Why isn’t anyone asking about value when it comes to transportation costs?

If you’re an avid reader of Peach Pundit, THE political blog in Georgia, you’re likely reading about the debate surrounding transportation funding in Georgia.  The site has published on the topic extensively, and you can navigate over there to PP to read the articles.  The latest noted a presentation by DOT Commissioner Keith Golden highlighting Georgia’s $74 billion – that’s with a b – shortfall in funding for necessary projects.  For priority projects, that’s a more manageable $15 billion.  Still a lot of money.

We can’t deny that finding funding is part of the solution.  We need to identify as a state where that money will come from — I’m personally in favor of a better tax rate for gasoline (after all it’s a Fair Tax as you determine how much you pay based on how much gasoline you use) and expanding toll roads (another user fee that ensures the people who use the roads pay for them).  However, it doesn’t start and stop there.  An unavoidable discussion must surround what value-added activities Georgia uses in building transportation infrastructure.  I question the figure of $74 billion.  I just don’t buy it.

A series of articles by the International Road Federation discusses some of the reasons why I don’t believe the figure is completely accurate.  The causes range from a lack of separating wants and needs to outright corruption, but the impact remains the same.  Taxpayers end up paying more and get less return for their invested tax dollars.  We just need to look to states like Illinois to see the impacts of corruption.  Regardless of the reason, the result is unacceptable.

The study committee would do well to take the time to study what our objectives are, how to show progress in meeting those objectives, and methods to properly oversee the value added by transportation projects.  I think if you ask most folks who propose such projects, they’ll tell you they are good ideas.  I know there’s someone out there who thinks the Atlanta Streetcar is a good thing…maybe?  However, that doesn’t mean that it is.  We need to stop making an ass out of u and me in selecting our projects.

This is no time to dither on this important role of the study committee.  Charlie Harper, editor of Peach Pundit and an advocate for improving our transportation systems intelligently, will tell you we spend about $.60 cents of what an average state of our size spends on transportation.  That should be a warning flag we pay attention to, and our attention should focus on ways to bring that average closer to what we spend as much as identifying ways of bringing Georgia closer to that average.  After all, if we’re ever going to tackle this problem and maintain our infrastructure in a fashion that actually puts the problem to rest, we need to do something different.

 

@SCOTUSBlog = #Awesome

We should hope for more controversial decisions in the future.  Here’s why…

@SCOTUSblog for the win.

Are Conservatives Losing?

The AJC commissioned a poll that details some numbers before the beginning of the legislative session.  You can see the fancy little reporting tool here, but it’s telling some of the to responses to questions asked.  As a consultant regularly conducting polls for my clients, I take a great deal of interest in the numbers.  They tell a story, and while polls are by their very nature imprecise at some level, they do provide very valuable and valid insight that we can use to infer voters’ thoughts.  Conservatives should do a very deep dive into these and their own if they want to provide relevant voices in shaping policy decisions at the state level.

Republicans in the statehouse are not going to set a radical agenda for governing, and by radical, I mean anything outside of vanilla.  This session in particular will be quick and to the point — case in point, the budgeting hearings that normally take a week (without either chamber convening for session) will take one.  The new election calendar partially drives this, but this reticence to act is also driven in large part by the fact there is an election calendar.  It’s a management mentality.  Republicans know the iceberg is ahead, but maybe, just maybe, they’ll only graze it if they keep a steady hand on the wheel.  All fine and dandy, but Georgia can do more with a strong conservative base to draw activists from.  Those activists need to do more to influence the people influencing legislators – the voters – and less trying to put the legislators through the ringer before, during, and after every session.  Not to say there isn’t a place for that, but elected officials don’t have a reason to care about a vocal minority when they know the silent majority is far more “moderate” and less interested in ideological solutions.

Activists have to make a real priority out of sounding and thinking rationally.  Too often, the rhetoric is pure dogmatism.  While these are frequently the folks calling for the removal of “big government Republicans” or labelling politicians as “RINOs,” the fact remains that the majority of people outside of their little established circles don’t much care for that.  Seth Millican wrote a fantastic piece on just this subject:

[Republicans] have therefore been fairly clear, and quite emphatic, about what they believe the government should not be doing. But if it is true, as they have argued, that the Democrats’ vision is a travesty of American government, then what is the proper and appropriate extent and purpose of that government?

