A Republican Resurgence in George H.W. Bush States?

George W. Bush unveiled plans this week for his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, and according to architects’ renditions, it will have a front yard that is designed to look like a prairie.  Judging by the imagery surrounding W., one would think that his forefathers fought at the Alamo.

But as most astute political observes know, Bush’s family tree is really rooted in Kennebunkport and Prescott Bush.  It was from this legacy that his Dad built a coalition in 1988 that delivered wins in mainstream states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Illinois. These could be called George H. W. Bush states.

Of course, in the 1990s and early 2000s, these states turned blue, and the younger Bush lost them all, mostly by wide margins, even though New Jersey was closer than expected in 2004 when memories of 9/11 were still fresh.  These days, however, it could be possible that Republicans are seeing a resurgence in these H. W. states.

Chris Christie knocked off machine-powered Gov. Jon Corzine in New Jersey.  Moderate Reps. Mike Castle and Mark Kirk are promising to make open-seat Senate races in Delaware and Illinois competitive.  And former Rep. Rob Simmons is neck-and-neck with Sen. Chris Dodd in Connecticut.

What do these Republican candidates have in common?  Three things: First, they’re all Wall Street Journal Republican – pro-business and socially tolerant – in states that are pro-business and socially tolerant.  Most Republicans in these states agreed with Peggy Noonan’s observation that picking Sarah Palin for vice president was “political bullshit,” “gimmicky,” and signaled that the race was “over.”

Second, they’re running against runaway government spending, which was a winning message for in the 1980s and early ‘90s.  “Unemployed, white-collar voters don’t think they’ll get their jobs back at the same pay, and this is a huge group that is politically unaffiliated,” says Connecticut GOP chairman Chris Healey.  “They want action, not bailouts to those who don’t deserve it and not the Detroit model.”

Third, these candidates are running against (or ran against, in Christie’s case) either Democratic candidates traditionally fueled by political machines (Dodd, Corzine, Alexi Giannoulis) or political brand names whose shelf-life may have expired (Dodd, Corzine, Beau Biden).  In this sense, Republicans are simply picking the right year to run.

Another H.W. state where Republicans are optimistic is New Hampshire, although demographics here may have shifted so far that it’s gone for good for Republicans.  The same is true in California, where even the most successful Republican will have a tough time winning on the Left Coast. In Pennsylvania, Republicans seem to have completely lost the suburban bloc of their coalition.

Could the Republican resurgence be sustainable in New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Illinois?  Probably not on the presidential level.  But if Republicans keep nominating candidates that fit the district, and if they can discredit the tea party, Club-for-Shrinkage crusaders, they may be able to reclaim a beachhead.

Contrived Sustainability

The draft reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program (highway and transit) in the House of Representatives is filled with initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, often by seeking to encourage compact development (smart growth) policies. Dr. Ronald D. Utt of the Heritage Foundation discovered an interesting definition in the draft: “sustainable modes of transportation” means public transit, walking, and bicycling” (Section 333(P)7, page 219, accessed November 18, 2009).

This definition would mean that a Toyota Prius that emits one-half as many grams of greenhouse gases per passenger mile as a transit system (not an unusual occurrence) is not sustainable transportation, while the transit system is. There will be more cases like this as time goes on, as vehicle fuel economy improves and the impact of alternative fuel technology is expanded. This is irrational and the worst kind of ideology.

It is possible, of course, that this is simply sloppy legislative drafting. But given the persistence of the compact development lobby and its contribution to pending legislation in Washington in the face of respected research demonstrating its scant potential, something else may be operating. The wording may betray an agenda more concerned with forcing people to accept the favored (and anti-suburban) lifestyles that an urban elite has long sought to impose on others than it is to reduce greenhouse gases. Sustainability in greenhouse gas emissions is not about the hobby horses of one group of advocates or another, it is rather about reducing greenhouse gas emissions as efficiently as possible. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the rest of Washington needs to focus on ends, not means.

