Stateline Story

Govs' Travel Makes People Talk

  • March 19, 2002
  • By Kathleen Murphy

Want to dodge congested airline ticket counters and long security lines? Fly on government aircraft or corporate jets? You might -- if you get yourself elected governor.

That at any rate is the impression one gets from an endless cascade of news stories about the travels of state leaders, whose trips, like beauty, lie in the eye of the beholder. One person's goodwill visit or trade mission is another's junket.

Over the past year, governors did get around. These were a few of many examples:

  • Colorado Gov. Bill Owens accepted 21 free business and first-class air tickets for himself and aides from Lufthansa, valued at $180,176, for an economic mission to Europe, according to the Denver Post.
  • Connecticut Gov. John Rowland accepted free round-trip flights to Washington on corporate jets chartered by a New York pharmaceuticals company and by a Connecticut engineering company, the Associated Press reported.
  • Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee traveled to India as a guest of the Global Peace Initiative, an interfaith relief group, the AP said.
  • Arizona Gov. Jane Hull used a state-owned plane for dozens of flights to and from her vacation cabin and other resorts, the Arizona Daily Star and other state newspapers told readers.
  • Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman used a state plane to travel to Louisiana for a few days of fishing with Gov. Mike Foster, the AP learned.
  • Missouri Gov. Bob Holden spent four days in Mexico on a trade mission paid for by the Hawthorn Foundation, a nonprofit group promoting economic development in Missouri, state newspapers said.
  • Illinois Gov. George Ryan visited Cuba at state expense for the second time since assuming office in 1999 in four years, the Arlington Daily Herald reported.

No organization monitors governors' travel because it's hard to track, and the data is available only in pieces, said Ed Bender of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a government watchdog group that tries to curb the influence of special interests on public policy. But demand is high for the information, especially about whether special interests are financing governors' trips, Bender said.

Official travel sometimes becomes a political issue. New York Gov. George Pataki, who himself has criss-crossed the country using chartered aircraft in the past twelve months, called then-Gov. Mario Cuomo "Air Cuomo" in the 1994 gubernatorial race because of his opponent's travels.

On the national level, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton used similar tactics against Republican President George Bush. In the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton and the Democrats put out a rock concert-style T-shirt commemorating Bush's "Anywhere But America" tour to ridicule Bush's foreign trips. But as president, Clinton far outpaced Bush in traveling.

Most states have strict gift-reporting rules and when governors use corporate aircraft or travel at someone else's expense, they are required to disclose it. But the governors of Minnesota, Iowa, and Mississippi don't face such rules.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, one of the nation's most peripatetic state leaders, visited ground zero -- New York's collapsed World Trade Center -- in November at ABC-TV's expense . And Sony Pictures footed the bill when Ventura and two State Patrol bodyguards traveled to southern California in order for the governor to play a bit part in a movie.

Ventura's spokesman Paul Moore said corporate-sponsored travel saves the taxpayers money. Corporations are getting Ventura's time, not buying influence, he said.

"He (Ventura) would much rather have the corporations pay for it. He wants to save the taxpayers money at all costs," Moore said.