Gridlock, reality and obtaining what we need from government

So gridlock is good? I beg to differ with Dan Roberts, Steve Meyer and Diane Schwenke.

I wish they could have been in the back seat of the truck Sunday evening as we crawled along in the gridlock of post-holiday Utah traffic between St. George and Cedar City. It normally takes about 40 minutes at the posted speed limit to traverse that stretch of Interstate 10. Weather conditions and crowded lanes more than doubled our travel time night before last.

That slow and intermittent progress as we inched along crowded and snowy roads was an apt metaphor for the kind of government slowdown that, as reported in Gary Harmon’s Sunday story in The Daily Sentinel, seems to be just fine with leaders of two of Grand Junction’s bigger businesses and the head of our local Chamber of Commerce.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with advocating regulatory certainty or consistency in tax policies, including those that add to the deficit we’re all supposed to be worried about. Nor in pointing out that our Constitution sets up checks and balances aimed at moderating the excesses of one side or the other in our political struggles.

But it is a little over the top to imply that gridlock is good — that when nothing happens because parties can’t or won’t get together, “That’s not all bad either.” Kind of like claiming we were safer at 25 mph than the posted 75 mph and ignoring all the other frustrations that go along with bad weather, crowded roads and tired drivers in a hurry to get somewhere.

With unemployment in Mesa County approaching double digits, with key indicators of our economy like sales tax revenues only beginning to show signs of a slight rebound, with employers and employees both bunkered up in the face of economic challenges, I’d suggest we ought to be in a hurry to get somewhere rather than inching along in legislative gridlock. Especially when most of the stop and go we’ve experienced lately seems to be the product of partisan wrangling and the inability or unwillingness to engage in the kind of compromise necessary to keep things moving at a reasonable pace.

This isn’t a partisan issue. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Some fingers can be appropriately pointed at the “party of no,” whose principles sometimes seem more flexible than fixed when politics dictate. Some of the problem can be aptly assigned to the other side for wasting valuable time ramming things like the CLEAR Act through the House when any observer with an IQ above room temperature knew that controversial piece of carbon-related legislation would die in the Senate.

But to appear to celebrate gridlock when what we really need is thoughtful compromise and action is just plain silly. As is the increasingly popular platitude, generally voiced by opponents of stimulus spending, that the government doesn’t create jobs, only the private sector does that.

That’d be news to those using actual facts to track our local employment picture. And to workers cashing paychecks from some of the largest employers in Mesa County and the many businesses, both large and small, that live off the spending those paychecks allow.

Check any list of major employers in the Grand Valley, including statistics kept by the chamber or at the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, and you’ll find it top heavy with jobs dependent on public funding. That would include School District 51, Mesa State College, Mesa County, the city of Grand Junction, federal agencies including the Veterans Administration hospital, and even places like St. Mary’s Hospital, where much of the revenue comes via state and federal programs.

I even recall a few “government jobs” proudly completed by Dan Roberts’ Mays Concrete and Steve Meyer’s Shaw Construction.

Sorry to burst any conservative bubbles, but we’d be much worse off economically without those jobs that government supposedly doesn’t create.

Necessary answers won’t come from scapegoating government or inaction. They’ll come when we insist on the kind of respectful give and take and resulting compromise that’s necessary to avoid gridlock when different branches of our legislature are controlled by opposing parties. And when we start sending legislators to Denver and Washington who realize that.

“We have the same percentage of lightweights in Congress as you have in your hometown. After all, it’s representative government.” — Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.

Jim Spehar will be avoiding gridlock and accepting your comments at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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