Friday, November 21, 2008

Will Obama take Janet Napolitano off Arizona's hands?

Secretary of Homeland Security is a lightning rod position, charged as it is with harassing air travelers, chasing brown people across the border and preventing hurricanes from being inconvenient. That said, Janet Napolitano, the governor of Arizona, is a perfectly competent choice for the person tasked to tell us if today's threat level is "orange" or "mauve" and to, more seriously, shake out some of the organizational difficulties at DHS. But she's unlikely to represent any sort of softening in policy at the department in terms of immigration or civil liberties. And let's hope that somebody other than her has control of the checkbook.

By Arizona standards, Napolitano is a moderate on immigration. That means she's capable of vetoing a bill requiring her to dispatch National Guard troops to monitor the state's southern border while, at the same time, dispatching National Guard troops to monitor the state's southern border of her own accord. Napolitano eventually persuaded the federal government to provide funding for about 2,400 soldiers. She also signed into law a measure that threatens to strip state businesses of their licenses to operate if they're caught hiring undocumented workers more than once.

This nails down the moderate position in a state where high-profile Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a cartoonish bully, has gone so far as to raid city hall in Mesa in a search for illegal immigrants. Napolitano has gone head-to-head with Arpaio in battles that are roughly equally about philosophy and ego, and it will be interesting to see if she continues that feud from a D.C. perch.

In civil liberties circles, Janet Napolitano gets some credit for formalizing Arizona's rebellion against the federal "Real ID" scheme to convert state-issued drivers licenses into standardized national ID cards. While she did sign the bill blocking the state from complying with the federal ID law, that was only after it became clear that her own "3-in-1" ID plan for bringing Arizona into compliance with Real ID was a no-go with the legislature and with state voters.

Even in putting her name on Arizona's pro-privacy rebellion, Napolitano framed her support in budgetary terms, saying:

My support of the Real ID Act is, and has always been, contingent upon adequate federal funding. Absent that, the Real ID Act becomes just another unfunded federal mandate.

Napolitano's rise to head Homeland Security may mean the end of Real ID -- or it may mean that she'll continue the push for a national ID card, but this time with more federal dollars attached.

Speaking of federal dollars ... Money management just might become an issue if Janet Napolitano is approved for the Homeland Security post. A new report (PDF) from the Government Accountability Office reveals that spending oversight is a shambles at DHS. "15 of the 57 DHS major investments reviewed by GAO were designated by the Office of Management and Budget as poorly planned and by DHS as poorly performing."

But Napolitano won't just leave fond memories behind in Arizona -- she's washing her hands of a financial catastrophe. The state's budget, already bloated at $9.9 billion, is conservatively projected to suffer a $1.2 billion deficit this year. That's on top of a $2 billion shortfall passed forward from last year. Tom Jenney of Americans for Prosperity, an organization that has been tough on the governor's financial habits, flat-out says, "[Napolitano is] going to get off the Titanic as it slips under the water. I think Obama’s got a life boat for her, and if I were her, I’d probably get off the ship."

Of course, fiscal irresponsibility will be no more of a change of pace in D.C. than Napolitano's lines on immigration and privacy.

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