The case for William Weld

If it is, as I argued here critically important that New Yorkers reject Eliot Spitzer in next year’s gubernatorial election, then it is equally critical that Republicans find a credible and electable candidate.

While some Republicans fantasize about a Giuliani candidacy – and about Colin Powell contesting Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat – these are both unlikely. Opinion polls suggest Giuliani would beat Spitzer while no other Republican would, but he is planning to run for the Presidency in 2008 and will not waste time on a shot at the governor’s mansion two years beforehand. Governor Pataki has ruled out seeking a fourth term, and would probably not have won anyway – though he has been underestimated before, including by this columnist.

The best contender is probably native New Yorker and former governor of Massachusetts, William Weld. If elected, he would be the first American since Sam Houston to be governor of two different states.

Weld has been mischaracterized by his opponents – including the New York Times – as a typical north eastern liberal Republican. If by that they are comparing him to Senators Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island or Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, or even Governor Pataki, his critics are dead wrong. All of the above – at least if we judge Pataki by his whole period of office, and not just by his excellent first term, are Democrats-lite. They are left wing on social questions and left wing on the economy too.

Weld is nowhere near the Chaffee-Specter end of the spectrum. A better analogy would be Giuliani or Governor Schwarzenegger. In his governorship of Massachusetts Weld was very tough on spending. In his first year he put forward a budget that actually spent less, in cash terms, than the previous year. He continually vetoed proposals to increase the minimum wage. Many of us wish that George Bush were even close to being that conservative. It is true that, just like Pataki, he relaxed his grip on spending as his governorship wore on, but nowhere near as fast and nowhere near as much.

Weld is a fiscal conservative, but also a social a liberal. He extended Ronald Reagan’s famous phrase to a demand to get the government “off the backs, out of the pockets and out of the bedrooms of the American people”. Like Giuliani, he gets high ratings from liberal groups on abortion and gay issues. But he is not a full on libertarian either. He supports gun control and environmental regulations.

Weld does not yet have high name recognition in New York, but he captured the most liberal state in the union from Governor Dukakis four years before the Republican landslide of 1994. In ’94 he was re-elected with 71% of the vote and, as a result of Weld’s popularity, the GOP came close to toppling Ted Kennedy from the family Senate seat. Two years later Weld himself ran for the Senate and nearly foreshortened John Kerry’s career, in a state without a single Republican congressman and which elected Bill Clinton by a massive margin the same day.

Weld is an attractive and interesting candidate, very electable in a liberal state like New York, and the best chance New Yorkers have of ending Eliot Spitzer’s assault on freedom and the rule of law.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 23 September 2005

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