Back to the business of governing

For the president-elect and Washington's governor, the reality of an economy in crisis leaves no time for rest. Plus other observations about the big vote this week.
Crosscut archive image.

Rahm Emanuel: Does the Chicago mayor have Seattle in his crosshairs?

For the president-elect and Washington's governor, the reality of an economy in crisis leaves no time for rest. Plus other observations about the big vote this week.

Euphoria is rapidly giving way to reality, nationally and locally: The stirring Obama campaign victory must be followed by governance in a difficult period that will be characterized by economic recession, huge public and private debt burdens, and expensive and unfinished commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the struggle against terrorism. Financial markets and institutions remain shaky.

Obama policy and personnel decisions are imminent

An Obama presidential-transition team has formally been installed, to be led by a combination of Clinton-era alumni and Chicagoans known and trusted by President-elect Barack Obama. Simultaneously, Obama's representatives are meeting with Democratic congressional leaders to join in formulation of a fresh economic stimulus package.

U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois will be White House chief of staff. Emanuel, a Chicagoan who knows Obama well, was a Clinton White House staffer before becoming a congressman and rising quickly in the Democratic congressional hierarchy. He is smart, quick, tough-minded, and knowledgeable about both the executive branch and the Hill. In that regard, he is an improvement over some prior chiefs of staff who came to their jobs with previously parochial backgrounds. Emanuel was a highly successful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair and, thus, is seen by many Republicans as an abrasive partisan figure. But that was then, this is now, and I expect Emanuel to follow through on Obama's pledge to reach across partisan lines to get business done.

Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta is running the transition. I have known him since he began as a young political organizer 40 years ago. He has been president since the Clinton years of the Center for American Progress, a think-tank largely funded by contributions from wealthy liberals (such as financier George Soros). Critics will charge that Podesta, as Emanuel, has been too greatly conditioned by the all-politics-all-the-time Clinton culture. But both are their own men and have had lives before and after Clinton. They are good choices.

A third major figure in the transition will be Valerie Jarrett, a black Chicago housing executive who has been a mentor to the president-elect and Michelle Obama since Obama's entry into politics. She is not as experienced in national issues and politics as Emanuel or Podesta, but she has common sense and, above all, will be looking to protect the Obamas' interests.

Several candidates appear in the running for national security advisor. I am rooting for Gregory Craig, also an independent personality, who as White House counsel defended Clinton in his impeachment hearings but who has actively helped Obama with foreign policy and national security since he declared his candidacy in 2007.

The next order of personnel business for Obama will be the naming of a treasury secretary-designate who can work with current Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Congress to maintain continuity in the financial rescue. Several names have been mentioned; all have substantive qualification.

On the policy side, we should watch closely how Obama relates to his party's congressional leadership in the lame-duck session. Will he go along with spending plans he might not have devised on his own? We shall see.

The Lieberman case

Senate Democrats are treating warily independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who sits with the Democratic caucus but who campaigned actively for Sen. John McCain in 2008.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, representing the caucus, has approached Lieberman with a suggestion that he continue to sit with Democrats (and thus contribute in their long-shot attempt to reach a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority) but yield his committee chairmanships. I cannot imagine Lieberman accepting such a proposition. Yet it is difficult to imagine that he would shift to the Republican side — unless outrightly expelled by Democrats. He was the Democrats' vice-presidential nominee in 2000 and has a long background in the party. He became an independent only after he was defeated in a Democratic primary and was forced to run as an independent to hold his seat. This matter probably will remain unresolved for a bit — at least until Democrats know for sure whether their 60-vote-majority goal is attainable. As things now stand, unresolved races in four states are likely to break 2-2, thus leaving them short.

Here at home, red ink is the subject

Gov. Chris Gregoire, re-elected by a surprising margin (although running some 10 points behind the Obama-Biden ticket in the state), has pledged to raise neither taxes nor fees. That will leave her and the Legislature only one option: to cut state spending substantially in the next biennium. The rainy-day fund and incremental staff reductions will not touch the prospective $3.2 billion state deficit, which is likely to grow as recession takes hold. No magic economic recovery is likely to generate new tax revenues out of the blue.

Gregoire has remained fiercely loyal to the teacher- and public-employee unions, Indian tribes, and trial lawyers who have backed and financed her politically. She will have no option but to say no, in the next biennium, to their fresh demands. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and the Seattle City Council will face a similar situation at local level.

The passages of Proposition 1, the metro Puget Sound light-rail expansion measure, and the Seattle parks and Pike Place Market levies were exactly the wrong medicine in the current financial/economic climate. All will impose new tax burdens locally — Prop 1 most dramatically — during a period when taxpayers and the general economy can least afford them. But Seattleites have a long tradition of approving new tax burdens for themselves, even when the purposes are dubious, and repeated that pattern Tuesday.

The Reichert-Burner 8th congressional district race and statewide races for lands commissioner and superintendent of public instruction may not be resolved for several weeks. Those contests do not involve financial/economic policy per se, but there are clear differences between the candidates for the state-level jobs that will impact education, resource development, and the environment for years to come. I continue to hope that Peter Goldmark and Terry Bergeson emerge as eventual winners in the lands and public-instruction races.

The period between now and January will have far more importance than usual because of the financial and economic situations. I'll keep you posted regularly.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of