Taking a page from Mark Twain, who supposedly espoused “making your vocation your vacation,’ I had a holiday of sorts this week: Interviewing former Secretary of State George Shultz for a podcast at a Hoover Institution policy boot camp for college students.
Shultz is one of only two Americans to have held four federal cabinet-level posts – secretary of state, treasury and labor, plus the first director of the modern-day Office of Management and Budget. Approaching his 98th birthday in December, he’s working on two books, while issuing wake-up calls on nuclear proliferation and climate change.
Two years ago, as Election Day approached, I wrote a column for Forbes.com suggesting we hold presidential candidates to a higher “Shultz Standard:” gravitas, negotiating skills, character and an ability to think outside the box. (Shultz was my write-in choice on that year’s ballot).
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Those qualities likewise should exist in California’s next governor. But for our state, it’s not enough for our chief executive to meet the “Shultz Standard.”
The winner should meet with the man himself – and take copious notes. What would Shultz advise?
For one, he’d stress the importance of forging relationships across party lines, a lost art in this era of hyper-partisanship. The good news: If you caught the recent Politico interview in Los Angeles, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom had kind words to say about House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. That the likely next governor and the most powerful California Republican in Congress get along offers a little hope.
Also, Shultz would likely offer these sayings on how to approach public office. “Knowing something is good, realizing something is better.” “Learn from experience.” “Get to work on problems that make a difference.”
Then, I imagine Shultz would tell the governor-elect to hit the ground running and adhere to the following rules of the road: “Be realistic, be strong, develop your agenda, then engage.”
Should Newsom succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, those nine words are his administration’s challenge. Will the new governor want an impatient Legislature to be more pragmatic about the likes of single-payer health care and universal pre-school (“be realistic”)?
Will the new governor or a bunch of familiar legislative leaders be Sacramento’s alpha dog (“be strong”)?
Given four years to implement an agenda, does Newsom take his time achieving policy victories, or does he try to force-feed legislators with his ideas (“develop your agenda, then engage”)?
If the next governor offers it, there could be a familiar mission awaiting Shultz: California’s economic growth. In his first year in office, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named Shultz the chairman of a new Council of Economic Advisers. They met with the governor periodically to assist him in confronting the state’s economic challenges and identifying economic opportunities.
Shultz and his economic team did the same a decade earlier for then-Gov. Pete Wilson. Their recommendations included a 15 percent reduction in personal and business income taxes over three years, which was Wilson’s starting point for negotiations with Democratic lawmakers.
I have no idea what suggestions Shultz would offer today, nor do I know if a newly-elected Newsom would entertain them. But I suspect one topic of conversation would deal with Shultz’s current passion project: moving forward on arresting climate change.
A new California governor who hasn’t fought many battles in Sacramento would benefit from voices of experience. In 2019, that would include four living governors and Willie Brown, a former state Assembly speaker who was Newsom’s early patron in San Francisco.
Should George Shultz be part of that brain trust? Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at email@example.com.