Category: Longform

One of These Governors Could Save Democrats in 2020

Via the American Interest

Under a clear blue sky in late summer, with the peaks of the Gallatin Mountains as a backdrop, Montana Governor Steve Bullock mingles with guests at a private event on a ranch just outside Bozeman. Holding a plate piled high with barbecue, Bullock is half a head taller than most of the people here. He is genial and relaxed, in jeans and battered brown shoes. His nametag reads, “Governor Steve.”

A young mother brings over two little girls in flowered sundresses, and Bullock immediately drops down to eye level. A few minutes later, the girls leave with their mother, smiles on their faces, their votes no doubt locked up for 15 years hence when the girls will be old enough to cast a ballot. In half the conversations that swirl around Bullock, there are joking references to 2020 and hints about the Governor’s ambitions. It’s an open secret here that the Bullock might be running for President.

Just this past fall, Bullock won re-election over GOP challenger billionaire Greg Gianforte by four percentage points—50 percent to 46 percent—in a state where only 35 percent of voters chose Democrat Hillary Clinton for President and Donald Trump won by 20 points. That victory is Bullock’s calling card into the Democratic presidential sweepstakes, along with the prairie populist credentials he has burnished. As the state’s Attorney General, he endeared himself to sportsmen by authoring a state opinion guaranteeing access to public lands. He also took on the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, defending the state’s ban on corporate spending (he lost when the Court reaffirmed its decision).

But Bullock is not the only Democratic Governor with an eye on 2020. No fewer than five Governors (out of a field of only 15 Democratic Governors nationwide) are rumored to be or talked about as serious potential presidential contenders. Many of these, like Bullock, are governing in states that voted for Trump, or where the legislatures are controlled by Republicans, or both. And many, like Bullock, claim a pragmatic approach to policy that’s intentionally difficult to pigeonhole—by turns progressive, populist, and libertarian.

These governors join what is seemingly already a cast of thousands vying for the chance to take down Trump. In addition to liberal senatorial heavyweights Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, none of whom have (yet) officially revealed their intentions, there is a raft of younger Senators, House members, rising-star big-city Mayors, and an assortment of CEOs and celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (though revelations of Facebook’s pre-election ad sales to the Russians might sink that candidacy before it begins).

But of all of these, a Governor might have the best shot at actually winning. Why is that? The simple answer is that Governors are not inherently Washington swamp creatures, and that’s what the Democrats need to fracture Trump’s stubbornly loyal coalition.

Read more at The American Interest.

The Push for College Endowment Reform

Liberals and conservatives alike are taking action against inequalities in higher-education finances

Via The Atlantic and Washington Monthly

In 2015, a New York Times op-ed observed that Yale University had spent $480 million that year on fees for hedge-fund managers to grow the university’s already massive endowment—while spending just $170 million on tuition assistance and fellowships for its students.

“We’ve lost sight of the idea that students, not fund managers, should be the primary beneficiaries of a university’s endowment,” wrote the law professor Victor Fleischer, whose 2006 proposal to change the tax treatment of “carried interest” became a liberal cause célèbre. “The private-equity folks get cash; students take out loans.”

Though Fleischer’s screed was not the first to attack elite-college endowments—the progressive commentator and former Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich has also railed against them—it presaged a wave of criticism that has since become a storm. Shortly after Fleischer’s op-ed was published, the New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell grabbed the baton, launching what’s become an ongoing, high-profile crusade against fat-cat university fundraising. In 2016, he dedicated an entire podcast to the absurdity of billionaires donating millions in endowment dollars to schools that don’t need the money, and later waged a very public war against Stanford University for its fundraising appeals to alumni. “If Stanford, with $22 billion in the bank, still has needy undergraduates, how are they spending the billions they ALREADY have?” he tweeted in February.

It’s not just liberals like Gladwell who are outraged. The GOP-led Congress has held at least two separate hearings examining the taxpayer subsidies that support endowments, which are now potentially under scrutiny as part of tax reform (assuming Congress gets there). Even Donald Trump has weighed in. “Many universities spend more on private equity-fund managers than on tuition programs,” the then-presidential candidate last September, channeling Fleischer’s critique.

Observers of higher education have long known about the cash the nation’s elite schools have been accumulating, as well as the glaring inequality between these schools and their less-affluent kin. According to a 2016 analysisby the Education Trust, a nonprofit group that advocates for closing the achievement gap, 75 percent of the nation’s total college-endowment wealth was held by less than 4 percent of phenomenally wealthy schools as of 2013.

Continue reading at The Atlantic