Provisions that pick particular strategies, without regard to their effectiveness, have no place in a crusade so much of the scientific community has characterized in apocalyptic terms. Moreover, such disingenuousness, in the longer run, could whittle away the already apparently declining support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Long Beach Freeway Saga

The Los Angeles Times reports progress toward completion of the Long Beach Freeway (I-710) gap between Valley Boulevard in East Los Angeles and Pasadena, with a geologic study finding a tunnel alignment to be feasible. Real progress is overdue. My great aunt and great uncle were forced out of their house in the early 1960s in South Pasadena by the California Highway Department, in anticipation of building the freeway. I suspect the house is still there.

For nearly one-half century, South Pasadena residents have opposed building the “Meridian” route that would have dissected the city. They were not against the freeway per se, but rather preferred the “Westerly” route, which would have skirted the city. The state had selected the Meridian route. In the middle 1980s, while a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, I served on a special route selection committee chaired by former county supervisor Peter F. Schabarum. Under our legislative authority, we also selected the Meridian route. Nothing came of it.

It is to be hoped that serious efforts to close the gap will be underway soon.

China’s Love Affair with Mobility

China Daily reports that car (light vehicle) sales reached 10.9 million units in the first 10 months of 2009, surpassing sales in the United States by 2.2 million. This was a 38% increase over the same period last year. Part of the increase is attributed to government programs to stimulate automobile sales.

China’s leading manufacturer is General Motors (GM), which experienced a 60% increase in sales compared to last year. By contrast, GM’s sales in the United States fell 33% in the first 10 months of the year on an annual basis. GM sold nearly 1.5 million cars in China, somewhat less than its 1.7 million sales over the same period in the United States.

Texas Dominates Milken's New Best Performing Cities Index

Texas metropolitan regions hold down four of the top five and nine of the top 16 places in Milken's new Best Performing Cities Index, released this morning. The rankings were authored by previous New Geography Contributor Ross DeVol, director of Regional Economics at Milken.

It's refreshing to see a set of rankings attempting to take an objective, hard data-based look at comparative analysis. The Milken Rankings are a combination of job growth, wage and salary growth, high-tech GDP growth, and high-tech location quotients (see page 8 of the report).

A region's industry mix plays a big role in its ranking; you can see energy-centric regions scoring well. But remember that these rankings also explicitly factor in high tech growth and high tech concentration.

Regions that avoided real estate inflation and those maintaining what they have or simply avoiding rapid decline tend to score better.

“‘Best performing’ sometimes means retaining what you have,” said DeVol. “In a period of recession, the index highlights metros that have adapted to weather the storm. As we move forward in a recovery that still lacks jobs, metros will be further tested in their ability to sustain themselves.”

The rankings include 324 regions, breaking them into two groups based on region size.

You can view the full lists at Milken's interactive rankings website, and the full report includes analyses of the top large and small places.

Here's the top and bottom 25 Large places:

Top 25 Large Regions Bottom 25 Large Regions
2009 rank 2008 rank Metropolitan area 2009 rank 2008 rank Metropolitan area
1 4 Austin-Round Rock, TX MSA 176 97 Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice, FL MSA
2 13 Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, TX MSA 177 150 Birmingham-Hoover, AL MSA
3 3 Salt Lake City, UT MSA 178 144 Memphis, TN-MS-AR MSA
4 7 McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX MSA 179 117 Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, FL MD
5 16 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX MSA 180 120 Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL MSA
6 21 Durham, NC MSA 181 183 Spartanburg, SC MSA
7 9 Olympia, WA MSA 182 178 Wilmington, DE-MD-NJ MD
8 5 Huntsville, AL MSA 183 189 Dayton, OH MSA
9 14 Lafayette, LA MSA 184 73 Merced, CA MSA
10 2 Raleigh-Cary, NC MSA 185 191 Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC MSA
11 15 San Antonio, TX MSA 186 193 Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH MSA
12 29 Fort Worth-Arlington, TX MD 187 170 Providence-New Bed.-Fall Riv., RI-MA MSA
13 23 Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX MD 188 186 South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI MSA
14 37 El Paso, TX MSA 189 185 Kalamazoo-Portage, MI MSA
15 45 Wichita, KS MSA 190 197 Canton-Massillon, OH MSA
16 88 Corpus Christi, TX MSA 191 192 Ann Arbor, MI MSA
17 17 Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA MD 192 187 Atlantic City, NJ MSA
18 40 Baton Rouge, LA MSA 193 188 Youngstown-Warren-Board., OH-PA MSA
19 72 Tulsa, OK MSA 194 190 Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI MSA
20 20 Greeley, CO MSA 195 196 Lansing-East Lansing, MI MSA
21 8 Tacoma, WA MD 196 199 Holland-Grand Haven, MI MSA
22 48 Fort Collins-Loveland, CO MSA 197 198 Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, MI MD
23 54 Little Rock-N. Little Rock-Conway, AR MSA 198 194 Toledo, OH MSA
24 67 Shreveport-Bossier City, LA MSA 199 200 Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, MI MD
25 41 Wash.-Arl.-Alex., DC-VA-MD-WV MD 200 195 Flint, MI MSA

