Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Populism and the Tiger's Tail (Wednesday LINKS)

There has been a slow but steady march of populism into our national, state, and local politics.  It sneaks in under the auspices of democracy, but represents something much different.  Governance and leadership are secondary to "if you like it, I like it and if you don't like it, you can be sure I don't like it either."

There was a time, not so long ago, when we acknowledged that our elected officials had to make difficult choices to meet the obligations of governing.  I won't malign anyone for using those difficult choices as campaign planks, but it did seem like the entirety of the 2014 Election cycle in Maryland was premised on attacking and defending decisions made during one of the worst recessions in modern times. 

More locally, the issue of referendum was brought to the fore, but not in any substantive way.  As with many other technical issues, referendum reform was discussed in terms of being "for or against the 'people's right of referendum'".  This is a very complex issue, particularly with regard to land use.  Should a property owner's right to seek a modification of the applicable zoning ordinance be left open to referendum?  How would one go about bringing the General Plan, encompassing pages and pages of modifications, to a ballot vote?  And can we have an honest discussion about the competency of voters to make decisions on these matters, which are highly technical and will find themselves at the end of a long ballot?  We need referenda reform, but only insofar as we move approval of petition language to earlier in the process.  But that didn't seem to be what was at issue in 2014.

And that's just one example.  I could go on.  Democrats promised programs the state couldn't afford and Republicans promised tax roll-backs that will never take place.  "If you like it, I like it and if you don't like it, you can be sure I don't like it either."  And, in a way, this is the premise of the modern election, but there is also an obligation of the candidate to identify the priorities, values, and challenges they will pursue in office.  The question I just did not hear enough was "How will you afford X?"

Which brings me to my central point - running on populism forces you to govern in fear.  You have caught the tiger by the tail and you would do well to hold on tight.  No matter the political system, populists rarely satisfy their constituency.  And as a rule, those constituencies bring litmus tests to bear when it is time to evaluate performance.  It is much easier for legislators to get around this, but executives cannot.  Four years hence, they better be able to say "if you liked it, I did it and if you didn't like it, you can be sure I got rid of it."


Seemingly on point, please read the "Six Myths About Climate Change That Liberals Rarely Question."  The need for honest and courageous leadership on this issue could not be more apparent.

Amanda Yeager writes about Allan Kittleman's first day in office, including the appointment of staff and the reshuffling of departments.  Most remarkable, but not necessarily surprising, is Allan's decision to do away with the Executive Protection Unit.  The EPU was more of an issue in the 2010 election when Trent Kittleman criticized Ken Ulman for having a police escort and Ken responded that this was implemented at the recommendation of the chief of police.

On a related note, while I welcome the new County staffers of the Kittleman Administration, I can't leave this subject without noting that Howard County will be a poorer place without having people like Sam O'Neil, Candace Dodson Reed, Mark Miller, and David Nitkin (among others) on staff.  Elections have consequences, but it is disappointing to see such great people lose their jobs.

I love Blair Ames's piece about Girls Who Code in Fulton, particularly this line: "Screams of 'that was awesome' could be heard as girls moved from classroom to classroom."

Former one-term Governor Bob Ehrlich considers himself a viable candidate for President of the United States, writes Yvonne Wenger.  I respectfully disagree.

State analysts have recommended that legislators get ride of the film and television tax credit that costs Maryland $62.5 million a year, writes Erin Cox with The Sun.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Speaking of CDR (noted above), I would like to welcome the newest blog to the scene - IsThisThingOn?  Check it out and leave a comment.

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!