The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 3, 2011

A new spring tonic: The primary election

David A. Knepper

— It is an all too familiar ritual in American politics – the planting of the first “spring flowers.”  

Candidates scurry toward their  political battlegrounds, choosing the most logistical position to plant their new crop of political signage, which instantly forms a bouquet of reds, blues, yellows and greens.

This bleak landscape undergoes a dramatic transformation that may help cheer us when we most need it – after having survived yet another long winter.

To some, it may seem more like unwelcome weeds, popping up everywhere and piercing the earth with their steel “talons,” lording over the landscape like some kind of pestilence or nuisance.   

With predictability, as the primary election day on May 17 draws ever closer, the gloves will come off and the mudslinging begins.

Like the Boston Massacre, on March 5, 1770, then and now, neither side admits to who fired the first salvo or threw the first “mud ball.”

Yet, in American politics, negative campaigning is the norm in all political venues. But the voters have had just about enough of these playground antics by politicians of every stripe and of every party.

It is time to rein in politicians who would want us to believe that their opponents are deceitfully misleading the American voter, or incumbents who continue to blame their predecessors for their own failures. 

With exception, George Washington got a pass since he was the only American politician who couldn’t blame the previous administration for his troubles.

If the congressional election of 2010 taught our “career politicians”  anything, it was that the American voters are no longer in any mood to be trifled with, nor for their intelligence to be questioned.

Voters turned out 53 members of the House of Representatives in that election that moved 60 seats into Republican control. 

The phrase “All politics is local” was coined by former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. It framed the principle that in local politics a successful politician is one in sync with the issues of his constituents.

Every election, the so-called “pocket book” issues such as unwarranted property tax hikes, wasteful spending and bloated budgets become the rally cry of the voters who can’t wait to give the boot to candidates who have a record of tax and spend.    

In his closing remarks during the final presidential debate of 1980, Ronald Reagan sealed his election when he asked the American people:

“Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

American voters did not have to think twice about whether they were  better off, because the economy was in the tank, showing double-digit inflation, and the unemployment numbers were at an all-time high.

Reagan struck a nerve with the American voter, and that was all he needed to deliver a knock-out punch to put President Carter on the canvas for the 10 count.

It would be no surprise, some 30 years later, that this best of the one-liners in American politics may be dusted off to surface once again by the candidates.

In the next few weeks, the political fires will be stoked with promises by the candidates that they intend to roll up their sleeves and get to work, if elected. 

They intend to hit the ground running – not running away – from the many complex issues that have proven vexing and seemingly unsolvable for this region.

Perhaps the most critical issue facing our local leaders will be balancing a budget with less money trickling down from both the state and federal governments.

This is the big picture that will require tough decisions that may be a difficult pill to swallow when local programs and services have to be cut, as well as personnel reductions. 

We should applaud those who have stepped forward to toss their hat into the ring this primary election season. 

Whoever is chosen by the voters to have their names placed on the fall ballot will deserve our prayers and support.

It will take grit and resiliency to face what lies ahead, while still maintaining their civility and respectability in this last round of competition. 

Savoring victory will be a fleeting moment to enjoy. 

The heavy lifting lies ahead and we can only hope that promises made during the campaign will be promises kept – or at least that is what we believe should happen.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking that this is the kind of deal that should be made to the voters and not to the special interests.

Did I just pinch myself?   

    

David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears the first Sunday of each month.