Dukakis's Record: A Success Story
Op-Ed, New York Times
April 18, 1988
Author: Graham Allison, Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School
Assessing the qualification of individuals to serve as President is among the toughest judgments citizens make.
In the clamor before New York's primary, too much attention has focused on debates among candidates, promises made and policy positions taken. Too little effort has been made to explore a richer source of clues about probable performance: records. The record of Michael S. Dukakis, Governor of Massachusetts, is an informative guide.
If Massachusetts were a country, its gross national product would rank 12th among industrialized nations. Mr. Dukakis has served for a decade as chief executive of Massachusetts: from 1975 to 1978, and again from 1983 to the present.
No one disputes that Massachusetts is working. In 1975, when Mr. Dukakis became Governor, unemployment stood at 11.2 percent, and the state's deficit, as a percentage of the budget, rivaled the current Federal deficit. Today, the state's budget is balanced, and unemployment is 2.9 percent, the lowest of any industrialized state in the Union. Average black unemployment in Massachusetts last year was 6 percent, less than the national rate (6.2 percent), whites included.
Real per capita income rose by one-third during the decade, and for the last four years it has risen faster than in any other state. How much of this success story is due to Mr. Dukakis? Consider his record. 1. Economic recovery. Beneath Massachusetts' recovery were fundamental economic factors that largely lay beyond any individual's control. These included the national economic recovery, a manufacturing mix heavy on high-tech, a disproportionate share of defense contracts and slow population growth.
Nevertheless, in 1986, a Harvard professor, Ronald F. Ferguson, and a Duke University professor, Helen F. Ladd, issued a report on Massachusetts' economic development that gave Mr. Dukakis good grades in areas where a Governor can make a difference. Both critics and supporters of Mr. Dukakis cite this report as the 'most sophisticated' analysis available.
Mr. Ferguson points out that when Mr. Dukakis returned to office in 1983, he established effective working relations with the business community, which has enjoyed a positive business climate. Targeted public investments in depressed areas like Lowell and Fall River 'fostered improvements in the geographic distribution of business activity,' the report states. An innovative employment training program has shifted more than 45,000 people off welfare rolls. 2. Taxes: The state increased revenues, cut rates and made evaders pay. In his first term, Mr. Dukakis wavered by raising taxes after campaigning on a pledge not to. In 1980, while Mr. Dukakis was out of office, Massachusetts voters passed Proposition 2 1/2, capping state property taxes and helping dispel the image of 'Taxachusetts.' When he returned to office in 1983, Governor Dukakis faced a looming deficit and was urged by many to increase taxes.
Instead, he appointed a public entrepreneur, Ira Jackson, as chief tax collector. He increased revenues by changing the ethics and performance of taxpayers and tax collectors. A vigorous collection program brought in more than $1.3 billion in revenue from tax evaders and $1.7 billion more through increased voluntary compliance. As a result of additional collections, and growth in the state's economy, the Governor has cut taxes five times in four years. 3. Managerial competence and integrity. The best judges of managerial competence are peers. Last year's Newsweek poll of governors rated Mr. Dukakis the 'most effective' in the nation. The Governor has received praise for integrity and for the standard he has set in state government from critics and supporters. 4. Philosophy of government. Mr. Dukakis has a conception of government as an active but limited partner. Disappointing both to advocates who want government to call the shots and to those who seek emotional inspiration, he offers a theory of coalition building and partnership. He states the agenda and gathers key players to shape consensus.
In the end, Mr. Dukakis deserves high marks for his performance as Governor. Assertions that he worked miracles clearly exaggerate, but he has seized opportunities and advanced economic trends in the right direction. His weaknesses include a lack of experience in other areas, among them national security. But in choosing among contenders, voters have no better guide than each candidate's records in previous jobs.
I can be accused of bias. Mr. Dukakis, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Jackson have been colleagues of mine at the Kennedy School. So be it. It is not partisan bias: Politically I was raised and remain a North Carolina Democrat. But as a Massachusetts resident I think it appropriate to try to set the Governor's record straight.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center at 617-495-1400.
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