Friday, October 17, 2014

The Midterm Election: Five Close Races, Viewed From a Jobs Perspective

Two weeks from Tuesday (yes, it’s that soon), Americans will go to the polls for the most important election in years.  The immediate impact of the choices people will make varies greatly from state to state, from quiet here in New York (no senatorial race, and the current governor very likely to continue), to many others with a close race for at least one major office. 

Below are five such contests, all described somewhere as “too close to call” or something similar.  How do the candidates in them see, and want to deal with, their state’s employment situations?  For this, I’ll forget their real or alleged general ideologies, and what others have said and assumed they would or would not try to do, and focus only on their own platforms, as described in their websites.  Who looks better in each?

First, we have the Georgia U.S. Senate contest.  Per Democrat Michelle Nunn, “job creation and economic growth is my top priority.” She mentions a need to “upgrade our aging roads, bridges, mass transit and rail, water and sewage lines, and port infrastructure,” reverse cuts in research and development spending, and “work to expand public-private partnerships to provide our young people with training, experiential learning and apprenticeships that better equip them to meet the needs of employers in Georgia.”  That last piece, tying schools and workers together, is a big improvement over the common and incorrect assertion that jobseekers’ education levels are to blame.  Republican David Perdue only mentions “revitalizing American manufacturing,” which in my view is somewhere between a distraction and a pipe dream, and he has very little to say about Georgia’s particular situation.  Big edge to Nunn.

Second, New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race starts with Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen.  She provides much about how to get more jobs there, from helping small businesses, which she calls “the engine of New Hampshire’s economy,” to “expanding the federal research and development tax credit and making it permanent” in support of science and technology jobs, which she claims “are projected to be the fastest growing occupations over the next decade.”  She also mentions energy and infrastructure.  Her opponent, Republican Scott Brown must be getting his support in other ways, since his website is a disaster – it doesn’t consistently work, has almost invisible print, and has links to information on some of his stands but not others.  He advocated “better jobs for all,” but offered nothing about how he could help with that.  Big edge to Shaheen.

Third, we have a gubernatorial contest in Kansas.  Incumbent Republican Sam Brownback has “growing the Kansas economy” at the top of his issues list, and sets a goal of 25,000 new jobs in the state for each of the next four years.  He lists no fewer than 21 explicit ways of achieving that objective, mostly by improving the general business climate, but also by supporting specific, named commercial initiatives.  His Democratic opponent Paul Davis, except for naming “creating good-paying jobs” as a priority, with no hint of how he would do that, has nothing at all on his website about helping Kansas employment.  Big edge to Brownback.    

Fourth, the next Illinois governor is on track to be either Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn or Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.  Quinn’s website jumps out with a request to “add your name if you agree it’s time to raise the minimum wage,” hardly the way to increase employment.  His page of issues has links to more on 11 of them, including “equality & inclusion” and “women & children,” and mentions his previous job creation in “Illinois’ Comeback,” but has no sections for employment or even for the economy in general.  Running on his record, the last-mentioned page has a detailed accounting of the positions added under his leadership, but “Blueprint for Illinois’ Future,” though showing him speaking above a sign touting jobs and opportunity, has nothing on either.  Rauner’s view makes us wonder if he and Quinn are in the same state; his website has “jobs” first in his list of issues, and starts by saying “We are in a jobs crisis.  Illinois has the worst unemployment rate in the Midwest and among the highest in the nation.  That’s unacceptable.”  However, he names only four ways to improve on that:  overhauling tax codes, creating right-to-work zones, reforming tort laws, and cutting workers’ compensation costs.  Those are not enough.  Quinn seems to have won in the past, but neither seems poised for the future’s employment, so I’ll call it a tie, and not a high-scoring one at that.

Last, the Wisconsin gubernatorial race pits Republican incumbent Scott Walker against Democrat Mary Burke.  Walker’s website has a whole large section on jobs, calling the economy “the top concern for families across Wisconsin,” and advocating “cutting taxes on small businesses, curbing frivolous lawsuits that drove costs up, eliminating the state tax on Health Savings Accounts, reforming the Department of Commerce into a true Economic Development Agency” and “immediately convening a Waste, Fraud and Abuse Commission that was intent on curtailing wasteful spending at all levels of state government.”  Burke, though also plagued with website readability problems, has “jobs” at the top of her issues list, and has a link to a 40-page (!) document with a long, specific, detailed jobs plan.  The course of action has proposals from both political sides, and shows outstanding effort and emphasis on what is hardly only a Wisconsin issue.  Edge to Burke.  

So what can we learn from these ten candidates?  There is great variation in how much they seem to care about American employment.  A good attitude on the jobs crisis can come from either Democrats or Republicans, and from incumbents or challengers.  Perhaps most of all, those doing the best with this issue are nearer the national political center than others, and, especially in the cases of Michelle Nunn and Mary Burke, show that they see merit in ideas more likely to be put forth by those in the other party.  Before voting, I recommend that you do the same with your state’s candidates for senator, governor, or U.S. representative – the results may be enlightening indeed.       

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