Conservatives in recent years have not done enough to answer this question, and as a result have offered voters an oppositional view of government that, while perhaps stoking worry and resentment, is insufficient to build public trust in the prospect of a conservative government. And such a negative approach to the question of the role of government is not only electorally insufficient — it is unbecoming of conservatism and of the deep commitment that conservatives claim to the nation’s founding ideals.

He makes a very solid point.  Conservatives are failing in telling a story that they can use to persuade voters to ideologically align with them in greater numbers than is currently the case.  

Education reform remains a priority.  54% of respondents want more money to go to schools.  That falls to just under a majority of men at 49% but increases nearly ten points to 58% of women.  Reforms are desperately needed, and regardless of where you fall on the side of Common Core, a discussion has to be had about how more money reaches the classroom with the various forms of public education.  Real solutions with real positive consequences must be driven home.  More importantly, those efforts need to branch out beyond the usual suspects.  Otherwise, radical leftists, or worse center-left politicians, will figure out a way to tap into that sentiment about education.  Republicans (and by extension conservatives) will be frozen out.

Healthcare must also be dealt with.  53% of Georgians want either all (40%) or part (13%) of Obamacare repealed, but 57% want Medicaid expansion for poor Georgians despite the State’s insistence that the cost will be a burden.  That split also grows among women with only 45% calling for Obamacare repeal (33% full; 12% partial) but 61% desiring Medicaid expansion.  Those ratios are also consistent with Independents polled that matter in general elections.  Efforts by legislators to nullify Obamacare is a positive first step locally.  Karen Handel is also giving due attention to Tom Price’s solutions in the U.S. House, as well.  Both are good steps, and our state legislators can make that have an even bigger impact here at home.

Conservatives cry for loosening gun control laws (with which I agree), but posting a picture of a semiautomatic rifle and saying “the Founding Fathers wanted me to shoot this!” is a really, really poor way to convince voters of your ideology.  Only 20% of those polled support campus carry.  This is slightly higher for younger Georgians (25%) but markedly lower for women (8%).  82% support training requirements for open carry, which also received high support among the age (90%) and gender (85%) demographics.  Conservatives need to tell a better story first and the policy changes will follow.  Right now, though, they are losing the debate.

Now, let me make this perfectly clear – I don’t trust elected Republicans to set the agenda that an ideological base wants – an ideological base that, by and large, I find myself in.  However, there’s reason for that.  Republicans are going to read these results and understand the message – govern from the center.  If conservatives want legislators to govern from the right, then bringing people to the right is what’s necessary.  Conservatives need to influence these poll results and the ideology of the people answering them.  These folks don’t attend rallies when they can cheer on their kids’ soccer teams, and they certainly won’t spend a Thursday evening talking about the Constitution when their children are acting out a school play about the founding fathers.  Those on the right ideologically need to understand this or forever be a marginalized minority in the Republican Party.

So where do we go from here?

One of my favorite songs of all time is David Essex’s “Rock On.”  Love it, and this weekend got a chance to sing it to the ladyfriend as we drove down the road.  While it predates me by a few years, you should never be too young to appreciate a damn good song.  One of the common lines in the song is “where do we go from here, which is a way that’s clear?  Still lookin’ for that blue jean baby queen, prettiest girl I’ve ever seen…”  I don’t know why, but it brought me to a thought of the Congressional Republicans.  Truly, the next question for our caucus is “where do we go from here?”

To say that a budget needed passage is an understatement.  The Congress had not passed one since the early days of the Obama Administration.  Republicans in that time won back the House, but still didn’t have a real mission statement to our activities.  Largely, we’re defined by the campaign cycle and the need to capitulate a base of primary voters that are far more “conservative” in nature than the “conservative” voters that cast a ballot in the general election.  Truly, where do Republicans go from here?  Where is the blue jean baby queen that represents a coherent and consistent message between the various factions of the party?

Erick Erickson isn’t exactly apoplectic over at RedState, but he demonstrates the very real feeling among movement conservatives that Congressional leadership is failing and (correctly) points out that House Republicans have to take ownership of the veteran benefits debacle that couldn’t get changed in the Senate.  Nearly apoplectic, Boehner launched a tirade against the movement base that (somewhat correctly) painted their efforts as recruitment tactics rather than sound policy advocacy.  It’s almost as if our blue jean baby queen is that gorgeous sorority girl to one and the rough country girl to the other.  What Republicans, who control one half of one-third of the federal government, need is some consistency.  I cannot expect that we’ll maintain a consistent voting record if we can’t even get a consistent voting paradigm.

