Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is thinking seriously about running for governor of Massachusetts this year.
Reich, a respected college professor and author before he joined Bill Clinton's Cabinet, successfully administered a huge federal department for four years. And he did so with a sound sense of the potential for government to do good - crusading successfully for an increased minimum wage, working to implement the Family and Medical Leave Act, launching initiatives to help American workers train for better jobs, leading crackdowns on unsafe work sites and fraudulent purveyors of pensions and health insurance, and crusading against sweatshops and child labor abuses.
Perhaps most important, Reich maintained a liberal presence within an administration that was listing hard to the right. He argued against Clinton's embrace of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's punitive welfare reform agenda, tried to keep fences mended with organized labor and played an important role in getting Clinton to embrace tax policies that would ease the burden of the working poor.
Reich was, as well, smart enough to return to teaching before the president dragged everyone in the administration through the miserable second-term experience of having to defend their intern-dating boss.
Add it all up and you've got a pretty good resume for a gubernatorial candidate.
I don't claim to know whether Reich really would be a good governor. He could well prove disappointing. I remain deeply ill at ease with his compromises on trade issues during Clinton's first term. And I have never quite forgiven him for downplaying the need for a national industrial policy once he got the Labor Department post.
But I must say that the prospect of Reich's candidacy excites me.
As someone who covers politics, I think there is nothing more disturbing than the penchant of Americans who have been entrusted with Cabinet-level posts to hightail it into the private sector as soon as their terms end. It is a good thing that Clinton administration aides such as Reich and former Attorney General Janet Reno are looking to make bids for governorships in Massachusetts and Florida, respectively.
I am also excited to see someone with a reputation as a great professor - Reich is teaching at Brandeis University - and the author of important books such as "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet" and, most recently, "The Future of Success" running for office.
The idea of having someone who is actually, er, smart, serving in an important position may seem outdated in this moment of the mediocre. But it remains appealing to those of us who actually have to cover campaigns and governments.
Indeed, if Reich can run, why not one of Wisconsin's intellectual lights? One of Reich's friends, UW-Madison professor Joel Rogers, would make a most intriguing candidate. He's got a resume to rival Reich's and, if anything, more ideas for fixing government and the economy.
Reich is expected to decide whether to seek the governorship of Massachusetts this month. I hope he decides to make the run, just as I hope Rogers will ponder a similar dip into the electoral waters.
Copyright 2001 The Capital Times