Elephants Triumphant

by James A. Bacon

It was a long, hard fight but the Elephant Clan seemingly has won control over all the levers of power of state government — adding a tenuous control of the state Senate and a bigger majority in the House of Delegates to its three statewide offices. Awaiting vote recounts, the elephants aren’t trumpeting their victory yet. But the rest of us can begin to ask, what will the Republicans do with their untrammeled power?

The GOP has the greatest opportunity in modern history to transform Virginia’s indispensable but increasingly antiquated institutions around the principles of small-but-effective government, fiscal responsibility and a free economy. Will the Rs seize the once-in-a-lifetime chance to enact fundamental reform that will propel the commonwealth into the 21st century? Or will they engage in an orgy of culture-wars legislating that turns off swing voters? Or, worse yet, will they emulate the disastrous 2000s-era K-Street strategy of cozying up to the moneyed special interests with an eye to bankrolling the next election cycle?

Only time will tell. But as a Republican-leaning independent, I desperately hope that the Rs forego their natural instinct to pursue symbolic culture-war silliness, avoid the temptation to align themselves with the special interests, and start digging into the hard work of making government more effective and more economical. That means a lot more than balancing the budget without raising taxes, although that will be an ample challenge in itself. I see six broad strategic imperatives where the Elephant Clan can make its mark on Virginia for years to come:

  • Bullet proof the budget. Hard times are coming for a state whose economy is as dependent upon the federal government as it is. When federal spending crashes, we will be hard-pressed to maintain our AAA bond rating. We need to make every conservative budget assumption it’s possible to make, cut extraneous spending to focus on core services, and pay down debt and liabilities.
  • Reinvent K-12 education. Bust up the monopoly of the public schools, increase parental choice and foster experimentation and innovation. We can no longer afford to support a 19th-century school system to teach our children what they need to compete in a 21st-century economy.
  • Hold higher education more accountable.  Although Virginia’s public colleges are leaner and more affordable than most, they are still too expensive. We must make college more affordable without sacrificing excellence.
  • Build a market-based health care system. The health care industry in Virginia is dysfunctional, just as it is across most of America. Insofar as federal laws allow, repeal antiquated regulations, empower patients as consumers and spur market-based innovation in health care delivery models with the goals of bringing down costs and improving quality.
  • Re-think economic development. State government has not altered its approach to economic development since the 1960s. There’s a lot more to “creating jobs” than putting money into corporate recruitment and tourism. While Virginia may be a good place to do business, it lags in indicators of creativity and innovation, the true wellsprings of wealth creation.
  • Reform transportation and land use. If Virginians want to reduce the cost of government and improve the quality of life at the level of local government, they need to re-think their dysfunctional human settlement patterns and the zoning and transportation policies that cement them into place. One place to start: Insist that Virginians pay their full locational costs, starting with funding new transportation projects on a user-pays basis.

The United States is is entering a perilous time. The world order that has prevailed since World War II is collapsing. The welfare state is disintegrating. The debt- and consumption-driven economy is faltering and the wealth gap is growing. Our state-level institutions are failing us. The time to start reinventing those institutions is now. If we do, Virginia can survive the storm to come and prosper in the years that follow.

Update: The GOP is now putting its spin on the election. A communique from the state GOP’s Garren Shipley makes a couple of key points. First, the Elephant Clan majority in the House, at 68 seats, is the largest in history. Second, it wasn’t due to gerrymandering. Sixty-one percent of voters cast ballots for GOP candidates statewide in House elections, compared to 33% for the Dems. Fifty-seven percent of voters cast ballots for GOP Senate candidates, versus 41% for Dems. Indeed, if gerrymandering was a factor, it was in the ability of the the Donkey Clan to retain 20 Senate seats. Assigning seats in proportion to votes would have given the donkeys only 17 seats.

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One response to “Elephants Triumphant”

  1. Jim’s “hopes” are good ones but pretty ambitious. For example, for all the hooray over ObamaCare, I fully expect Republicans to do nothing at all about it.

    Not only will Virginians not see any Conservative version of health care for our state but I seriously doubt that they will deal with the burgeoning Medicaid costs.

    I also expect Republicans to do nothing about Home Rule for Fairfax.

    I expect Republicans to do nothing about the Dillon Rule.

    and I expect Republicans to do nothing about letting local voters initiate referenda – like Ohio allows and people spoke clearly about the right to bargain.

    I expect Republicans to do nothing to improve the K-12 schools where only 30% graduate with a globally-competitive education.

    Transportation? ha ha ha – don’t hold your breath.. what we’ll get most likely is yet another effort to investigate and reform VDOT rather than dealing with the tougher nut of sustainable funding.

    What I do expect from Republicans is more culture war silliness from the right wing of the party and McDonnell has already said he won’t run away from such proposals.

    Now. I’d LIKE to have to EAT MY WORDS on one or more of these things but Republicans these days are really not about moving us forward and much more about their party agenda.

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