And the top and bottom 25 Small regions:

Top 25 Small Regions Bottom 25 Small Regions
2009 rank 2008 rank Metropolitan area 2009 rank 2008 rank Metropolitan area
1 1 Midland, TX MSA 100 110 Vineland-Millville-Bridgeton, NJ MSA
2 7 Longview, TX MSA 101 94 Parkersburg-Marietta-Vienna, WV-OH MSA
3 5 Grand Junction, CO MSA 102 114 Williamsport, PA MSA
4 26 Tyler, TX MSA 103 117 Mansfield, OH MSA
5 10 Odessa, TX MSA 104 85 Jackson, TN MSA
6 29 Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, WA MSA 105 115 Muncie, IN MSA
7 15 Bismarck, ND MSA 106 63 Flagstaff, AZ MSA
8 6 Warner Robins, GA MSA 107 112 Racine, WI MSA
9 11 Las Cruces, NM MSA 108 70 Dothan, AL MSA
10 17 Fargo, ND-MN MSA 109 105 Sheboygan, WI MSA
11 45 Pascagoula, MS MSA 110 97 Niles-Benton Harbor, MI MSA
12 23 Sioux Falls, SD MSA 111 100 Altoona, PA MSA
13 8 Bellingham, WA MSA 112 95 Terre Haute, IN MSA
14 38 College Station-Bryan, TX MSA 113 59 Redding, CA MSA
15 2 Coeur d'Alene, ID MSA 114 122 Lima, OH MSA
16 12 Cheyenne, WY MSA 115 75 Janesville, WI MSA
17 81 Texarkana, TX-Texarkana, AR MSA 116 96 Elkhart-Goshen, IN MSA
18 27 Waco, TX MSA 117 119 Anderson, SC MSA
19 16 Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux, LA MSA 118 113 Dalton, GA MSA
20 44 Laredo, TX MSA 119 120 Springfield, OH MSA
21 40 Abilene, TX MSA 120 84 Lewiston-Auburn, ME MSA
22 25 Iowa City, IA MSA 121 116 Muskegon-Norton Shores, MI MSA
23 72 Glens Falls, NY MSA 122 121 Saginaw-Saginaw Township North, MI MSA
24 24 Billings, MT MSA 123 123 Battle Creek, MI MSA
25 64 Ithaca, NY MSA 124 124 Jackson, MI MSA

High Speed Rail: Not One Big Happy Family

California High Speed Rail Commission member Rod Diridon is chafing at all of the competition that has been created by the billions committed by the federal government to high speed rail. According to a New York Times report, he called many of the proposed systems around the country “vultures” and told an American Public Transportation Association meeting “If I can borrow a term from our good friends in labor, they are a 'Do not patronize… And I cannot say it any stronger”. Consistent with that view, Diridon urged that the federal government be asked to commit all of its current $8 billion in funds to the California project.

There may be even more disturbing news for Diridon: new competition has appeared on the horizon. A report (page 23) by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute (both of Canada) suggests that:

“Using the Edmonton – Calgary example as a template, judgmentally adjusted for distance, geography and relative land values, we estimate that a full high-speed link would cost about $4 billion. If the cost were shared equally between Canada and the United States, the Canadian total would be about $2 billion.”

Why stop at that? How about getting a quarter each from Zimbabwe and the Honduras? It would certainly make it less expensive for Canadian taxpayers. Perhaps our friends to the North simply made a typographical error, but perhaps not. Stranger things have been proposed.

