La Profesora Abstraída

Weblog of Michelle Dion, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, at McMaster University. My blog has moved to Visit my other website.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Governors in Mexico

In addition to the heightened role of the legislature and supreme court in Mexican politics, democratization has also increased the political importance of the governors of the 31 Mexican states.

I had never heard of CONAGO before last year, and indeed, I don't know much about the organization's history (though it appears the first conference was in 2001). However, this National Conference of Governors has been very active over the last couple of years. They meet regularly and hold special meetings on topics of importance. They also make policy suggestions for national policies, like social security.

Today, CONAGO is in the news again because the governors and Madrazo, Calderon, and the PVEM presidential candidate have signed an "acuerdo" with regard to the upcoming 2006 presidential elections. Notably, Carlos Slim, the wealthiest businessman in Mexico, was the promoter of the pact, in which candidates agreed to focus on putting forth proposals for economic growth and other good things for Mexico rather than negative campaigning. [Also notable was AMLO's absence. This is not commented upon by the article.]

These pacts are common during campaign season, but of course are not binding. As many leaders of the UNT liked to point out to me during interviews last year, Fox and the other candidates in 2000 signed a pact with the independent labor union to signal their support for certain policies, and Fox has done relatively little on that front.

The more interesting point, for me, is that the governors, through CONAGO, are more often being discussed by the media as political actors at the national level. In real terms, however, it is not obvious how governors have real influence on national policy. Governors do not participate directly in the national policy-making process, for instance. Instead, their influence is probably, as Joy Langston argues, through the national party and the ability to place candidates on the lists or in plurality seats in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate.

If that's the case (and I think Joy's argument is convincing), then why do they bother with CONAGO? How does CONAGO help them achieve their policy goals? Is there no direct effect on policy but CONAGO instead gives Governors more publicity? [Since there's no re-election, is CONAGO really a vehicle for ambitious governors to create national presence for national campaign bids?] So, what are the incentives for governors to participate in CONAGO, and why do they bother if their real influence is through other (partisan) channels?

I think it's an interesting puzzle, and I think there's a paper to be written there. But, I don't know what the paper's answer to the puzzle would be.

posted by Michelle @ 11:13 AM,


At 11/23/2005 4:36 PM, Blogger rolva said...

Michelle, first I really like your blog and have been reading it for a while via RSS.
About the governors, I'm no political scientist as Joy or you , but here is what I think. I think there is a change going on, an evolution towards real federalism but it is very, very slow. I think Joy is right that the main influence governors have is still through the parties, but new channels are opening. For example, CONAGO was important when fiscal reform was being discussed since one of the ideas (I'm not sure whether Fox proposed it) was to reduce the VAT to something like 13 % and allow the states to charge the other 2 % or less. That is, for the first time, states would have their own income and could make tax decisions! In the end this was not approved, the centrists are still more powerful in Mexico. I do think though (or perhaps I'm just hoping) that as states' elections become more competitive, the governors will ask that more power be given to the states. Some of this is being done. Public education, for example, is now administered by the states (I believe only in DF this is not true, but will be soon).

At 11/23/2005 6:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds like a move towards something closer to the American system, doesn't it? Governors largely having power in their own states, maybe some interstate agreements, but becoming national players as they make strides towards national prominence and potential national office. Bush, Reagan, Clinton, other people I can't remember right now -- they started off as governors or other state officials, as did a lot of unsuccessful presidential runners who nonetheless were real players. Perhaps this is part of the motivation, as well as this trend of federalism you discuss?

At 11/25/2005 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alberto Diaz-Cayeros is writing just that paper (on the evolution of CONAGO). It will be in the volume that Jeff Weldon and I are editing.

The short story is that there is not much evidence that the organization is having much influence in congress--yet.

But I would argue (and I should note that I am not attributing the following to Alberto) that it can be seen as a manifestation of the weakness of state representation in federal policymaking and thus an attempt to coordinate governors in issues of importance to them collectively.

Even if governors do not have a reelection incentive, and even though only a few of them can be serious candidates for national office, they do have an interest in ensuring their own ability to reward loyalty in their administrations with future positions. For that they need to see allies get nominated for congress, as well as in the next gubernatorial race in their state. (What this specific point might have to do with CONAGO I don't know; hey, this is not a research paper! But I think it offers a window into governors' incentives.)

By the way, organizations like CONAGO exist in one way or another in most federal systems--sometimes rather institutionalized--though only in an advisory capacity. (e.g Canada and India.) There really is no good analogue in the US, however.

At 12/14/2005 3:53 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Thanks, Rolva, for the comment. I like your blog, too, though I don't get a chance to read as much as I'd like.

I think all three of you are on to something. To synthesize (and hopefully not lose the sense of your comments), maybe CONAGO reflects federalism that has been historically weak but that the governors are trying to change. So while federalism is still weak, the creation of CONAGO less than five years ago may reflect both increasing competition at the state level (and new reasons for governors to network beyond their state) and also the realization that democratic transition brings new opportunities to demand more decentralization.

When is the edited volume coming out? And are chapters available online anywhere?


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