After elections, time to address long-term issues

Election 2012

With this election winding down to the final provisional and absentee ballot-counting in the seats too close to determine a winner on Election Day, there are a few things to note with interest.

Before looking at a few revealing numbers in specific contests, it is important to note a few first-time effects. I don’t know whom to blame for this exactly, but red or blue state identity for purposes of control by the legislative branch is now very distinct. Following the election there are now only four states with divided legislative leadership, including the Nebraska unicameral which conducts its legislative business through a single chamber.

For the first time, voters in several states specifically approved same-sex marriage and recreational marijuana use. I live in a state where we have the capacity and the need to employ nearly 25,000 more truck drivers, but every time applicants gather to qualify, about half leave the room when they hear that they have to take a drug test. If you can’t take a drug test, you can’t get a lot of jobs where you have to be bonded, which is practically any job that carries some responsibility. This augurs poorly for states where a whole lot of people might be tempted to try dope now that the state has decided to operate in counterpoint to federal law on the subject.

It is that trend, incidentally, which keeps me from believing the national pronouncement that we just had a “status quo” election. Small changes do matter. (Maine flipped control of both of its legislative chambers by fewer than 600 votes total, for instance.)

When Ronald Reagan was president, there was a short-lived attempt to strategically devolve power back to the states, which initially created the federal government, and still retain the residual public power under the Constitution. What seems to be going on now is a spreading of the Sagebrush rebellion to eastern states, who are by inches working on anti-federalism agendas.

More states put provisions in their constitutions to indicate frustration with the federal health care law which is about to be implemented. Many states are still reluctant to do the bidding of Washington on health care exchanges and Medicaid expansion. They struggle to figure out how to marry up the immigration law with the needs of business and the burdens on state services. Then there’s the aforementioned thumb in the federal eye on marijuana use. New state-based civil rights have been added by states to embrace, or at least allow, same-sex marriage. Utah has sued to get its federal lands returned from the Bureau of Land Management.

Several states will host movements to pass legislation this coming session to reclaim some of the power that has flowed to Washington. The proposed Madison Amendment would give states the same power as Congress to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Other state leadership will consider constitutional amendments to allow states to veto what the Congress enacts, or to require the United States to have a balanced budget every year.

I’m told that around 10% of the people that voted to return Paul Ryan to his job in the Congress managing the national budget also voted to reelect the president. Whatever that means, I couldn’t pretend to know. Since the two national figures do not agree on anything much of importance, it appears that policy is not what motivates some voters. On the other hand, some people will only vote for candidates that are pledged to vote for abortion on demand or against an increase in the debt ceiling.

Even though policy is not paramount for most Americans in selecting leaders, extreme positions did not fare well in this election. In Michigan for example, the unions were not able to lock their benefits into the state constitution. More importantly, the proposal to replace the current state goal of 10% of electricity generated by alternative technology with 25% did not pass either. Michigan voters turned back the first state issue which sought to load this benchmark into their constitution.

A good thing, in my judgment, for this reason alone. In a post-election seminar in Ohio this week, the current chair of the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee conceded that a mere four years ago, when Ohio enacted its version of electricity deregulation, there was no discussion of the importance of developing a natural gas infrastructure for power generation, because the common knowledge was that we were almost out of that resource.

The development technology is so dynamic that government ought not to be devoting as much time to shaping the market energy production as it seeks to keeping us all safe from misadventures, accidents and environmental contamination. The latter is a full portfolio of its own, and properly vouchsafed to public authorities. The former has caused huge market dislocations, wasted billions, and is enriching a few people out of public moneys in ways that become unsavory headlines.

My own musings on the recent election are grounded in one thought which survived throughout the process. I can’t help wishing that the billions and tons of effort expended to accrue power will carry some corresponding imperative to work on things that need to be addressed. If the larger part of the American public can be convinced to pay a little more now to fix something that they view as potentially catastrophic down the road, like the effects of climate change, why don’t they feel the same about the national debt, which will divert real money away from their kids’ paychecks and other public priorities just to pay the interest?

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