It’s easy to find the fun facts about Buenos Aires Province Governor and Victory Front (FpV) presidential candidate Daniel Scioli. The international press wants everyone to know that he is a one-armed boat-racing powerhouse. You might also know the story of 18-year-old Scioli negotiating the release of his brother, José “Pepe” Scioli, after Pepe was kidnapped by the montoneros. Or how Scioli studied marketing at Universidad Argentina de la Empresa as a youth, but didn’t finish his degree until last month.
When it comes to the core of Scioli’s political beliefs, he is a little bit harder to pin down. Scioli has played protegé to every big name President for the past two decades, including Carlos Menem, Eduardo Duhalde and of course, the Kirchners. As an experienced political chameleon, Scioli knows that in this game, the best policy positions can be the ones you don’t take. A look at his political background, relationship with the Kirchners and past experience on issues like crime, education and financial management shed light on what Scioli might look like as the next President of Argentina.
Scioli was brought into politics under the wing of ex-President Carlos Menem, who I once compared to Ronald Reagan and Voldemort. Menem helped Scioli win a seat in the Lower House in 1997. The video below shows ’90s Scioli touting Menem’s neo-liberal policies, such as deregulation and the privatization of the state-run oil giant YPF, which directly contradict Scioli’s later political philosophy under the Kirchners. To his credit, Scioli has owned up to his connection to Menem, saying at an event in July: “I came to La Rioja to the man who gave me an opportunity, he believed in me getting into politics…. I never stopped respecting or having affection for Carlos Menem.”
As he ascended quickly through the ranks in those early years, Scioli picked up additional allies like Domingo Cavallo, the economist responsible for the cataclysmic AR$1/US$1 currency exchange, and Eduardo Duhalde, who was then the governor of Buenos Aires Province. Scioli’s new friends helped him get reelected in 2001 and then move on to become secretary of tourism and sports for the brief presidential terms of Adolfo Rodríguez Saá and then Duhalde himself. By the time 2003 had come and gone, Scioli’s meteoric rise had landed him in the office of the vice president with Néstor Kirchner just down the hall.
The differences between Menem, Scioli’s first political mentor, and President Kirchner, who he would work under for the next six years, were underscored in a now-famous sequence that played out when Menem was reelected as a senator in 2005. Scioli, as leader of the Senate, called in Menem to the swearing-in ceremony where President Kirchner stood only feet away from his much-maligned predecessor. Kirchner snubbed a would-be handshake, and then, as Menem took his vow, turned his back and knocked on a nearby wooden podium in homage to the common superstition that just hearing Menem’s name was bad luck.
In October 2007, with Kirchner’s and Duhalde’s endorsements, Scioli was elected governor of Buenos Aires Province, one of the most powerful positions in all of Argentine politics. When he leaves office in a few weeks, Scioli will be one of only three governors in the country’s history to have held the post for eight years or longer.
Relationship With The Kirchners
Over the last 12 years, Scioli’s politics have been ultimately shaped by one couple and one couple only: Néstor and Cristina Kirchner. Scioli’s relationship with the K-unit can be summed up in that forever-apt Facebook adage: it’s complicated.
The complications started immediately after his term with Néstor began, when Scioli publicly questioned Néstor’s efforts to prosecute war criminals from Argentina’s dictatorship. The President didn’t take that well. He gave Scioli the silent treatment for a few days and then fired three of Scioli’s closest allies in the office of the Secretary of Tourism and Sports. According to a Perfil source, Nestor Kirchner went so far as to use the Argentine intelligence service, SIDE at the time, to spy on Scioli.
Scioli also had a few public tiffs with Cristina in 2005, when she was a senator and he was leader of the Senate, with Scioli always taking the brunt of the verbal blows. She went off on him again in 2010, saying, “Don’t be scared, say who is tying your hands,” implying that Scioli was allowing himself to be manipulated into not doing anything about the problems Buenos Aires Province had with crime.
Despite any disagreements they may have had, Scioli has stuck with the Kirchners through times good and times not so good. From the controversial media law to the disastrous agricultural tax on soy, wheat and corn, Scioli has pushed even the most unpopular Kirchner initiatives. Support on less divisive issues like gay marriage and fighting off the vulture funds was practically a foregone conclusion. Scioli has called his loyalty to the Kirchners “unbreakable,” once firing the head of his collection agency when she mouthed off about the national government.
Although Scioli has distanced himself from President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner since the runoff, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for his loyalty to fade.
Despite making increased security and the support of law enforcement top priorities during his tenure as governor of Buenos Aires Province, crime in the province is still a problem, which could mean problems for Scioli as election night draws near.
Ignoring the council of walking mustache Aníbal Fernández, Scioli made the war on drugs central to his first campaign to become governor. Shortly after he was elected, Scioli promised more firepower for law enforcement, including more bulletproof vests, arms and cruisers. He’s since deployed thousands of new border guards to patrol the province, shored up police departments with millions of pesos in equipment and resources and gone after tax evaders with drones.
Scioli’s lost no love for barras bravas (hooligans) or piqueteros (protestors), backing reforms to crack down on those groups. Scioli has also advocated lowering the age for which a minor can be incarcerated for a crime from 18 to “12, 13 or 14 in cases of grave crimes,” a proposal which even some in his own party have opposed. His current minister of security looks like his previous employer was Hells Angels and has admitted that his biggest regret is not shooting the thieves who tried to rob his house 15 years ago.
Education And Budget
In April 2009, Cristina praised Scioli’s efforts on education while getting in a mini-burn on Macri, stating that, “[Scioli’s] is the province with the most budget dedicated to education [36 percent]. There is no jurisdiction, including those with greater revenue per habitant [*cough*Macri*cough*] that allocates more than you [Scioli] allocate to education.”
Scioli hit a few bumps in 2012, when a waning budget caused him to implement austerity measures and his director general of education, Silvina Gvirtz, resigned in protest. Scioli’s budget was so bad in 2012 that he couldn’t pay the public employees their yearly bonus and the unions nearly blew a gasket. Cristina had to bail him out, threw him some shade about “managing responsibly,” and Scioli had the bonus paid before the holidays.
Reviews are mixed on what Scioli’s record as governor says about his ability to manage a budget. According to the Wall Street Journal, Standard and Poors reported that the province’s financial management was “weak and lacked planning,” but also noted that Scioli’s team was transparent and professional, and may have been hampered by a national economic policy that S&P wasn’t a fan of either.
Scioli has always taken on the political identity of his superiors. First as a Menemista and then as a Kirchnerista, he has leveraged his political mentors to great success. With only one more step to go, you have to wonder what his policies will be should he rule the Casa Rosada.