CAN WE UNFREEZE D.C. POLITICS? NOT A SNOWBALL’S CHANCE
You don’t like Washington much, do you? Earlier this month, a CBS News/New York Times poll found breathtaking dissatisfaction with how all of you feel about Congress: Just 15 percent of voters said they approved of the job Congress was doing; 75 percent said they disapproved. So what’s new? That’s the point. Nothing. We’ve been unhappy with Washington for a long time. Only it’s getting worse. But what should we do about “frozen” Washington, as the March1cover of Time magazine put it? How do we get it moving again? How do we move past the deeply entrenched cycle of partisanship that now grips the nation’s Capitol and disgusts so many of us? That’s where things get really depressing. Because I’ve searched high and low, and here’s a secret: Handy solutions are just nowhere to be found. We are stuck. Solution: Elect more moderates and middle-of-the-road members of Congress who can serve as bridge-builders between the far right and left. Problem: Middle-of-the road voters don’t vote in party primaries. Either it’s too hot outside for those midsummer elections or a lot of voters are on vacation. Primaries do draw more liberal and conservative folks who feel more passionately about their politics. What do they do? Generally speaking, they elect liberals and conservatives to Congress. So much for that idea. Here’s another “solution”: Elect members of the U.S. House to four-year terms (instead of two-year terms) to give them a longer-term view. Maybe then we could move past the “What have you done for me lately?” mentality that grips Washington and results in all those earmark projects that aren’t vetted as thoroughly as other projects. Problem: Ain’t gonna happen. Changing Constitutions to lengthen terms isn’t in the political cards. Folks want to shorten terms these days. Here’s another solution: Set up commissions to redraw congressional districts to ensure more competitive elections. Of the 435 members of the U.S. House who are up for election this year, the number of truly competitive races is fewer than 100. Some years, it’s fewer than 50. Problem: The public isn’t engaged enough in the nuances of once-a-decade congressional redistricting to demand change. The pols are taking advantage, once again, of your apathy. Let’s try another solution: Alter the 60-vote requirement in the U.S. Senate to end filibusters. A tip of the cap to David Wysong, a former Kansas state senator from Mission Hills who spent four years pushing for a statewide smoking ban. Wysong, a Republican, left the Legislature late last year after doctors told his wife, Kathy, that she had breast cancer. But last week, Wysong saw his dream come true. “It’s super,” he said. “The first two years, I was the sole voice. I can’t tell you how hard it was.” The national average for passing smoking bans is three or four years, so Kansas wasn’t too far off the mark, he said. “It’s great for the state. Hopefully, Missouri will now start looking at it.” To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send e-mail to email@example.com. Move it to 50. Fun fact: In 2009, Senate Republicans filibustered on 80 percent of major bills. That was up from the Clinton years, Time reported. Problem: Try it now and minority Republicans go nuts. Do it when the GOP has the majority and Democrats throw rhetorical bombs and stop it. Try this solution on for size: Let’s find ways to engage the public more deeply in public affairs. Let’s appeal to their sense of civic duty to pay more attention. Problem: Get real, dude. That stuff is booorrrringg. No wonder Washington is in a rut. You wonder why our pols can’t solve Social Security or the deficit or Medicare or immigration? Health care reform? After Thursday’s debacle, that doesn’t look good either. This isn’t the civil rights era, where societal wrongs stuck out like WWE wrestlers at a yoga camp. Those were causes that offered simpler solutions. These days, we’re into dense, heavy, meaty problems with dense, heavy, meaty solutions. It can be mind-numbing. Answers for what ails Washington? Keep looking, friend. There must be one out there somewhere.
Mind-blowing stat of the week: This comes from Glenn McGee, a bioethics wiz at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City who told me on the radio that it’s no longer unrealistic to expect that those now under 30 will live to be 130. Just think about the implications for Medicare and Social Security. Maybe that will light a fire under the honorables in D.C.
Anew event in March will benefit a burgeoning program that uses running to empower girls. Rock the Parkway is a halfmarathon, 5K and10K event along Ward Parkway on March 27. Proceeds from the races will help girls like Kalee Clark. Kalee, an 11-year-old at Robinson Elementary in Raytown, will begin training this week in Girls on the Run. Exercise is a key component in this youth development program for girls in third through eighth grade. It is offered at more than140 locations in North America, including Jackson and Johnson counties. Kalee said her mother, a runner, persuaded her to join up. “I am not a ‘sports-y’ person, but I do races,” said Kalee, who agreed to the program the second time her mom mentioned it. “I didn’t know if I would like it or not.” But her views have changed. One thing Kalee likes about the program is that it gives her a chance to make friends outside of her school. “And there are fun and interesting coaches,” Kalee said. “They don’t give you lectures.” Instead, Kalee said, the girls and coaches talk about issues — like bullying — and then the girls run or walk, which gives them time to think about what was being discussed. A girl doesn’t have to be a runner to be in the program, said Kalee. “It’s not all about running,” she said. “You might not have any experience. My coach likes to say it’s all about forward motion.” The program’s Jackson County council started in fall 2007 with about six girls. This spring, the council expects 100 girls. The same growth is being seen in Johnson County, which started with six girls in spring 2007. This spring, 200 girls are expected to participate in a 10-week, 20-lesson program. “It really has gone like gangbusters,” said Rebecca Sommers, board chairwoman of the Johnson County council. “We are teaching them some lifelong habits and enjoying a lifelong sport,” Sommers said. Brad Ziegler of KC Running Co., which is organizing Rock the Parkway, said helping Girls on the Run seemed natural because a large portion of area race runners are women between 24 and 35. “It’s just a small organization trying to get off the ground,” Ziegler said of Girls on the Run. “They do cool things about empowering young women.” Good Connections tells stories of people who are giving — and getting — help. If you have a story idea, call Debra Skodack at 816-234-4738 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.