Is Andrew Cuomo currently the most successful governor in America?
Maybe there's an old-timer out there who's doing a better job in North Dakota or Montana. And the hero of the left should be Dan Malloy of Connecticut, who dared to balance his state budget by raising taxes and is currently waiting to sign bills on marijuana decriminalization and transgender rights.
But New York is infamous as a tough lift for any governor who hopes just to keep things under control, let alone actually change things.
The legislature passed a budget with a minimum of crisis and hysteria, which is a real achievement any time, but an absolute miracle given the need to do some real cutting.
Now Cuomo has delivered on ethics legislation -- a huge priority for the state's perpetually depressed reformers. He's thrown down the gauntlet with the state unions, demanding a leaner pension system for future hires. New York's unions are powerful and sometimes intractable, but Cuomo has set up the confrontation skillfully. If the unions don't agree to the rules (which won't affect present members), he'll eliminate 9,800 union jobs. The governor has done his job when it comes to the first requirement for successful union negotiations -- giving union leaders the ammunition to argue that the givebacks are less awful than the alternative.
The legislature always likes to leave things to the last minute, and it's actually a miracle we're this far along with days left on the calendar. But Cuomo has several big priorities left on the agenda, including a property tax cap and marriage rights for gay New Yorkers. I'm betting he'll get the first, which is wildly popular with voters even though many experts think it's a bad idea. The second, which should be a slam dunk in this state, may well be killed by the usual, appalling suspects in the state senate.
If Cuomo wins that one, too, he'll be a first-year wonder.
And whatever happens, his ability to do heavy political lifting without any of the typical Albany chaos is impressive.
It's more than Jerry Brown has been able to accomplish in California -- Brown has been calm and sensible, but hasn't been able to climb over his state's crazy barriers to tax increases. (Barriers Cuomo might want to take a look at before he insists on that property tax cap.)
It's more than the new Republican hotshots in states like Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio could accomplish. They each scored some wins, but at the price of such rancor both in the legislature and the voting populace that their streaks may come to an end before their first anniversary in office. As it stands, polls show that 29 percent of Floridians are happy with their governor, Rick Scott. A full 50 percent told poll-takers they'd be ready to remove Wisconsin's Scott Walker immediately. In Michigan and Ohio, governors Rick Snyder and John Kasich are both cruising with a whopping 33 percent approval rating.
Meanwhile in New Jersey, GOP pinup boy Chris Christie has won the hearts of the national Republican establishment, but not his own constituents, with most polls showing his approval rating has dipped below 50 percent.
In contrast, Cuomo is wildly popular. The latest Quinnipiac poll showed 61 percent of voters approving his performance and only 18 percent disapproving. In New York, you can get a 20 percent disapproval rating for showing up for Mass on Sunday.
Andrew Cuomo is the last person you'd have expected to come up with such a record. When he first ran for governor in 2002, he was a terrible candidate who alienated five people for every one he charmed. Last year, he was, of course, a big winner with 62 percent of the vote. But my uncle the tollbooth attendant could have beaten Carl Palladino, the loony Republican nominee.
The biggest gubernatorial victory in New York history, by the way, was Eliot Spitzer's 69 percent in 2006. Spitzer thought the voters had given him a mandate to deliver his agenda, and he tried quickly and publicly to browbeat the legislature into submission. It was a disaster. Even before the memorable sex scandal and resignation, Spitzer was floundering.
Cuomo has taken a different -- and practically unprecedented -- tactic. He stayed away from the press. No politician in New York stays away from the press, and Cuomo used to enjoy hanging around with reporters -- gossiping with them, socializing with them. But that was back in the day. Now, while he frequently gives speeches in public, he sticks as much as possible to appearances in which he's in total control.
As somebody who's been a journalist for my entire career, I can't say I approve. But I have to say it's been working.