Thursday, August 20, 2009

Great high speed rail blog post comparing France to Midwest -- it's all policy choices

For some people who still think that Eruope is better suited for high speed rail than the United States because of higher population densities or flatter terrain or any other reason, check out this long post by The Phony Coney comparing the Cincinnati-Chicago corridor to France's TGV showing that the a Cincinnati-based route in the US is a better fit for high speed rail than wildly-successful France!


High speed rail is a policy choice. And the last few generations of Americans have chosen highways and airports over high speed rail. That has made us poorer, largely because our infrastructure requires us to buy cars and burn oil more than high speed rail would. It's time to reverse those policy choices (join the Midwest High Speed Rail Association to get involved in doing so).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Governor Pat Quinn improves elections starting in 2010 with better voter registration (extends grace period an additional week)

A little more progress in the permanent effort for more responsive government: Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a measure that gives Illinois citizens an additional week to register to vote or update their address before each election.

The bill is HB 267 (now Public Act 96-0441), sponsored by Representative Will Davis and Senator James Meeks. Our government still puts the burden on citizens to register to vote (instead of taking the view that the least that government employees can do is to prepare the list of citizens eligible to vote ahead of time so citizens can vote on election day without a trip to some local government office ahead of time). The regular deadline to register to vote at one's current address is 29 days before the election. Illinois has a grace period (thanks to Treasurer Candidate Robin Kelly's efforts to pass this bill in 2004 with me) where citizens can register to vote or update their address for an additional two weeks after the regular deadline. The only catch is they must do so downtown at the office of the election authority (usually the county clerk). Registering in person at their offices during the grace period (instead of at drivers license facilities or post offices or on the street) minimizes any chance of fraud and gives the election workers more control over the paperwork.

This year, I helped Will Davis with his effort to extend the grace period all the way to election day. Some of the election administrators thought that would have been too much, so Representative Davis compromised with them on a bill to extend the grace period another week up until 7 days before the election, but not all the way to election day. Essentially, they split the difference. With an agreement with the election administators not to oppose the bill (since they decided they were able to process the new registrations and address updates with 7 days to spare), I thought this might become a bill that passed unanimously. After all, the people who run elections had no objection. Who could oppose ending the practice of stopping citizens from voting just on principle? 

Fortunately, the Democrats are running things, and with Democratic Governor Pat Quinn on the 16th floor of the Thompson Center, he signed the bill into law on Friday. Starting in the February 2010 primary, all Illinois citizens will have more of an opportunity to vote in elections because the grace period will be extended until 7 days before the election.

If a Republican were the Governor, this bill would have not have been signed into law this week, and thus there would be thousands of Illinois citizens would not be able to vote in 2010.

Thanks to the Democratic General Assembly (especially Will Davis and James Meeks) and Governor Pat Quinn for making our government more responsive to voters. And, ultimately, thanks to Illinois voters for deciding they would like their government run by people who value democracy more by voting for Democrats. We're making progress.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'll be on BBC's Simon Mayo programme tomorrow at 9:15 am CST defending our President

Tomorrow from 9:15 - 10:00 am CST I'll be explaining to the good listeners of the BBC's Simon Mayo programme that President Barack Obama retains the solid support of a majority of the nation (not to mention the largest number of Democratic senators in decades) and that the months-long process of passing health insurance reform legislation as well as a progressive federal budget and climate change laws to shift to a green economy is a product of our slow legislative calendar.

In the UK, when the Government comes up with its legislative agenda, it is implemented, just like that. There is no separate executive branch. And the process of coming to an agreement happens largely behind closed doors in the UK, where in the US, we have a more wide-open debate with two separately-elected branches of government and a culture of deliberation and delay in DC. That can look a little odd, I'd imagine, to UK eyes that might have thought a Democratic mandate in November of 2008 would surely have translated by August of 2009 to a series of implemented Democratic policies. I think our policy-making process is a bit too rusty for our own good. But that's not any evidence that President Obama has lost the support of the people who elected him. The white-hot excitement and glamor of a new President has faded, and what remains is the regular work of implementing the mandate of November 2008.

Anyway, tune in if you can.