous states have initiated reforms to enhance the power of the governor (Albrow, 2001). Second, states have continued to expand their role in the development and implementation of policy initiatives that affect the lives of an increasing number of citizens. As a result of these developments policymakers have seen public recognition of the governor increase as has the public’s overall image of state government. In addition, contemporary governors appear to be more qualified, innovative, and powerful (Bevir, 2006).

Evaluations of executive performance are usually based upon an activist view of government and executives. In contemporary state affairs there is a similar bias in favor of activist governors. Reforms in recent years have been aimed at increasing gubernatorial power (Spicer, 2004). Subjective evaluations or listings of such governors as Jeb Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger tend to be headed by activist governors who are described by words such as innovative, dynamic, and energetic.

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Even though this bias in favor of activist governors is likely to remain, it is important to recognize that achievement or success need not imply a positive subjective connotation in favor of governmental expansion. It is only necessary for the analyst to consider that success can involve either the expansion or contraction of either executive or state power (Bevir, 2006). For example, an evaluation of the Reagan presidency must consider the administration’s ability to reduce federal power which is action traditionally associated with “weak” presidents. While such action would traditionally be associated with “weak” presidents, reduction of federal power would have to be judged as a success because it conforms with the philosophical thrust of Reagan’s administration. As such, achievement or success of policy goals should form the basis for evaluating executives.

Even an acceptance of achievement or success as a legitimate basis for evaluation, however, does not simplify greatly our task. All governors enter office in different state cultures, institutional settings, partisan alignments, and economic settings. Most importantly, power and success are not coterminous.

A more appropriate approach to the study of gubernatorial power requires the analysis of power relationships. That is, one must not only consider a governor’s ability and willingness to utilize his or her formal power but one must also consider the powers of the other important institutional actors such as state legislatures. For example, while the formal powers of governors have generally increased over the last thirty years, so too have the powers and professionalism of state legislatures (Spicer, 2004). It simply remains unclear how these concomitant increases in formal powers in both institutions have fundamentally affected the power balance or relationship between the two institutions.

It makes little difference whether one is interested in analyzing governors, legislatures, court systems, interest groups, or other institutional actors; an examination of the formal power of any one institutional actor, without an examination of the powers of other institutional actors, can be misleading. The potential to utilize political power does not exist in a vacuum. The importance of political power must be evaluated in terms of the political power of other institutional actors attempting to affect the political phenomena of interest.

Yet a singular focus on even relative power still cannot form the basis for a fully developed understanding of gubernatorial achievement or success in policymaking because the ability and willingness to exercise gubernatorial power are simply never in a one-to-one relationship with success unless there is total and absolute disagreement between the governor and the other institutional actors in the policymaking process. A simple example can be used to illustrate this point.

Define a gubernatorial bill as a bill that is supported by the governor. Define the level of gubernatorial-legislative congruence as the percentage of all gubernatorial bills that will pass a legislature because of fundamental policy or partisan agreement between the governor and the legislature. When there is fundamental agreement, there is no need for the exercise of gubernatorial power. For simplicity, gubernatorial power can be defined as the percentage of all gubernatorial bills that will pass a legislature when there is fundamental partisan or policy disagreement between the governor and legislature. 1 If there are 100 bills on which the governor and legislature disagree and gubernatorial power is 20 percent, then 20 bills will pass because of the governor’s exercise of power (Bevir, 2006).

The legislation supported by Schwarzenegger often passes a legislature merely because a sufficient number of legislators are in fundamental agreement with the policy implications of the legislation. It seems that US policymakers often have a tendency to assume that it was the governor who used his or her influence to get the legislation passed. At the same time, such legislation may never have reached the stage of legislative action if the governor had not acted to get the item on the public agenda. But, the governor may have felt compelled to place the item on the public agenda because of political forces, many of which might be the same as those resulting in legislative support. In such a manner, Arnold Schwarzenegger introduced green foreign policy, aiming to attract attention of international environment to global warming and means of fighting it. He negotiated with authorities from other countries (for example, on May, 4 2007 he signed the Memorandum of understanding with Steve Bracks, the premier of Victoria, Australian State, upon sharing technologies, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, developing international carbon trading markets, etc.) upon environmental issues and promotes investing in clean cars industry.

Jeb Bush introduced education policy, which focused upon school accountability, increased payment to teachers and introduction of vouchers, which allow children to go to private schools at the expense of the state. He established the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Foundation for Florida’s future. His most successful educational policy was A-Plus accountability program, which aimed to evaluate, reward and punish schools upon the basis of their test results. But the voucher policy was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court.

How does one evaluate the success of a governor, legislature, or any institutional actor in such a complex matrix of potential interactions? When discussing agenda setting, analyses often seem to get bogged down in what is probably a question without an answer: Who thought of the idea first? Given our current state of understanding, traditional modes of specifying gubernatorial power, success, and achievement may also be attempting to deal with a question that currently cannot be answered: Who or what is more powerful or successful? The question implies confrontation and this may seem reasonable because politics is, in a sense, about conflict. However, political cleavages and the conflict surrounding them occur in different spheres of political action. The cleavages and coalitions associated with a conflict in one political sphere may or may not be reflected in another sphere of political action.

In this sense, gubernatorial action is often undertaken in an atmosphere that is not dominated by confrontation but one dominated by linkages to political actors with similar policy orientations. This is not to suggest that political disputes do not exist in multiple spheres of political action. In the legislature, for example, there may be a number of cleavages and political disputes resulting from these cleavages. However, governors are not likely to receive support for their programs by confronting those forces in opposition to their programs in a direct power struggle. Instead, their success depends upon establishing linkages with those legislators who have similar policy orientations. It is for this reason that executives who are most successful in having their programs passed are typically those who have a majority coalition in the legislature.

The question of who or what is more powerful or successful, therefore, may simply not have a readily apparent answer that can be considered theoretically satisfying. The application of power may simply not be very useful or applicable in most policymaking situations. Of course, these may, in some sense, be critical situations. A definition of success may also be difficult to specify outside the parameters of a particular contextual situation or narrowly defined research project.

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