Most Governors Silent On Iraq

By: - October 4, 2002 12:00 am

In the national debate over whether to go to war with Iraq, most governors are remaining silent.

Six GOP governors and one moderate Democratic governor support President Bush’s call to invade Iraq. Only Vermont’s Gov. Howard Dean (D) has voiced qualified opposition. And 19 governors are officially mum, based on a canvass of the 50 chief executives.

“There’s a rule in politics not to take a position on an issue [governors] don’t have any control over,” said Joe Cowart, a Democratic strategist in Washington, D.C..

“To get strung out on something like war is a tough thing. They might have to say they don’t agree with the president. Then they might inherit all that goes with that,” he said.

Thad Beyle, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said governors don’t usually voice opinions on foreign policy unless it will affect them, like a change in trade policy.

In addition, governors are preoccupied with balancing budgets in a tough economy and don’t have time speak about foreign affairs, Beyle said.

“A lot of them are absolutely stunned by what they’ve got on their desks right now— the budget situation. They don’t have time to think or do anything else,” Beyle said.

Timing – just weeks before mid-term elections – is likely playing a big part as well.

“The other part of it is that there have been some hints that this whole Iraq thing is political, tied to an off-year election,” Beyle said.

Three of the governors who have spoken in support of Bush’s plan to wage war against Iraq— Govs. John Rowland of Connecticut, George Pataki of New York and Nebraska’s Mike Johanns– are seeking re-election. Voters in 36 states are electing governors this year.

Nebraska’s Johanns concedes that “we are elected to be leaders at the state level, but this is on the minds of people. They wonder about it, they’re concerned about it. I think we have the right to offer our perspectives.”

Johanns supports the Bush plan which would give the president maximum flexibility to launch military action against Iraq. Bush has demanded the authority to strike if Saddam Hussein fails to comply with UN resolutions, even those unrelated to weapons of mass destruction. The White House and House leaders reached agreement on Wednesday on the language of a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

“This debate is healthy, but there’s a point when we have to place trust in the president,” said Johanns, who is running against Democrat Stormy Dean for re-election. Dean also supports the use of force in Iraq.

Republican Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, who supports Bush, wrote about Iraq in his weekly newspaper column this week, saying he brought it up to Oklahomans because “it is highly likely that many of our neighbors in the regular armed forces, along with Guard and Reserve personnel who may be called to duty, will be deployed in defense of our nation.”

Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster (R) said there ought to be “fireworks over Baghdad” in his weekly radio call-in show. Republican Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen (D) also endorsed the president’s goals for a regime change in Iraq.

Only Vermont’s Howard Dean, running for president in 2004, has raised questions about a possible invasion of Iraq, but doesn’t oppose such a move if there is proof it’s warranted.

Dean said, “We may well need to go in some day, but I think the president has to make the case, and he has not yet made the case. He’s never said Iraq is an imminent threat. We’re going to send our children over there to die, and I think we have to be very sure this is the right thing to do before we do that.”

Dean emphasized that an Iraq invasion will quickly turn into a state issue whether governors like it or not. He insisted that military action in Iraq would spell trouble for state government finances.

“It will exacerbate the budget deficit,” Dean said. “And that will put enormous pressure on state budgets.”

But despite the potential impact on state economics or possible deployment of National Guard units, many governors haven’t said a word about Iraq and don’t plan to do so.

Kelli Steele, spokeswoman for Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D), said, “She doesn’t get involved in foreign policy matters like that, unless it hits home and is localized in some way.”

Sarah Magazine, spokeswoman for acting Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift (R), said, “The governor, as a rule, does not wade into international policy issues.”

Others who haven’t made a statement about Iraq include the governors of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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