Political devolution has brought stardom to many Republicans at the state and local level. Regional officials with national marquee value include Rudy Giuliani, Stephen Goldsmith, Tommy Thompson, and the Brothers Bush. But what many people don't know is that John Norquist, the Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee, has a record that beats all of these guys. Recently elected to his fourth term, Norquist is in the top tier of a class of New Democrats who got a big political boost when Clinton was elected in 1992. That year, Clinton chose a running mate who would reinforce his own image: smart, wonky, moderate. Gore should follow the same strategy and put John Norquist on the ticket.
Norquist is most admired for his successes in educational reform. Milwaukee became a prime testing ground for school choice when Norquist pushed through a plan that permits public funds to pay for private and religious schools. There's already evidence that the plan is working. Since the reforms, Milwaukee kids are doing better on standardized tests--with minority groups showing particular improvement. And while reform remains a contentious issue, Norquist continues to rack up impressive victories. When Milwaukee held school board elections last April, the Mayor's favorite candidates swept all of the teachers' union's candidates and gave the reformers a majority on the board.
He also knows how to run a government. In his time at Milwaukee's helm, Norquist streamlined the city bureaucracy, made the delivery of social services like snow plowing and garbage collection more efficient, and turned deficits into surpluses. At the same time, he has managed to cut taxes almost every year that he's been in office in an effort to halt middle-class flight to the suburbs. This has been successful, as more middle-class families are now moving into Milwaukee's reinvigorated downtown. And he has done this while preaching the gospel of urban independence from Washington and decrying the mentality of "tin cup federalism." (To his credit, Norquist is equally tough on businesses and has been highly critical of companies that...