With arts and public broadcast issues percolating on the edge of the race for the 2012 presidential race, I thought it made sense to look at where the declared and prospective candidates for president have stood on arts issues throughout their careers. Their views on everything from arts education to support for local artistic traditions say a lot about how they value culture — but also about how they think about the role of government.
Perhaps the most controversial thing Republican Mitt Romney’s ever said about the arts was his brief declaration in 2007 that his favorite book was Scientology classic Battlefield Earth — keeping in character and good sense, he soon reversed himself and declared that Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn had pride of place on his bookshelf instead. But Romney’s also pivoted somewhat on arts funding and arts education issues since he left the governor’s office in Massachusetts.
2003: When Romney became governor in 2003, he inherited a difficult budget situation — particularly on the arts. The previous year, Republican Gov. Jane Swift and the state legislature cut funding for the Massachusetts Cultural Council 62 percent to $7.3 million. Rather than proposing further cuts, Romney advocated for keeping that budget steady. But that same year, he did propose privatizing the Massachusetts College of Art and Design as part of a larger plan to change the governance of the state’s public college system.
2004: An alternative to Romney’s plan for MassArt, proposed by the school’s president Katherine Sloan, is approved. Rather than returning the tuition it collects to a general fund, MassArts gets approval to keep it and begins fundraising that’s intended to make it more financially autonomous (when Romney first called for privatizing the school, MassArt didn’t have its own endowment). But despite these changes, MassArt continues to receive funding from the state of Massachusetts, and remains a public institution.
2006: Even as the economy recovers in Massachusetts, Romney proposed cutting $2.4 million from the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s budget. When the legislature approved a $12.1 million budget for the MCC, he vetoed $2.4 million of that funding only to have the legislature override his veto.
2009: During the stimulus debate, Romney goes on CNBC and as part of a larger discussion, suggests that the arts aren’t an appropriate target of the bill.
Romney has questioned levels of funding for the arts, particularly in difficult financial times, and he has questioned government involvement in the arts as parts of larger conversations about the government’s core responsibilities. But unlike some of his competitors for the Republican nomination, Romney doesn’t seem to be an absolutist on the idea of government involvement in the arts. And that’s the Romney’s biggest challenge in the Republican primary: in a game of less is more, Romney’s got a lot of more in his record as governor of Massachusetts.