LBJ a role model for Mangano – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the August 10-16, 2012 issue of the Long Island Business News:

After observing Nassau elected officials from a ringside seat the past few years, I have concluded many squander much of their day on extraneous matters. Too much time is spent attending photo opportunity events, fundraisers, golf outings and issuing reams of press releases containing dubious data and claims.

As a result, not enough time is spent governing and this, in my judgment, explains why the county is teetering on the edge of the fiscal cliff.

Governing is more than political posturing. It requires more than just showing up at one’s office. Governing is about advancing one’s policy agenda. And to achieve that end, elected executives must devote their time, energy and influence hamming out agreements with the legislative branch.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a good example of a chief executive who has been successful at governing. When he took office Jan. 1, 2011, he immediately tackled the $10 billion budget deficit he inherited, calling for shared sacrifices that spared no facet of government. He persuaded the Democratic Assembly and the Republican Senate to pass a budget that eliminated the deficit without new taxes or borrowing.

What exactly happened when the governor bargained with legislative leaders behind closed doors we will never know for sure. Nevertheless, I believe it is fair to assume that Cuomo’s hard-nosed negotiating and his threat to use his broad executive budgetary powers persuaded legislators to come to terms with the state’s fiscal plight.

Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos did receive some swag in the deal (i.e., $250 million in education cuts were restored). But that’s part of the give and take of governing. The key was for the first time in years the budget agreement was a major victory for taxpayers, not special interests.

For a real lesson in the art of governing, I recommend local officials pick up a copy of the recently published “The Passage of Power,” the fourth volume in Robert Caro’s monumental “The Years of Lyndon Johnson.”

In that work, one learns how Johnson immediately grasped the reins of power after being sworn in as president in Dallas and moved through Congress John F. Kennedy’s tax and civil rights legislation that was hopelessly logjammed for years.

Johnson, a former “master” of the U.S. Senate, wooed legislative leaders of both parties. He threw himself into the budget and tax-cut negotiations, and made the compromises and deals necessary to break the deadlock that Caro reports “before November 22, 1963, had seemed all but unbreakable.”

When Johnson was told by advisers that he should not antagonize Southern Democratic members of Congress by promoting Kennedy’s civil rights bill that had no chance of passage, he looked at them and said, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”

Dismissing conventional wisdom, Johnson executed a plan strategy to get the Civil Rights bill out of committee and on to the floors of the House and Senate for a vote. “It was a struggle,” Caro writes, “whose strategy and day-to-day tactics were laid out and directed by [Johnson].”

Johnson successfully marginalized the South by persuading the members of the party of Lincoln to join northern Democrats in supporting the legislation. By using all the levers of power available to him, he broke the bill free from the Congressional logjam and on the road to passage one month after assuming office. Seven months later, on July 2, 1964, he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law.

Johnson, whom the chic Kennedy crowd called “Rufus Cornpone,” proved that it takes more than glitz to govern. He proved much could be accomplished when a chief executive is determined, hardworking, and not afraid to step on a few toes.

Unless county officials heed the Cuomo and Johnson examples, expect Nassau to continue down the road to fiscal perdition.

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