Urban Youth Deserve Chance to Hear About Service Academies

Here’s a disturbing thought as Veterans Day approaches: Some teachers and administrators of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) refuse to allow visits to high school campuses by representatives of the service academies that train young officers.

The service academies have all earned reputations as fine academic institutions that go further on training future officers. There is the U.S. Military Academy; the U.S. Naval Academy; the U.S. Air Force Academy; the U.S. Coast Guard Academy; and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. They all offer full scholarships and require five years of service after graduation.

Candidates must meet demanding standards on academics, physical fitness, and extra-curricular activity. They are generally required to secure a nomination from a member of the U.S. Congress, the president, or the vice president.

The merit involved in gaining a nomination, along with the geographic apportionment by Congressional districts, offers the chance to draw candidates from across the socio-economic spectrum. Graduation from a service academy offers young officers from every corner of society the chance to reach significant rank.

Measure that against the LAUSD teachers and administrators who deem a career as a military officer to be unworthy of a hearing at high school campuses. Some will tell you that they object because our wars are fought by too many young persons of color. Others view the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military as contemptible prejudice.

These objections are absurd. Our civilian leadership decides the actions and policies of the military. War or peace? That’s in the hands of the president and Congress. Gays in the military? Same story.

It’s true that our military stands ready for war if so directed by the civilian leadership of our democracy. It’s also notable that never in the course of history has any institution possessed the war-making might of the U.S. military. And never has an institution in such a position yielded so loyally to the will of unarmed leadership. This sense of duty has lasted through good and bad, gallant victories and horrific mishaps. Never has there been a serious challenge to civilian oversight.

All of that is overlooked by LAUSD teachers and administrators—and their boycotts have an effect. Some members of Congress who represent Los Angeles have chronic difficulty in filling the number of nominations they are allowed to make to the service academies each year. They aren’t coming up short on qualified candidates. They can’t even get that far—not enough young achievers know about the possibilities of the service academies.

It’s time that someone gave these alleged educators who forbid any discussion of service academies a lesson on the honorable history of our military. They should also be reminded that it will require representatives from throughout our society—rich and poor, all colors and creeds, town and country—to keep this line of honorable service intact.

Keeping knowledge of the service academies away from youngsters in our city is nothing short of demographic censorship. It is time for LAUSD to put an end to the practice.

Forgetting Middle Skill Jobs

A new report from Skills2Compete attempts to address a national problem which continues to diminish our country’s competitive edge in the global economy. The loss of middle-skill jobs and the lack of qualified workers to fill the remaining jobs are major barriers, not only to our economic recovery, but also to our ability to sustain a high quality of life for succeeding generations. The report concludes that a new state policy is needed to align the workforce and education and training to better meet California’s labor market demand. Accomplishing that goal means improving basic skills in the workforce and ensuring that skills training and education is available to anyone post high school. A major policy change is a good start, but the report does not go far enough in addressing what is needed to restore the importance of middle-skill jobs to the economy.

Part of the challenge lies with the current mindset of the public education system and parents who value and push college as the only track to a well-paying and satisfying job. This leaves out a large segment of youth and the workforce who are not college bound and who need training and skills and encouragement to fill middle-skill jobs. Where does a high school student get vocational training or learn about middle skill jobs? Remember woodworking? Metal shop? Drafting?

Vocational education was the name of the program that provided these courses, but now it’s labeled “career tech” and the classes are no longer available in most public high schools. As a result, students have little awareness of these careers. A few years ago, while conducting focus groups of freshman and sophomore students, I was stunned to learn that many did not know what an electrician, welder, auto technician, or HVAC technician did and worse, they disdained those jobs because they thought they were “dirty” and didn’t pay well. This doesn’t bode well for a functioning society or economy. Who will service our cars, fix our plumbing, and build machinery to process our food or the solar panels to heat our homes? It will take more than a policy change to transform awareness, perceptions and values about middle-skill jobs.

The last economic boom was sustained, not by wealth created by high value manufacturing jobs, but by unbridled consumer spending particularly for houses and retail goods. If we want that standard of living to return, then we must address the greater challenge of how to grow and sustain an economy driven by production of goods instead of consumption. Along with a paradigm shift in our educational system that recognizes the importance of middle skill jobs, we must change our attitudes about work and what creates value not only for our economy but our worth to society.

