May 12, 2012

Reason for Pessimism

Guest Column by Lowman S. Henry

Convention wisdom over the past few months has it the economy is finally beginning to emerge from the recession that began back in 2008. So it was a bit surprising that the Spring 2012 Keystone Business Climate Survey of major employers found chief executive officers around the commonwealth were more pessimistic about the direction of the state's economy than they were a year ago.

In fact, by almost a two-to-one margin, the CEOs said Pennsylvania's economy had gotten worse over the previous six months rather than better. A majority - 51% - said the state's economy had remained about the same. That, however, is faint praise in that recent surveys have placed economic confidence levels at their lowest point in the 17-year history of the poll.

This raises the question: Is the economy really improving, or has the mainstream media bought into Obama Administration election year spin?

The answer is probably a bit of both. After four down years the dynamic nature of the American economy is such that some improvement — as reflected in the rising equity markets — is real and likely sustainable. However, government created uncertainty has fostered a climate in which many businesses are still not ready to risk significant amounts of capital on expansion.

At the national level the chief culprit is the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare. Businesses have not been able to digest the highly complicated legislation, let alone begin to project how regulators might interpret the law. Adding to the chaos are constitutional questions, which will be answered in a few weeks when the Supreme Court of the United States issues its ruling.

But here in Penn's Woods the business climate is also suffering from growing disappointment with state government. There was actually a slight uptick in business optimism last Fall as business leaders looked to a new Republican governor and historic Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly and anticipated the passage of business friendly legislation.

To be sure some progress has been made, but the pace of reform has been disappointing, so much so that as the legislature lumbers into the last six months of its session the lack of progress has become downright disheartening.

This disappointment is reflected in the job performance rating of the General Assembly. Fifty-six percent of the CEOs surveyed have a negative opinion of the job being done by the state Senate, 22% view the upper chamber positively. The House fares marginally better: 53% have a negative opinion of the job being done by the House, 26% offer a positive view.

While generally applauding the fact Governor Corbett and the legislature held the line on both taxes and spending last year — and appear likely to do the same in the budget currently under consideration — business leaders say the cuts do not go far enough. Fifty-nine percent want state spending cut further. And there are no sacred cows. Seventy percent say they want cuts in public welfare; 42% would cut human services; and 38% want further cuts in higher education spending.

In short, the business community wants state government to do what it has done: cut costs and live within its means. Many businesses have trimmed their workforce, cut hours, reduced product lines, and taken other unpleasant steps in order to remain viable in the down economy. They look at government and want it to do the same.

And so, as major issues such as privatization of the state's liquor stores, school choice, dealing with the looming state and school district pension crisis, and union power issues remain unresolved the hopes for a major change raised by the onset of Republican dominance in Harrisburg are giving way to disillusionment and becoming manifest in a growing pessimism over the direction of the state's economy.

Making matters worse, everyone knows that when the legislature adjourns in early July for its two month summer vacation there is no chance of any proposal even remotely controversial being brought up in September or October as the General Election season will be in high gear.

So, little has been accomplished and the window of opportunity is closing. Therein lays the explanation as to why the brief burst of optimism that developed last year has reverted back to recession era pessimism.

Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is

May 1, 2012

The Antidote to Voter Apathy & Improved Election Outcomes: The Political Committee Person

Guest Column by Lois Kaneshiki

Less than one-third of registered Republicans turned out to vote in the Primary of 2012. For those of us who are paying attention, it seems unfathomable that Republicans would not be interested in helping to choose who their next United States Senator should be, even if they believe the GOP presidential Primary is over. The question, “Why don’t they vote?” has almost become a cliché.

What kind of outcome do we get from this kind of voter behavior and what can we do about it, if anything?

Let’s take a look at the people who do come out and vote, the ones who don’t, and what we can do about it.

The Informed and the “Regulars”

The “party regular” is the voter who will come out and vote “no matter what.” They believe it is their civic duty to vote and they take pride in their flawless voting record. We know they vote incumbents back in office the majority of the time, even though most people seem to be dissatisfied with the performance of this same government.

The people who actually follow the election and the candidates are few. Even people who try to keep up with the “news” seem unaware of who the candidates are the week before the election.

Why Don’t People Vote?

We currently have a small minority of eligible voters electing candidates to office. The vast majority of citizens don’t feel it is worth the effort to educate themselves about the candidates, don’t have the time, or have some other “it just doesn’t matter” type attitude.

If you ask them why they don’t vote you will get various answers such as, “they are all the same,” “they are all corrupt,” “nothing will ever change,” etc. It is a very fatalistic and pessimistic attitude. They feel these are people who are far away, out of touch, and somehow all fall into the same unfavorable category of “politician.”

Before we look at how to address this phenomenon, we have to examine its roots and see what might be the plausible approach to changing these voter attitudes.

Case in Point: The 2012 GOP U.S. Senate Primary

First of all, can we blame the candidates themselves? Are they really all the same? Are they really all that bad?

In the beginning of the campaign season (fall 2011), the GOP had nine potential candidates for U.S. Senate. The variety of candidates could not have been more diverse. Most of them were “regular people” who are disturbed by the direction our country is heading and wanted the opportunity to be heard and to try to make a difference.

