Geraldo Alckmin and the São Paulo moderating power



Lula's deputy will be an heir of 1932, of the old Democratic Party, of the old Constitutionalist Party: a conservative from Pindamonhangaba

In the middle of 2022, Lula re-enacted the same alliance with the right made twenty years ago. In 2018, the PT faced an unprecedented situation: the right assumed an anti-systemic rhetoric and won the elections. With the political system shaken, the Workers' Party was seen more and more as a radical pole and the ticket was once again assembled in the restricted field of the left with the PC do B. But, in 2022, Lula gave those people a cold shower. who believed that 2018 had been a turning point and chose former São Paulo governor Geraldo Alckmin as his deputy.

Situation decided, it is worth asking: who is really the vice president of Lula's ticket?


Geraldo Alckmin

Geraldo Alckmin does not belong to the historical elite of the PSDB, a legend created on June 25, 1988. The founders of the new party were USP intellectuals who opposed the military dictatorship in the MDB and built, over the years, relationships in business circles. José Serra, Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Aloysio Nunes were the most prominent.

Mário Covas and Franco Montoro had different trajectories. They did not cultivate an academic activity, although they were also uspians; and had a political career prior to 1964, especially Montoro in the Christian Democratic Party. But even Mário Covas, a student at Poli at the same time as Paulo Maluf, had been active in the Social Labor Party. Furthermore, Montoro was from an older generation and was already at the end of his political trajectory when the PSDB was founded.

The other important founding pole of the PSDB was Ceará, led by Tasso Jereissati, leader of the Industrial Center of Ceará and governor of the State.

In this set, it was unlikely that a provincial like Geraldo Alckmin, a practicing Catholic, a doctor trained in Taubaté and former mayor of a small municipality in the Vale do Paraíba, would rise in the PSDB.

But it cannot be said that Geraldo Alckmin did not make choices in his life. He had not belonged to the right, as was the case with fellow Tucano Ciro Gomes, who joined the PDS in Ceará. Alckmin was elected alderman of the MDB in Pindamonhangaba in opposition to the dictatorship in 1972. When the split in the PMDB was announced, he did not choose to stay in the party that had the governor of the state, Orestes Quercia.

Despite having been a constituent deputy, Geraldo Alckmin only stood out when he was chosen exactly by Covas, a outsider in that party of intellectuals, as we saw, to become vice-governor in 1994. Alckmin headed the State Privatization Program, was responsible for the dismantling of the São Paulo railway network and for the privatization of strategic government instruments, such as Banespa.

Favored by chance, due to the death of Covas, Alckmin was Governor from 2001 to 2006 and from 2010 to 2018. He was Lula's opponent in 2006. He maintained a cordial relationship with Dilma Rousseff, whom he called "president", contrary to establishment political and media. On March 21, 2016, the official PSDB page announced “Alckmin agrees with FHC and defends Dilma’s impeachment”.

Taking advantage of the apparent defeat of the PT in the 2016 municipal elections, he supported João Doria Júnior, representative of a new party wing that intended to replace the old intellectuals who always turned their noses up at the provincial Pindamonhangaba. Alckmin's revenge seemed certain, as he would soon be a candidate for President of the Republic.

But Doria was neither a mere TV presenter nor a neophyte in politics as he led his new mentor to believe. He is the son of a Bahian deputy from the former PDC who was a friend of Montoro. He was Municipal Secretary of Tourism and President of Paulistur in the management of Mayor Mário Covas. Then he chaired Embratur. Although he joined the PSDB in 2001, he already had relationships with important toucans. Alckmin paid dearly for the mistake of placing him in the city hall of the capital and, later, in the state government. He was betrayed during the 2018 presidential campaign and had poor votes in his own state.


The choice

Successor betrayals are frequent. Fleury betrayed Quercia, for example. And between vices it is almost a norm. Deputies are not mere occasional substitutes. They are power alternatives. Think of Café Filho, João Goulart[I], Itamar Franco and Michel Temer. It is a position that could be extinct, but that is another story.

Alckmin has an electoral record of strong support in the interior of São Paulo, but not in the capital. He was a defeated candidate for mayor of São Paulo twice. He structured an initial support network in Vale do Paraíba in his proportional electoral campaigns and, later, in the entire state when he was state president of the PSDB between 1991 and 1994. Later, as governor, he expanded and deepened the alliance with mayors and councilors.

Betrayed, as we have seen, by his pupil João Doria Junior and away from state power since 2018, it is not this immediate political capital that he brought to Lula's ticket.

However, the most important thing is not on the surface of the facts. Since the overthrow of Collor and the handing over of the Ministry of Finance to FHC, the São Paulo elites have exercised a brake on the presidency of the Republic. In Lula's governments with attempts at destabilization. And in the governments of Dilma Roussef with a deputy from São Paulo who was an excellent political conspirator.

This is a version of what I called moderating power[ii] which São Paulo has operated in the country since 1930 and which, over the years, spread its incidence to other regions where agribusiness was “modernized”.



