The Delaware way? (Whipple)

Politicians in the First State are said to be pretty reasonable. Thus, they (1) listen to public concerns, (2) study the issues, (3) welcome debate about the solutions, and (4) are willing to compromise in order to get things done. Although the pace of change may seem slow at times, Delawareans apparently appreciate a “middle of the road” approach. Thus, they “keep electing moderate, congenial, conflict-averse politicians up and down the ballot, from General Assembly to governor.” Does Delaware still want politicians who compromise? Matthew Albright, News Journal, 5/6/18. Hmm, this idyllic picture seems overstated. It may be instructive to consider some exceptions.

1. Few politicians are receptive to public input unless it favors their preconceived views
. E-mails or letters are ignored or draw “canned” responses. Tough questions are deflected or ducked. Public events are avoided unless a supportive audience is expected. Thus, we didn’t notice any strongly anti-gun legislators on the podium at a recent townhall (April 16, Middletown High School) re proposed gun control legislation.

2. Politicians typically spend more time assessing the political lay of the land than studying the issues. Although Delaware’s program of mandates and subsidies for “renewable energy” (wind, solar, and Bloom Energy fuel cells) was established by the General Assembly, for example, it’s doubtful that many DE legislators could explain how the program works. As for the manmade global warming theory or the purported economic benefits of renewable energy, such matters are simply taken on faith. Reliable versus intermittent energy sources, SAFE blog, 11/6/17.

3. Genuine debates are messy. Conflicting ideas are presented, passions are stirred, and there’s no guarantee as to the outcome. Accordingly, politicians tend to prefer events that fuzz up the issues and portray bipartisan consensus. An excellent example was an April 30 townhall at McKean High School on the subject of Delaware budget smoothing. Participants: Treasurer Ken Simpler, Secretary of Finance Rick Geisenberger, and five members of the General Assembly (bipartisan/bicameral).

While smoothing the budget (moderating outlay growth when revenues are buoyant; not slashing outlays when the reverse is true) has some appeal, it surely wouldn’t solve Delaware’s long-term budget problem. Was the real agenda to set the stage for tax increases down the line? There were several references to how retired Delawareans supposedly escape taxation of up to $80,000 income (the exemption for pension, etc. retirement is $25,000 for a couple, so perhaps it was envisioned that Social Security benefits might be taxed as well).

The proposal would entail an amendment to the Delaware Constitution, so why wasn’t the proposed language included in the meeting handouts instead of leaving this detail to the audience’s imagination. Yet Rep. Mike Ramone was not only urging attendees to call their legislators in favor of the proposal but also ask family members and friends to make such calls. In effect, the 50 or so Delawareans who turned out for the meeting were being asked to “buy a pig in the poke.”

4. Compromise may be good when the best answer lies somewhere in the middle, but in other cases it breeds inaction (e.g., the repeated failure to combine school districts in Delaware, which could not only produce cost savings but also improve the performance of schools by streamlining a top-heavy layer of bureaucracy) or lousy decisions (like the Bloom Energy fiasco). If the goal is better government performance, there is no substitute for vigorous debate of policy differences.
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