Mitt and patronage
: Dan Kennedy
is having fun over Mitt Romney’s flip-flopping on the issue of his patronage hires. To a degree, Mitt brought this on himself (again) because he should have made clear before the election that, yes, of course, naturally, he’s going to put key people in top posts who philosophically agree with his agenda. Otherwise, how can an elected executive put his philosophical imprint on government? He didn’t make that distinction before the election, so he’s probably going to take some heat for it now. But let’s make one thing clear: Constitutionally, he’s absolutely correct, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, to exclude non-management types (“the little guys”) from patronage hires. In its landmark Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois
ruling, the Supreme Court said that political patronage hires, promotions, transfers and recalls were unconstitutional because they infringed on non-management workers’ rights to hold political views (i.e., the First Amendment) contrary to the views of whatever party was in power. The court specifically stated that top-level, policymaking positions (the type Mitt is talking about) were exempt from the anti-patronage ruling because elected officials are entitled to surround themselves with people who can shape the philosophical agenda of an administration. Maybe Mitt deserves grief over what he did or didn’t say before the election. But what he’s saying now is both constitutional and
in line with what elected officials can and should be doing in order to comply with Rutan
. So, Mitt, stick to your guns. You have no choice. It’s supposed to be the law of the land, even though it's been routinely ignored in Massachusetts. If Mitt is truly serious about cleaning up the 'mess on Beacon Hill,' one of his first acts as governor should be to sign an Executive Order bringing the executive branch into immediate, verifiable compliance with Rutan
. We'll see.
Postscript: Hub Blog knows a thing or two about the Rutan
decision, which was filed in the ‘80s by an Illinois state government worker upset with the well-oiled GOP patronage system run by then Gov. Jim Thompson. The ruling was handed down in 1990, at the end of Big Jim's long tenure as governor and ten years after he imposed a "hiring freeze" in state government, which was the clever mechanism the administration used to closely screen and control hirings in state government. Hub Blog was a Statehouse reporter in Illinois at the time. The Rutan
decision sent shock waves through the Illinois Capitol the day it was announced. An incredulous Thompson, hounded by reporters through the corridors and finally cornered outside his office, was literally reading the decision, jaw dropped, as he blasted its logic in answer to reporters’ questions. The administration eventually took steps to “comply” with Rutan, but, of course, got around it by creating lots of new policymaking “management” positions and issuing more no-bid “personnel services” contracts. (Ah, privatized, smaller government at work!) Hub Blog is unaware of later rulings that may have significantly modified Rutan
, but I’ll gladly stand corrected if someone points it/them out.
Postscript postscript: According to Hub Blog's understanding of Rutan
, Mitt shouldn't even be saying he'll hold it against people, when hiring, if they worked on his campaign. Political considerations should not be factored into hiring decisions of non-sensitive, non-policymaking personnel, according to the court.