Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Potholes over people

My advice to Idaho Democrats over that slogan, and the political position behind it is, drop it. For two reasons.

First, we need money for roads and transportation and Democrats should support any opportunity to obtain it. It will be difficult to accomplish in any year. Republicans hate to invest in our economy and infrastructure, so when you have the Governor pushing for transportation money it’s a rare opportunity that must be seized.

Yes, the budget cuts will affect people, including, famously, Spencer who only gets 22 hours of therapy instead of 30 a week. But bad transportation affects people as well. Just this morning a crash occurred on I 184 (the connector) which backed up traffic, made people late for work, burned up gas due to idling along, raised blood pressures, and made the commute miserable. It is important to continue to invest in education and other human capital/infrastructure, but in this tight money year choices have to be made.

Both education and roads are never-ending needs. In a year when you have the Governor pushing one issue, help him out. If you don’t and his effort fails, he might give up, or he might just get only a pittance.

Second, Democrats are playing the politics wrong on this issue. Every year Democrats talk about education, and in every campaign they make it a key issue. I agree that Democrats should support education, and fight for it in the legislature, but stop talking about it and making it a centerpiece of legislative efforts.

Most Idaho Republican voters believe that Idaho Democrats are captives of the dreaded “teachers union.” The union does support Democrats, and Democrats should repay that by supporting education. But in constantly making it the signature issue, Democrats reinforce the Republican talking point about the over influence of the union. This allows Republicans to dismiss the Democrats when Democrats raise education issues.

Have you ever heard a Republican, other than Steve Thayn, say that education is bad and we should do away with schools? Of course not. Republicans support education, somewhat. Enough to allow them to say that they support it sufficiently and that any more support is just throwing money at the problem.

Because Democrats tend to be a Johnny One Note about education, and because Republicans have successfully convinced voters that Democrats just want to make the teachers union happy, Democrats have little or no credibility on the issue.

Bashing Gov Otter’s budget and his roads initiative reinforces the perception that Democrats are not credible. Again, Democrats make this the key issue every year. So, how’s that working for you? Riding a tidal wave of electoral success? Gaining seats every election?

You’re politicians; make a smart political choice. What is better: always trying to do the right thing, which ensures that you will stay out of power and unable to actually accomplish the right thing, or laying off it for a while and gaining power that will eventually allow you to get the right thing done? The old hippie conundrum. Do I compromise my ideals and join the system so that I can work within it to change it, or do I remain ideologically pristine, on the outside, and ineffective in bringing about change?

If you want to exercise some power, join with the Governor and support his initiative.

3 comments:

Sisyphus said...

I strongly disagree. Its a great slogan and the Governor's proposal is wrong headed for many reasons, not the least of which is how he is reaching to turn down Obama's infrastructure money which could pay for some of those transportation projects, largely upon ideological objections. Long post coming your way.

G.S. Avenger said...

Great Post! One would think that education advocates would have a better grasp of math or at least a list of cuts and tax increases that goes above and beyond the governor's list and thus spares education and social programs the brunt of this budget storm. It is called leadership and if the Dems want to start winning seats west of Maple Grove they need to start showing some.

BTW if and when the congress passes a stimulus package it will likely limit those dollars to the "federal aid highway system" and require matching funds. Most of the dollars generated from Otter's proposal will be earmarked for those roads not covered by the federal system. Besides if federal spending on roads will stimulate the economy why wouldn't state dollars do the same thing?

alan said...

I agree that Otter ought to grab all the federal simulus money he can. A principled stand isn't appropriate when we need help this badly.