Reform on its way…maybe

Mon, Nov 8, 2010


As the New York Times pointed out this morning, the real election story is about the states, not Washington.

We can expect two years of inaction from the nation’s capitol, as Republicans and Democrats do their best to demonize each other, and as renascent Gopsters launch dozens of Seinfeldian investigations into alleged governmental abuses. It’ll make for good theater, and bad government – but at least we won’t have to pay any attention.

The states are different. For the first time in many decades, the GOP has taken control of states that have long been Democratic strongholds. As is their wont, the Dems have been generous to their core constituencies, allowing overly generous benefit structures to gut public pension funds, expanding programs, raising taxes on and/or over regulating business, and overstaffing/overpaying public employees.

Until now, Republicans could score points with moderate/conservative voters by complaining about such abuses, but lacked the power to do anything about it. Now they can – and they may find the process unrewarding politically.

Consider President Obama, who took office with a mandate to reform health care (or so he believed). He reformed health care, which apparenly caused his party to suffer the worst mid-term election debacle in American history.

Significant reform means pain. Large-scale changes, whether at the local, state, or national levels, cost jobs, create new realities, and disrupt peoples’ lives. Change may be the only constant, but if change affects our jobs, our peace of mind, our retirement plans, or our coping mechanisms we don’t like it.

Health care reform brought anxiety and uncertainty, not lower costs and better coverage. Slashing state budgets, reforming public pension plans, and cutting bloated state work forces will cost thousands their jobs, threaten to reduce benefits for tens, even hundreds of thousands of retirees, and make routine government services (such as, say, drivers’ license renewals) even less convenient.

If those newly-elected Republican Governors and Republican legislators have the courage to act on their convictions, posterity may be grateful…but as the President found out to his sorrow, the voters may feel differently two or four years hence.

Successful politicians (think Reagan, think Clinton, think Eisenhower) listen to the music, not the words. They understand that we don’t always want what we claim to want.

Newly elected Gov. John Hickenlooper might understand this.

Blessed with a divided legislature, he won’t be embarassed by crazy bills from the left or right. He won’t have to pay attention to anyone but the six members of the Joint Budget Committee, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. It’s hard to believe that he won’t be able to forge reasonable compromises, make mutually satisfactory deals, and avoid being blamed for bad stuff. Like Bill Owens, he’ll be seen as a pro-business moderate – which, after al, is exactly what he is.

Decades ago, Kansans had the option of banning alcohol sales in individual counties. The resulting crazy quilt of “wet” and “dry” counties, as well as the steady increase in overall alcohol sales, led to the conclusion that Kansans voted dry and drank wet.

Voters to government: Reform away, but don’t change anything.

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