We continue to hold on to arcane principles and entitled expectations about work that are increasingly less relevant in a fast-paced globalized world. We are not prepared to re-invent ourselves and our careers in terms of continuous learning of new skills and training either for middle-skill or knowledge jobs. That is what is ultimately needed to succeed in the rapidly changing workplace.

Leslie Parks has spent over ten years as a practitioner and consultant in the fields of economic and workforce development. She recently served as Director of Downtown Management and Industrial Development for the San Jose Redevelopment Agency until September 23, 2009 when she and 24 colleagues were laid off due to significant budget cuts. Leslie is now preparing for yet another career in the 21st Century workplace.

Unemployment Rate Nowhere Near White House Predictions

Check out this chart from geoff at Innocent Bystanders plotting the actual recent unemployment rates against the predicted stimulus-reduced rate from Obama's recovery team:

Google's chart interface is one of the easiest ways to explore unemployment data, allowing for easy comparisons for any state or county.

The Fog of Stimulus

The news is full of stories about the the impact of the ARRA on job creation, including this one from the The Wall Street Journal about a shoe store owner who created or saved nine jobs with less than $900.

In the story, the Army Corps of Engineers spent $889.60 buying boots from shoe store owner Buddy Moore of Kentucky. Because the boots were purchased with ARRA funds, the Corps asked Buddy to report how many jobs the boot order had “created or saved.” He and his daughter struggled with paperwork, online forms, and a “helpline,” only to make a wild guess 15 minutes before the reporting deadline that they had created nine jobs.

Though not completely spelled out in the article, the impression is that Buddy and his daughter reasoned that they had created or saved nine jobs, because their boots had “helped nine members of the Corps to work.”

This sort of misreporting is now fodder for ARRA opponents, and is the last thing that the White House wanted on its hands. In July the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued this memorandum and created a series of PowerPoints and PDFs intended to assist ARRA recipients with their reporting.

These documents do not appear to be currently available on the White House website, but you can find the Google doc here. This list (also not directly available) shows that the Army Corps of Engineers is and was considered a primary recipient. Given its status, it is the one required in the initial PowerPoint to report the “job creation narrative and number.”

As a prime recipient, the Corps should have been briefed on the fact that the key data issue to avoid was: “Significant Reporting Errors: (which are) instances where required data is not reported accurately and such erroneous reporting results in significant risk that the public will be misled or confused by the recipient report in question.”

They also would have had to listen in to this presentation on data quality, which stresses that prime recipients are fully responsible for the quality of the data. The Corps could have caught the reporting mistake by running a simple math equation, which would have indicated that the shoe store had created a full-time job for every $98.84.

If this were true, only $2 billion (administered by Buddy Moore) would have reemployed every single unemployed person in the US, a savings of $785 billion to the American taxpayer.

In the end, it turns out that because the payment made by the Corps was less than $25,000, the Corps (while responsible for reporting the total number and amount of small sub-awards less than $25,000) was not required to have Buddy Moore report anything.

Prime recipients are still responsible to report a total jobs creation estimate based off what sub-recipients and vendors do with the funds they disperse. To do that, the Corps could have called up Buddy and asked him to estimate the extra hours he worked for that specific order, and calculated Full Time Equivalents using those hour(s) by “… adding the total hours worked by all employees in the quarter, and dividing by the total hours in a full-time schedule.”

In this case, let’s assume he worked an extra hour filling the boot order. A quarter-year full-time job would take 520 hours to complete, so he would report that the Corps funds created 1/520 of a quarterly FTE (.001923 FTE), or just about 2/1000th’s of a full-time job for a quarter of the year. The shoe store’s estimate of job creation, therefore, was 4,680 times too big.

The OMB’s method of job reporting is, by our estimation, a good way of quantifying job creation. The problem, highlighted by the WSJ article, is that average businesses and recipients have had a hard time understanding what data was needed in the first place, and then what they were supposed to do with it.

Mark Beauchamp is a customer service representative at Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., an Idaho-based data and economic analysis firm.

Illustration by Mark Beauchamp.