A couple weeks ago Phil Talmadge dropped out of the governor’s race due to health reasons, and while I probably wouldn’t have voted for him in the Democratic primary, I was genuinely sad to see him go.
Of course, his flagging funding raising, low visibility and meager poll numbers would have eventually knocked him out of contention even if his bum kidney hadn’t. But his is a voice that will be sorely missed from the public debate: the intelligent voice.
One of the things I always seek in politics — and rarely find — is a candidate who is smarter than me… and flaunts it. (Oh, there are plenty who flaunt it, but they’re usually shooting blanks.)
However, the couple of times I’ve had the opportunity to hear Phil speak, I came away with impression that he clearly fit the bill.
Phil was a candidate who wasn’t afraid to show off his smarts, and while it sometimes made him appear arrogant or aloof, it highlighted not only his deep command of the issues, but his ability and willingness to approach them creatively. And bluntly.
At one of many election night gatherings last November, a fellow traveller cornered Phil and ticked off a list of worthy progressive causes, asking him how he would prioritize these if elected. Without hesitation, Phil shot back that the first thing the next governor would do is cut about $1.6 billion from the budget. And every budget thereafter. He then gave a brief but detailed lecture on the structural inadequacies of our current tax system.
Dismissing this guy’s progressive wish list as exactly that, is not the way to win votes from liberal Democrats. Which helps explain why he wasn’t winning many votes from liberal Democrats.
But I appreciated his honesty, and yes, his arrogance to assume that he knew better than voters. After all, isn’t that what we want in a governor, an executive who knows how to run the state better than we do?
Now I’m not suggesting that Ron Sims or Christine Gregoire (or even Dino Rossi) aren’t smart. Or that I’m some kind of a genius that few can match. I like Ron. And I guess I kind of like Christine. (Let’s just say I’m awfully suspicious of Dino.)
But none of them are running on being smart. Ron is running on being a leader. Christine is running on being caring and competent. (And Dino is running on being, well… a Republican.)
Phil could easily match the others on experience, or issues, or passion. But every time I heard him speak, I couldn’t help but think that here is a guy who knows he is smarter than the other candidates, and wants voters to know it too.
Unfortunately, if there was one thing that belied his claim to being the brainiac of the governor’s race, it was perhaps his arrogant miscalculation that there are enough voters like me out there, who actually value this in a candidate.
My sense is that Phil Talmadge would have made an absolutely outstanding governor. Or a complete disaster. Legislators, like voters, resent being made to feel stupid, and all the smarts in the world can’t push a bill past a pissed off committee chair.
But it would have been interesting to see Phil try.