The National Governors Conference met in Boston this week...

July 21, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

The National Governors Conference met in Boston this week. The next president of the United States may well have been there.

I say that because the state house is now the training ground for the White House:

President Bill Clinton was Governor Clinton when he was elected president. President Ronald Reagan was ex-Governor Reagan when he was. President Jimmy Carter was ex-Governor Carter when he was.

So three of the last four presidents learned to be chief executive by being chief executive. That's a new development in the post-New Deal, post-World War II America.

Before Jimmy Carter, the presidents were, in reverse chronological order:

A former U.S. representative and vice president (Gerald Ford). A former representative, senator and vice president (Richard Nixon). A former representative, senator and vice president (Lyndon Johnson). A former representative and senator (John Kennedy). A former general (Dwight Eisenhower). A former senator and vice president (Harry Truman).

Clearly Washington was the place to learn to be president. (Even Ike was there for a while.) What has changed? The American people have become terribly disillusioned with -- even disgusted with -- Washington politicians. Why? I'm no term-limits fan, myself, but I believe people feel members of Congress have rigged congressional election politics in a way that allows them to stay in office for as long as they choose, good job or not.

Governors, on the other hand, either serve in states with term limits or are voted out with greater ease if they don't deliver.

Sixty-two percent of today's governors were first elected to that office in the 1990s. But only 46 percent of representatives were, and only 30 percent of senators were. Nearly half the present Senate was elected in the 1970s or earlier. Only three governors were governors that long ago -- and they left their governorships and later came back.

Assuming America's love affair with governors continues in presidential politics, who are the likely next presidents at this week's convention? Assuming Bill Clinton is renominated, you have to limit your handicapping to Republicans.

There are about a half-dozen said to be thinking about it. My short list has these two:

Pete Wilson of California, if he's re-elected this year. California is the prize in electoral and convention votes. William Weld of Massachusetts, if he's re-elected. He's a very conservative tax-cutting -- but pro-choice -- Republican in the most liberal Democratic state, who could easily attract back to the party the crucial Perot voters.

Then there's Christine Whitman of New Jersey. Just elected in 1993, she is a likely vice presidential choice. There hasn't been a governor or ex-governor as No. 2 on either party's ticket since Spiro Agnew in 1968 and 1972.

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