The National Governors Association (NGA) — a bipartisan organization of the nation's governors — is convening in Charleston this weekend. Fifty of the nation's most powerful political glitterati will gather at Charleston Place to elbow-rub and mind-meld. This year the conference has a back-to-school feel, with the majority of the weekend being devoted to discussing the improvement of America's schools.
For our devoted readership of political news geeks, here is the City Paper's guide to the governors' weekend, complete with a power player yearbook (bet you can't nab all 10 autographs) and a syllabus of the conference schedule.
Soda in Schools
In 2002 the Charleston County School District signed a million-dollar deal with PepsiCo. for the exclusive rights to beverage sales in county schools. The deal was controversial, and not just because we're near the heart of Coca-Cola country. It's becoming increasingly clear that caffeine and sugar-laden drinks with negative nutritional value may not be the best thing for a nation with an adolescent population three times as obese as 20 years ago, suffering from type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Responding to public pressure, last year the American Beverage Association produced a set of voluntary guidelines for the soft drink industry that calls for the removal of soda machines from all elementary schools and reduced sales in middle and high schools. In response, Charleston County renegotiated its contract with PespsiCo. The new contract allowed elementary schools to replace all carbonated drinks with healthier alternatives; 50 percent of the drinks at middle and high schools are still carbonated. The governors will tackle the sticky issue on Saturday following a discussion panel with CEOs from Coca-Cola, General Mills, and PepsiCo. They wouldn't sugarcoat the data, would they?
On Sunday, an Economic Development and Commerce Committee will examine the role governors play in telecommunications reforms. In Charleston, a number of groundbreaking telecommunications initiatives have not quite gotten off the ground. The Radius, the city's greatly anticipated wifi system, has fallen far short of its hype — City Paper staffers have yet to hear of anyone actually being able to access the system for use almost five months after its launch. Gov. Sanford should be prepared to assist the city after this informative session.
Technology in Health Care
Communication in health care will also be addressed Sunday afternoon. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt will discuss improved heath care information technology with the governors. AccessNet, a Charleston-based health care initiative, is already in the process of devising electronic medical records systems. The organization has created a data warehouse that will allow health care providers to compare patients' records across the state to improve the quality of care and reduce costs. In December of last year, AccessNet lost the majority of its federal grant funding for the sake of pork barrel politics. Maybe the governors can get on that.
In the second round of committee sessions on Sunday, governors will discuss how business and government can work to encourage students to pursue science careers. In South Carolina, pursuing a science career typically means finding a job in the clergy. But the governors association will focus on the evolving career opportunities in engineering and technology. They will hear from local high school scientists who will be participating in the State High School Science Fair, where they will showcase science experiments including improving a tribal community's aquaculture production, creating a 3-D face recognition system from video, identifying a method to exterminate E. coli, and identifying potential breast cancer triggers.
After science class, the governors will join the Natural Resources Committee to discuss alternative transportation fuels. If you're still wondering who killed the electric car, look no further. The panel is planning to focus on ethanol, and the development and deployment of coal, liquid fuels, and hydrogen into the marketplace. Jump-starting the economy by encouraging U.S. auto makers to bring back the electric car is not on the docket — offshore drilling might be, though. Gov. Sanford has recently come out against Rep. Brown's (R-Charleston) Deep Oceans Energy Resources Act.
Governors will wrap up their annual meeting on Monday with a session on "learning and creativity" — no, there won't be finger painting. Increasing graduation rates will be the topic up for discussion. It's unlikely Gov. Sanford will raise his hand during this session. South Carolina graduation rates have been the worst in the nation for two years running.
To find out the specific meeting times and locations for the committees, visit www.nga.org.
CLASS HOT SHOTS:
The Class PresidentMike Huckabee (R-Arkansas)
This Arkansas governor is no Burger King-eating Clinton. Huckabee is retiring as governor this year, and is sitting the fence in terms of the presidential race. If he decides to run, he could make quite a splash — albeit smaller than it once was.
Power Grade: C
The Class NerdTom Vilsack (D-Iowa)
Vilsack is making this his last year as governor of Iowa. The brainiac lawmaker was on John Kerry's short list of running mates in 2004, and it looks likely he will be making his own bid for the White House this election cycle. Vlisack will be attending an event for South Carolina gubernatorial candidate Tommy Moore at South End Brewery on Friday. For more information, visit www.charlestondems.com.
Power Grade: B+
The Next Big ThingJanet Napolitano (D-Arizona)
Napolitano is an extremely popular Democrat in an extremely red state. She is single, which makes a lot of folks nervous. You know how threatening independent women can be. Small on the buzz-o-meter for presidential race hype, but you never know, she might have a mood swing or get all headstrong and feel like running just to make a statement. Currently Napolitano is focusing on her reelection campaign for governor.
Power Grade: B
George Pataki (R-New York)
Claim to Fame:
9/11 put his leadership skills on a national stage
The bluest of the red-hearted Republicans, Pataki is stepping down from his position as governor of New York. Should he decide to run for the party's presidential nomination in 2008, he will be upsetting the apple cart of fellow New Yorker Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani is found at the top of nearly every poll predicting support for Republican presidential hopefuls, but Pataki's presence in the race could split his base.
Power Grade: A-
Most CharismaticMitt Romney (R-Massachusetts)
The un-Kerry Romney is hunky —
National Review referred to his "chiseled handsomeness" — and social conservatives love him because he just can't abide a gay marriage. In 2004, within the beltway, Romney was spoken of as the next Republican presidential nominee even before the last Ohio voter was disenfranchised. He hasn't announced his bid for president, but he has already begun stumping in early primary state. In Iowa last week he stepped in it when he referred to Boston's disastrous Big Dig as a "tar baby."
Power Grade: A-
Most Likely to Pump You UpArnold Schwarzenegger (R-California)
Odds are, Schwarzenegger will never be a presidential candidate — the Constitutional prohibits non-native born presidents — but he's the favorite in his race for a second term as California governator.
Power Grade: A-
Most Likely to Rig an Election for a SiblingJeb Bush (R-Florida)
Jeb Bush will be leaving his position as Florida governor this year. He insists that he will not be following in his famous family's presidential footsteps — at least not in '08. Probably a wise decision. By 2012, the sins of the brother spillover may have subsided.
Power Grade: B+
Most Likely to be Confused With Horatio SanzBill Richardson (D-New Mexico)
Richardson has a weakness for fast cars and pricey jets — very André Bauer of him. Despite his need for speed, Gov. Richardson is a strong contender for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He hasn't announced he'll run, and he's in the midst of a race to defend his governorship, but safe money says his name's on the ballot come primary time.
Power Grade: A
The Golden Boy Next DoorMark Sanford (R-South Carolina)
Sanford is currently in the midst of a gubernatorial race with Democratic challenger Tommy Moore. He is on the fringes of the presidential primary hype, but insiders say now that renovations are finished on the governor's mansion, the Sanfords are ready to move on to bigger, whiter, digs.
Power Grade: C