West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is considering running for his old job as governor:

“Senator Manchin loved being governor of West Virginia and has made no secret of his frustration with the partisan gridlock and dysfunction of Washington,” Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott told the Gazette last April. “Senator Manchin is leaving all his options open for 2016 and will continue to look for the best way to bring common sense to Washington.”

The following month, in May 2014, Manchin told the AP he was keeping “all options open.”

I have two minds on the subject.

A part of me doesn’t understand why politicians would ever trade a governorship for the senate. Politicians are, by their nature, ambitious. If you’re a governor, you’re the Big Fish. You are the chief executive of one of the fifty states of the most powerful nation on Earth. Why would you give that up to be a freshman senator, where you have but one of a hundred votes. The best reasons I can think of are:

  1. You come from a small and comparatively inconsequential state. Like, say, West Virginia. You may be the most important person next to the president for the West Virginia Gazette, but you’re rarely going to get on Meet the Press as a governor. Of course, a lot of senators never get on Meet The Press either, but your odds are better.
  2. You can, ultimately, be more powerful as a senator than you can as a governor. It’s unlikely that you will, but you can. It’s a bit of a moving target as the larger the state you are from, the more difficult it is to get more power as a senator. But there’s not much doubt that Tom Daschle (D-SD) or Harry Reid (D-NV) became as senators what they never would have become as governors. The same is likely true of any recent Senate Majority Leader, as they have come from smaller states (the largest being Tennessee). That may be a product of the senate’s small state advantage, or may be the product of ambitious people from small states focusing on the senate instead of state politics, or both.
  3. Being in the senate can be easier. Say you are not all that ambitious (for a politician). You want to have influence, and you want to make your mark, but you don’t want to actually be responsible for much. The Senate is the perfect place for you! Now, senators can throw themselves into the job, like John McCain, but you don’t really have to. You go to some meetings, you make some speeches, and you vote on bills. The pension is nice. You might get some stuff named after you (even if you are an unremarkable senator). When you leave, you can make a lot of money as a lobbyist. Which brings me to…
  4. Income potential. You make a lot of connections in Washington that you wouldn’t make in your state’s capital. You get to know people and other people will want to pay you lots and lots of money to introduce them to the people you used to know.
  5. You want out of your stupid backwood state and want to live in DC. This is presumably more of a draw if you’re from South Dakota than California, but some people – and politicians in particular – like to live in important places. Washington DC is one of the most important places on earth.
  6. Term limits, where applicable.
  7. You’re from a small state but you want to be president. This one is actually pretty dubious. If you’re from a small state, it’s exceedingly unlikely that you come from a small state. The only two presidents in recent history to come from small states are a charismatic governor and a very important general. A couple small or middling state senators have gotten party nominations, but they lost. If you want to be president, it’s historically been better to be a governor. Though between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, maybe that’s changing.

Personally, I find reason three to be the most compelling. Other than term limits, of course. But that’s the mentality for why I would make a crappy politician.

Category: Statehouse

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