The state of São Paulo has never been governed by the left in its entire history[iii]. The PT's percentage votes are much lower than those of Bahia, for example. But without the São Paulo votes, the left would not have won any presidential elections. It's not the percentage that determines a victory, but the whole numbers and Lula knows that. In the First Republic, São Paulo prevailed for its economy, but Minas Gerais for its population weight. The State of São Paulo had, during the PT governments, economic and population weight, but not political power.[iv]

Where is hegemony born? The State of São Paulo represents 1/3 of the Brazilian GDP. It should not be overlooked that this has some importance in political life. The feeling of those who live in the medium and small cities of São Paulo is that everything works, albeit more or less: roads, security, health services, universities, schools, commerce and services in general. Alckmin is the portrait of this “more or less”.

His image is that of an honest politician, with a restrained smile, discreet, somewhat sly, shy and conservative without being reactionary. Hence the right nickname of chuchu popsicle, which does not take away any vote. He is the first governor in decades who has not made a career in the capital. Quércia made his career in Campinas, but soon acquired state scale. Fleury and Covas had a long apprenticeship in the capital, where they studied, worked and consolidated their careers. Franco Montoro and Paulo Maluf were born in the capital.

Evidently, precarious education, the price of health plans, crime, tolls, lack of energy and water and other complaints make up the list of criticisms of the Tucano governments. But the imagined solution is always the end of corruption and lower taxes: an anarcho-capitalist utopia that collides with the fact that the State acts and even increases spending, only through social organizations that charge more and offer less to the public.

The elites of the small and medium-sized municipalities of São Paulo, like those of other states, frequent centuries-old sociability spaces such as business unions and ruralist associations, Freemasonry, sports clubs and other institutions, generally male. Rotary, for example, landed in Brazil in the 1920s and achieved wide capillarity in the interior of São Paulo. But the exchange of favors in high-revenue regions gives more power to these elites and a false air of secrecy to these associations. One example is Fernando Henrique Cardoso's investments in Botucatu and the political relationships he established in that city.[v].

It is not easy for the left to break local relations. The most common is to enter them or at least cohabit with them.


moderating power

the moderating power[vi] paulista is the frustrated leadership of a powerful social class, based on a dominant economic space, but incapable of making corporate sacrifices to gain national support. Nor does it have the weapons to impose its program, as it tried to do in 1932.

Not being able to constitute a national hegemony, it is left with the political force that either moderates or destabilizes the order, opening the space for lieutenants in uniform or toga, always supported by the great São Paulo corporate media.[vii]

The forces of order were based on an industrial economy until the 1980s, but it never ceased to depend on agribusiness. With a modern tax collection machine and degraded and semi-privatized public services, they still have more economic externalities than the rest of the country and this is the material basis of hegemony in the state.

As I write (2022) a broad democratic front is being drawn and a workers' party is taking the lead; but when he has everything to win, he stops, hesitates and looks back, being pulled by moderating alliances that take away any radical impetus.

The PT's option was to show a safe-conduct signed by Geraldo Alckmin for Lula to cross the shaky ground of the dominant classes. The same ones who supported and, to a large extent, still support Bolsonaro. Lula understood that without this safe conduct, he could join the ruling classes of the country (and of São Paulo in particular) against his candidacy. Classes that lead broad middle strata, have tens of millions of votes and an unmeasured destabilizing power in national political life.

Of course history is always an open process. For the PT, it is, above all, about defeating a president who endangers the continuity of Brazil as a country and making safe changes that can be supported by broad social majorities. Whether Lula made the right bet, time will tell.

The fact is that in the 90 years of the constitutionalist uprising, Lula's deputy will be an heir of 1932, of the old Democratic Party, of the old Constitutionalist Party: a conservative from Pindamonhangaba, allied with the PSB in 2014 and now a member of this party. Lampedusian, the moderating power changes everything, but for everything to continue as it has always been.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Studio).



[I] Prior to 1964 there was separate direct election for deputy.

[ii] Secco, L. The moderating power of São Paulo in national politics, Folha de São Paulo, 4/10/2015.

[iii] Shortly after the 1930 Revolution, there were two federal interveners who opposed the interests of the conservative classes in São Paulo (João Alberto and Manuel Rabelo), but they can hardly be classified as leftist.

[iv] Obviously I do tour de force and exaggeration to recall that, although social classes have decisive weight, regional politics did not disappear in Brazil after 1930. When I refer to the State of São Paulo, it is to its old conservative classes that I am referring. They are the ones who use their business and financial, media and editorial power to spread their conservative liberal ideology throughout Brazil. Today, to a large extent, these conservative classes are not restricted to São Paulo, of course. The south, midwest and north are equally or more conservative. And middle sectors of some northeastern capitals as well, as the 2018 elections demonstrated. In this sense, former judge Moro's intention to change his electoral domicile from Curitiba to São Paulo is coherent.

[v] The São Paulo regional literature, little studied, shows local reactions to the great national processes, the formation of São Paulo coronelismo, its political articulations and traits of its mentality.

[vi] The origin of the term refers to the theses of Benjamin Constant, a French Restoration theorist. The monarch would have the Moderating Power, the neutral power that keeps the others in balance. It was adopted in the Brazilian Constitution of March 25, 1824.

[vii] The largest media groups are headquartered in São Paulo. The biggest of them, the Globe, headquartered in Rio de Janeiro. The headquarters of the vast majority of these groups (73%) are located in the metropolitan region of São Paulo. In total, 80% were, in 2017, located in the south and southeast of the country, from where the “national media audience” dominates.

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