Boss Tweed ~ Thomas Nast
I can't help feeling discouraged by the political races surrounding us. I want to throw up hands, turn my back on all the candidates, and pretend that they don't exist. Those desires are tempered by life long habits to be involved, and to live up to my civic responsibilities. So far, I think I've done okay: I'm a veteran, I vote in every election, I pay the taxes I owe, and I haven't broken any laws--well, maybe a few traffic laws. Oh, I inhaled too, about 30 years ago.
The feeling of disappointment really hit me when I voted in the primary election last week. I know that about 22% of the voters in each party really like and support the candidates their parties have put forth. But I also know that I'm among the 78% of voters who wish that we had better candidates to vote for. I looked at my ballot form and had to shake my head.
As the producer of a local internet radio show I've interviewed several local candidates, and I've studied their websites and read their campaign literature. Without putting too fine a point on it, these guys are running because they hate their opponents, or because they hate government, or because they want things to stay exactly the way things are now. No candidate has told an unvarnished truth.
It is certainly true, for example, that Arkansas is a high tax state. Only 13 states have higher taxes than we do. But these are states like New York--the highest tax state--or Minnesota, that provide its citizens with services and systems that also rank high for effectiveness. The real question political candidates should ask (and answer) is "why does Arkansas always rank so low on good things--like public health--and so high on bad things, like the small number of kids going on to post high school education--when its citizens pay such high taxes?"
Part of the answer may be that we've had inadequate government--that means Democrat dominated government--for too long. Why haven't Democrat legislators caused better systems and services since our taxes are so high? They'll probably respond by saying that "we're a poor state with only low incomes and low profits to tax--so we have to take a bigger slice of the pie to fund even essential services."
But that begs other questions. Why are we a poor state? Why haven't Democrats done a better job of creating economic opportunity for the people they govern? Frankly, I'm a little tired of their 60 year old governing paradigm.
Conversely, the only thing Republicans say about economic development is that cutting taxes will inspire companies to relocate here. Then jobs will be created and we won't be a poor state anymore. But the fact is there are plenty of incentives already available for companies to locate here. If Toyota, for example, agreed to build a manufacturing plant in Alpena or Green Forest, the State of Arkansas and Carroll County would be more than willing--would be salivating--to offer a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) deal to Toyota where they wouldn't have to pay any taxes at all, for years and years. Cutting taxes may be a good idea generally, but linking it to job creation is horse apples.
There is another bothersome variable. We all agree--truly--that we have to cut spending in Washington and reduce our federal deficit. But what happens to a state like Arkansas if--when--that happens? For every $1 we send Washington we receive $1.41 back--$1,581 dollars per person. Obviously, services and systems will need to be cut even further. But has any candidate, from either party, explained where the cuts will occur? They haven't explained it to me.
The problem of unintended consequences also raises its head. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin faces a recall election in a few days, mostly because he has tried to bust public service unions and their high cost employees. He may have a point: public service workers, at least in the low and middle pay grades where most workers reside, are paid better than their public sector counterpart. But what happens in Arkansas if Wisconsin State workers have less valuable pensions?
It is a worth while question because so many retirees on public service pensions retire to Carroll County--almost 18% of the residents of Holiday Island are former public service workers. What happens to local building tradesmen if 18% of their customers go away? What happens then to say, the Opera of the Ozarks, or Carroll County's tax base, for that matter?
I'm sure that folks running for office aren't bad people, and maybe they have some solutions and just don't know how to articulate them. But I wish they'd stop acting like middle linebackers in a Razorback-Alabama contest. Yes, politics ain't beanbag, but it is more than a sporting event. What I know is that I wouldn't take my dog to a vet who hated dogs, and I wouldn't turn my kids over to a babysitter who hated kids.
Why would I turn my country over to politicians who hate its government?