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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Frying Pans and Fires

The big transition news so far today is that Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a highly-regarded sitting governor who supported Barack Obama during the primary season, has apparently agreed to leave office to become Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Napolitano had been on the short list for Attorney General before Eric Holder’s designation for that position.
Personally, my first reaction to this news was surprise. To put it simply, DHS is a big fat mess: a poorly-designed deparment encompassing a vast array of missions, and suffering from considerable drift under indifferent Bush administration management. While Napolitano has been a highly visible governor on border issues like immigration and drug enforcement, there are big chunks of the department that deal with many other things, most notably anti-terrorism activities and emergency management. As you can read in Dana Goldstein’s fine profile of Napolitano earlier this year, she’s an extraordinarily competent person who won’t shirk from big challenges, but still, this one would be tough for anybody.
But if you think about it: is there any challenge harder than being a governor right now? Like most (soon to be virtually all) states, Arizona is facing a large, recession-driven budget shortfall, exacerbated by the fact that greater Phoenix has been especially hard-hit by the housing bubble collapse. The Arizona legislature is controlled by Republicans. Napolitano’s immediate prospects in Arizona were for two years of wall-to-wall grief, before being term-limited out of office in 2010.
Compared to that, even DHS probably looked interesting and managable.
Indeed, you have to wonder why just about every sitting Democratic governor isn’t burning up the phone lines to Washington seeking an Obama administration job. It’s a matter of leaping from the fire to the frying pan.

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