Brian Howey: Power moving from Washington to our cities
Thursday, July 11, 2013 1:28 PM
ANGOLA, Ind. – These past
few weeks, we’ve seen yet another example of sclerosis in Washington,
this time with the farm bill. On a topic that begged for compromise,
everyone dug in, and there was celebration in some quarters even as they
were spitting the ashes out of their mouths.
Next up comes
the immigration package, with House Republicans overwhelmingly balking
Wednesday at the Senate passed bill despite warnings from Speaker John
Boehner about the political consequences.
Later this year, we’ll get another debt limit faux crisis.
is a city of gangs who can’t shoot straight, of rhetoric akin to
methane gas seeping out of a melting tundra. Gallup has congressional
approval at 10 percent, yet another historic low.
Mayor Blair Milo’s column on page 1 hits a number of points that are
resonating. And it underscores a recent piece by conservative New York
Times columnist David Brooks on what he calls the “power inversion,” the
rise of city states and regional governments that fill the void left by
the partisan polarization in Washington.
Brooks cites the
book “The Metropolitan Revolution” by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of
the Brookings Institution, saying: As the federal government becomes
less energetic, city governments become more so. Katz and Bradley
describe a country that is segmenting slightly into divergent city
states. Demographically, society is clustering. In an era when the
nuclear two-parent family was the key demographic unit, it made sense to
think of America as a suburban economy with common needs. But now
two-parent nuclear families account for only a fifth of all households.
The young, the old and the single make up a huge slice of the
population, and they flock to density. According to Robert Puentes of
Brookings, the share of young people with driver’s licenses is
plummeting. Public transit ridership rose by 32.3 percent between 1995
I thought it was so strange over the past several
years when both of my sons were utterly indifferent about getting their
driver’s license on the first day they could. Baby Boomers would almost
camp out at the BMV in the old days.
In the “Metropolitan
Revolution,” the authors note that economic changes reinforce regional
concentration. For decades, companies sought to protect their
intellectual property by isolating their research-and-development
functions in suburban research parks. But now scientific breakthroughs
are less likely to come from discrete teams. They tend to come from
large, loose networks of researchers brought together in physical
proximity. It makes sense to locate research facilities in urban
districts, often around urban universities, where researchers will make
wider and more flexible contacts.
In Indiana, we have such
clusters, like the orthopedics in Warsaw and the life sciences triangle
between Bloomington, Indianapolis and West Lafayette.
think about who’s getting stuff done, who’s changing the dynamic, I
think of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who is already systematically
changing transportation. There are bike lanes everywhere, bike depots
(and I’m seeing more and more people pedaling these days); his electric
hybrid city fleet, and coming soon, the electric vehicle sharing system.
is all happening while the Indiana General Assembly debates the
old-fashioned concept of mass transit, some appearing oblivious to the
population behavior shifts happening right before their windshields.
Mayor Greg Goodnight has started a free public trolley system. Hammond
Mayor Tom McDermott is using casino money to send local kids to college.
These public servants are changing the equation and getting things done.
points out that because issues on the regional level are so tangible,
it is possible to debate new proposals without getting immobilized by
the big government-versus-small-government frame. Republican mayors tend
to be more activist than their congressional counterparts, and
Democratic mayors tend to be more business friendly.
They become pragmatic problem solvers.
long said that mayors have a tough time moving up the perceived
political “food chain.” Former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut was a fine
executive and would have made a great governor, but he was excoriated
in the 1990 secretary of state race by Joe Hogsett for “raising taxes”
more than a dozen times. Translated into the polarized federal dynamic,
most mayors have too much pragmatic baggage to fit into ideological
cookie cutters that Washington demands.
In the television age
of Hoosier politics, only Dick Lugar, Vance Hartke, Joe Kernan, Robert
Rock, Nancy Michael, Winfield Moses and Frank McCloskey were able to
forge a political career after City Hall. Paul Helmke, Stephen
Goldsmith, Mike Harmless and Bill Hudnut couldn’t and the voting jury is
still out on Jonathan Weinzapfel, who had to pass on the 2012
gubernatorial race due to mayoral baggage.
Now I’m beginning
to wonder if being mayor is in a position to eclipse the power of a
Member of Congress. We’ve seen many top resume political figures pass on
U.S. Senate races across the nation.
Why trap yourself in a
maze of hectoring ideologues and people who know how to pick a fight,
but can’t get anything done because compromise and pragmatism are dirty