The fact is our federal government has no legitimacy.  Clearly, that’s not something the Obama Administration is really interested in, and by extension the Democratic left in either body.  So, again…where do Republicans go from here?  We need to win the next midterm election cycle and take back the Senate to have a stronger poker hand, but the conservative voters who cast a ballot in November alone aren’t activists by nature.  They don’t think about a battle between “liberty” and “establishment” Republicans (as if there ever was one, really).  That said, Republicans need the base to have any hope of winning in November when hours of phone banking and miles of neighborhood avenues require eager volunteers.  To spend hours volunteering for cold pizza and warm beer means you believe in the cause.  Republicans have not put themselves in a very comfortable corner here.

The budget deal sucks.  Erickson and the movement right are correct in their criticisms about what it’s brought us to.  However, Boehner’s right, too.  I don’t see much in the way of real solutions coming from the movement right that we can get more moderate members, those occupying swing districts, and leadership to buy into.  Frankly, Ted Cruz speaks to a base of folks that already love him.  Getting people to say “yes” when they would otherwise say “no” is the real tricky part of governing; neither side seems to really understand that.

So where do we go from here?  Well, I think a little willingness to admit mistakes would be the first step.  Republican leadership needs to say “Alright, ya know what…we’ve really screwed up and let you down.”  Movement Republicans need to admit they’ve been kinda douchey at times, too.  That might be a good idea, at least one that gives us some ability to negotiate with our own caucus before we present a message to the American voter, especially the voter that casts a ballot in the fall instead of the spring.  From there, we can sit down and develop a consistent improvement that meets everyone’s expectations on the budget, defense, civil rights, and most importantly Obamacare.

Essex’s line finishes up with “…see her shake on the movie screen…Jimmie Dean…” and then goes into this awesome instrumental with electric guitar, violins, horns…the whole shebang!  I think the Republicans can find that same rhythm, but having it means having a band that can make good music together.  We can know where to go from here.  We can see the way that’s clear.  We can score that blue jean baby queen.  We just have to be willing to play in a band that let’s us all Rock On!

Seriously, dude? Seriously?!

Now that I’m a Georgian, I try to write about things Georgian in nature.  Tonight, I’m going Yankee…

…I moved here from a city outside Chicago called Crystal Lake.  I still own a condo there (it’s where I summer, obvi) and have a good number of friends I stay in contact with.  Today, one such friend let me know an election board removed her from the ballot in the upcoming Republican Primary.  Losing sucks, and losing before you get to jump onto the field of play sucks even more, but I think she’ll be the first to admit it that it’s probably her fault and a great learning experience for the next time around.  Admittedly, it’s not a big deal.  See, in Illinois, you run as a candidate for the “elected” position of Republican Party precinct committeeman.  Since Illinois’ qualification rules require petition signatures, you have to go through the same rigmarole as the Gubernatorial candidates do.  That includes the challenging of petitions, which means lawyers, hearings, and procedures.  Yeah, it’s fun, and that’s where my friend screwed up.  By the end of her hearing, she did not have the required number of signatures to qualify as a candidate and therefore removed.

Untitled

You’d think that would be the end of it, but it isn’t.  Enter “RegimeOver” who apparently has killed the Leviathan with the slaying of Ms. Melissa Denker as precinct committeeman.  Cal Skinner, another old acquaintance from the Illinois stomping grounds, runs his McHenry County Blog and reported the story today where this comment appeared.  Naturally, with Melissa both being a friend and sheer stupidity being an enemy, I thought I had to engage.

I don’t know to what degree stupidity is a commendable quality, but Republicans generally don’t seem to be in short supply these days.  I really, really want to believe we Republicans have more substantive stuff to talk about than a 21-year old’s citizenship.  More importantly, I wish we could have some fruitful conversations where loaded questions like that were never asked.  After all, it’s a loaded question from the start and merely asking it says “Prove my suspicion wrong…”  We wonder why Republicans in Congress cannot find the legitimacy to govern effectively or even the legitimacy to get elected to the position in which they could govern.  At a very deep level, it only builds on the fear and foreboding I have that Republicans are driving down a path of unintellectual, overly emotional reactionism on everything.  We’re better than.  We need to be.

Democrats play the unintellectual, overly emotional reactionism game much better than we do.