The Democratic governors sent official representatives before their party's 1980 platform committee yesterday and the representatives had almost nothing but praise for President Carter.
Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton called the president "a great former governor of Georgia," and declared "relations between the White House and the governors have never been stronger than in the last four years."
Clinton, at 33 the nation's youngest governor, added he would even be willing to do without revenue-sharing funds -- long a sacred cow among governors -- if it would help balance the federal budget.
Carter has proposed doing just -- ending $2.6 billion a year in state revenue-sharing money.
"Our position is that if it's gone, it's gone," Clinton said. "We want to help balance the budget."
But other testimony suggested Clinton spoke for himself, not all Democratic governors, on that issue.
New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne went farther in his praise for Carter. He suggested a couple of places where the Carter administration "ought to be bragged about." He also took an open slap at mandatory wage and price controls, the heart of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's anti-inflation program.
Byrne called controls a "glib" and unworkable response to inflation.
"Even the most avid proponents do not suggest that controls respond to the basic causes of inflation," the New Jersey governor said in a prepared statement. "They are not a permanent solution. They are not a permanent solution. They can create economic distortions which lead to unfairness and inefficiency. Speaking for myself, I hope that we will reject the short-term attraction of controls for a more fundamental approach to our economic problems."
The testimony was in marked contrast to that given before the committee by Democratic mayors last month and Democratic county officials yesterday.
The mayors issued a broadside attack on the president's anti-inflation programs, charging he was trying to make "cities the sacrificial lamb of a balanced budget."
County officials lobbied for continuation of a host of social and revenue-sharing programs. Proposed administration budget cuts, said Francis B. Francois, a Prince George's County, Md., county councilman, "would be false cuts and would, in fact, not reduce governmental spending at all. Rather, they would simply increase local taxes."
There was more politics than policy involved in the governors' testimony.Most Democratic governors have endorsed Carter and are convinced he has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination. They are reluctant to criticize him.
Clinton, who is up for reelection this year, explained it this way:
"He [Byrne] and I have been among the president's staunchest supporters.
There'll be enough others who will appear here who will be critical of the president."
Nowhere was the testimony more misleading than on the issue of federal revenue-sharing, Clinton, vice chairman of the nation's Democratic governors, appeared to be testifying on behalf of all of his party's chief state executives, and Byrne said nothing to dispel that impression.
Yet on March 6, the New Jersey governor gave his unqualified endorsement of federal revenue sharing at a Senate Finance Committee hearing. Arguments against revenue sharing he said, "are faulty and misleading."
A series of regional hearings begins today in Baltimore. The committee will begin drafting a party platform in June in preparation for the Democratic National Convention in New York in August.