Wednesday, November 21, 2012

GOP Can Go Urban to Win

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, one of the GOP's intellectual leaders, opined that the sharp disparity between Republican and Democratic support in urban areas was a principal reason why President Obama won a second term.  A suburban strategy worked for the GOP during the Reagan era in the 1980's, but floundered beginning in 1992.  Looking back a quarter century from the end of President Obama's second term in 2016, Democrats will have controlled the White House for 16 years, compared to 8 years for Republicans.  The tide shifted most strongly a half a decade ago, when young people started moving back into urban environments, turning their backs on suburban tract living.  The fact that Democratic support is getting younger and Republican support is getting older is not a welcome trend to those concerned about the GOP's long-term future.   

It's not a matter of "communicating better."  The communications were quite clear.  The GOP Platform embraced the nutty notion of opposing a non-existent United Nations conspiracy with local officials to implement sustainability called "Agenda 21."  The GOP, and Rep. Ryan's own budget, called for severely cutting funding for Amtrak, even though its subsidies are only 15% compared to more than 50% for highway projects.  High speed rail was mostly jettisoned due to opposition from GOP Governors in Ohio, Wisconsin, and here in Florida and by GOP members of Congress, ensuring that our intercity transportation infrastructure will remain far behind Europe and many developing countries.  (Private industry would have operated the Florida system and borne any cost overruns--guaranteed by a surety bond.)  An America where kids can't walk to school is an America that has lost part of its heritage.  Yet Republican members of Congress tried to gut funding for bicycling and pedestrian safety, including the popular Safe Routes to School program, which funds sidewalk construction to protect children. 

If the GOP wants to win national elections, it should adopt pro-urban policies consistent with Republican ideals--lean, efficient government, with responsibilities and funding mechanisms shifted from the Federal to the local level.   Republican Rep. Daniel Webster, one of our most decent local elected officials, realizes that small town values resonate inherently with the GOP, as seen in this political ad, featuring the safe, walkable streets of downtown Winter Garden:


As a member of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Webster has an opportunity to take over the mantle of departing Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette and outgoing Republican Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who recognize the reality that communities designed for walking and bicycling are essential elements of efficient and cost-effective transportation networks.  Funding sprawl is expensive and inefficient.  Moreover, the GOP cannot maintain its ascendancy in small towns when highways plow them over, devastating central business districts.  The GOP cannot credibly talk about enabling people to rise out of poverty while, at the same time, cutting transit funding, a vital link for those living under the poverty line to get to work.  Development patterns making it impossible for kids to walk or bike to school safely undermine the conservative value of self-reliance.  The bipartisan Complete Streets movement, dedicated to making our thoroughfares safer, is one that Republicans should more fully embrace as part of a wider urban strategy.   

You can find more thoughtful analysis of the urban political divide HERE, HERE, and HERE.

11/26/12 NOTE: Locally, the Republican Mayors of Orange County, Florida and Winter Park, Florida, both of whom are fiscal conservatives, have publicly supported Complete Streets.