Isn’t this what the people want?

Or do you automatically become untrustworthy the moment you announce you would like to be considered for public office. If that is the case, we have given up the democratic republic that our founders handed to us and we are ready to take the elections away from the people.

I am not ready for that. Are you?

The Public is Disengaged from the Process

The public doesn’t really have any adequate central sources of information on elections that they trust. They don’t invest time in doing the candidate research. Many don’t have opportunities to meet the candidates in person to get the “gut feel” about the candidates that is so important.

Even tea party leaders across Pennsylvania were scrambling a few weeks before the election to figure out who they should support. In the meantime, several good candidates had already dropped out of the race due to lack of attention from the public.

Money: The Mother’s Milk of Politics?

The candidates who dropped out of the race early suffered from lack of financing to continue their campaigns. Money is used to help candidates travel throughout the state, pay staff if required, and to reach voters who otherwise wouldn’t hear about them.

Why has money become so influential and even necessary in politics?

The phenomenon of money in politics and public disengagement go hand-in-hand. Advertising influences voters who don’t have other adequate sources of information. They don’t have the opportunity to question assertions made in advertising to see if they are factual or distortions of the truth. As a result, people throw their hands up and think, “I’m not voting for any of these bums!”

Over the years, money has filled the vacuum created in politics by the failure to maintain healthy grassroots political organizations that fully engage their neighbors.

All Politics is Local
It’s not just a slogan!

What is the alternative? The alternative is the exact opposite of what the political “experts” and consultants want us to believe. It is not more money. It is more organization. It is old-fashioned grassroots politics. This is the function of political campaigns, but even more importantly, the county committees.

The Crux of Voter Apathy: Lack of Relationship

Voters are apathetic because of the failure of the political parties to develop local and lasting relationships with their voters that transcend specific elections. Of course the voters do not trust politicians, because they know politicians will basically say what is necessary to get elected. So who can they trust?

That is where the county committeeman or woman comes in. The purpose of the county committeeman is to establish the link with the local voter with the Party. They are the local contacts, the liaisons, between the party and the voters in the precinct. They are the “go-to” people in between and at election time. They know where to get the information and will help voters stay informed about candidates and elections. They have an incentive to be honest and trustworthy with their local constituents, because they are not running for local office – they represent the party now and tomorrow. If they do not do a good job, the voters will elect someone else the next election cycle to re-elect them. (For more information on how to become a county committeeman, see

Unfortunately, the parties have gotten so far away from the grassroots representation that local voters not only do not expect their local committeeman to perform this function, but most of the voters do not even know they exist. We have a lot of rebuilding to do.

Over one-half of these important committee seats, which are supposed to be elected by their neighbors, were vacant in Blair County on election day. If we are to keep politics close to the people, the continuation of this trend is unacceptable.

Politics is all about Relationships

If you doubt what I say, think about the “talented” politicians you have known in the past. They are people the voters feel they can “relate” to in some way or another. They are people they know personally (if it is a local office.) The voters have the impression they can be trusted. They are not stiff and academic. They come across as real people who are likeable and seem like they care about us. This either is or simulates what a person would be if you were to establish some kind of relationship.

Establishing Relationships Will Increase Voter “Connectedness”

If voters feel disconnected from the political process, the committee people can change that impression through making regular contact of some kind and letting voters know they are there for them if they need information, etc. This can be done in person, over the phone, through email, or the Internet. This can also be done more regularly and more locally by recruiting “block captains” within the precincts who will be responsible for a smaller section of the precinct.

Local Outreach Benefits the Party & Its Candidates

By reaching out at the local precinct level, the committee people help improve the image of the party. They are letting the voters know they are important.

The committee people are experts in their precincts. They are better resources to candidates and the party than any professional polling, because they are speaking directly to the people and know what they think. Voters are honest with them because they have established their credibility and they are not running for public office. Just as it says in our state committee handbook, they are the “most important link in the organization of the Republican Party.”

Local Outreach Improves the Process

When the voters feel more connected to the process they will participate more. People who haven’t voted may feel motivated to vote. People who only vote will be more motivated to volunteer a few hours of their time. Everyone will feel more hopeful about the process because their neighbor cares enough to stop by and give them some information.

Local Outreach Increases Awareness

When voters are visited by party representatives, they will have an opportunity to ask questions. They will know who they can call if they think of questions later. An informed voter will give us a better result on Election Day!

Recruiting Better Candidates & Getting Them Elected

Ultimately, more participation in the process from everyone will attract a higher caliber candidate and help us get these candidates elected through awareness.

Restoring Pride in the GOP

When local committee people are empowered to take ownership of their precincts, they will make a real difference in their neighborhoods. This local connectedness will allow the GOP rank-and-file to restore pride in their local party by understanding their vital role in the political process.

Ending at the Beginning

I hope you see how important the committee people are. When we have brought the process back to the grassroots, we will realize how important it is to have good committee people who are able to organize the precinct. I hope that this will attract the kind of committee people who understand how important their work is, take it seriously, and utilize their important position within the party.