Getting jiggy with the next president

Posted: Mar 13, 2005 12:00 AM

In this time of mindless speculation about 2008's presidential candidates, I remain untroubled by the fact that no one has mentioned my name. I know it is due simply to my youthful appearance. I just don't look old enough for the job.

Oh, sure, it stings a little when other international celebrities are basking in their own luscious speculation. Just the other day, the Washington Post exposed the possibility that actor Will Smith ? yes, the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ? might run.

"I really, truly believe I could be the president of the United States if I wanted to," Smith told reporters.

I'm jiggy with that, to borrow the words of the good-guy rapper. As actors go, we could do a lot worse than Mr. Smith. As rappers go, far worse.

Speaking of acting, how many times must we witness Senator Hillary Clinton deliver her oh-so-sincerely rehearsed rap that she isn't looking that far ahead? Ms. Clinton is a phenomenal fundraiser ? for both parties. However, she represents the Democrats' nightmare scenario: She cannot be denied the nomination; and she cannot win the presidency.

For potential candidates who can actually win, look to successful governors. Since John F. Kennedy won the White House in 1960, every elected president has either served first as vice president (3) or as a governor (4). One place to compare governors is Cato Institute's newly released "2004 Fiscal Policy Report Card on America's Governors" by Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski.

You'll find California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the top of his class with an A grade. Just remember that were it not for that wonderful process of citizen recall, Gray Davis would still be governor. A previous Cato survey of governors marked Davis with a big fat F.

Schwarzenegger's performance and star power have created speculation about his dreams for higher office. Yet, for Arnold to run for the presidency requires a constitutional amendment abolishing the restriction on foreign-soil born politicians. No easy task. It reminds me of Steve Martin's scheme for how to make a million dollars tax-free. "First," went Martin's old stand-up comedy pitch, "get a million dollars."

But there are at least two Republican governors born in the good ol' USA about whom those of us favoring limited government can get awfully excited: Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

Mark Sanford has already proven himself capable of going to Washington without losing his soul. He was sent to the U.S. House on a pledge to rein in big government. In Washington, he kept his word to fight for less spending, winning awards from groups like the National Taxpayers Union. As part of the effort to limit government, he worked to term-limit Congress. And he applied the idea to himself, stepping down after three terms.

It seemed so easy for the soft-spoken Sanford, like he just couldn't wait to get away from the cabal in Washington and back to the real world in South Carolina. As his wife, Jenny, once told a reporter, "He's not the only one in the family who's for term limits."

Sanford is now in his first term as governor of South Carolina. He's not one merely to mark time; he has a very aggressive agenda of cutting taxes and improving education. He wants to phase out the state's income tax and to pass a universal tax credit program to give parents more meaningful education choices.

Presently, South Carolina is at the bottom of nearly every measurable educational category. If Sanford can produce a victory for education reform, it could become a model for reform across the country, and provide even more reason to consider Governor Sanford presidential timber.

Tim Pawlenty won the race for Minnesota governor in 2002 on the strength of his No New Taxes pledge. And he has kept his pledge, even with a Democratic state senate and a liberal media establishment constantly harping about the need for evermore tax revenue.

Pawlenty's likeable, boy-next-door persona, and his working class roots, make him a tough target for the usual liberal attacks. Pawlenty is also a populist, who trusts the voters enough to push for a statewide citizen initiative process against special-interest pressure. Passage would make Minnesota the 25th state with voter initiative rights and give Pawlenty both a grand legacy and impeccable populist credentials should he decide to seek the White House.

Pawlenty also offers a possible shake up of the electoral map by bringing seemingly always-Democratic Minnesota into the GOP column. Plus, he's better able to tip neighboring Iowa and Wisconsin ? states decided by razor-thin margins in both 2000 and 2004.

It's worth remembering that the Democrats have governors, too, and that two are being sounded out for presidential timber. One, Virginia Governor Mark Warner, is a Democratic pipe dream. The other, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, is potentially formidable.

Their difference can be summed up in one word: taxes. Democrats will not win back the White House (or Congress) as long as they cede the tax issue to Republicans.

But Governor Bill Richardson hasn't surrendered to tax-and-spend Democrat orthodoxy. He may hope voters will forget his often troubled tenure as Energy Secretary under Clinton, but he doesn't have to worry about his tenure as governor thus far. Richardson ran advocating income tax cuts and signed into law a plan to take the top income tax rate down from 8.2 percent to 5 percent. He is now proposing to eliminate the state's sales tax on food and medicine.

On the other hand, Virginia Governor Mark Warner is often lionized by the Washington Post and much of the liberal elite precisely for raising taxes in a Republican state. And, after winning with a pledge not to raise taxes.

Warner is term-limited this year. Many Virginians, myself included, hope he'll run for president simply so that we can have the pleasure of voting against him. If Democrats want to test the public's position on taxes yet again, bring on Warner.

I don't know who'll be the next president, or even who will run. But, I do know there are some exciting possibilities. I'm so "jiggy" about it that, heck, I'm taking my name out of the running.