One question has always eluded me as I have examined public policy questions these past four decades. That is why when propositions are presented to the public so many people are outraged yet the legislators who approve them have absolutely no clue.
The latest example of this is the Immigration Bill. Both Republicans and Democrats who negotiated it expressed utter shock at the public reaction. When many of us worked on the Panama Canal Treaty, Senators who unexpectedly were defeated in both 1978 and 1980 could not believe the public anger over their votes. I recall the statement of Senator Thomas J. McIntyre (D-NH) when confronted with outrage over his vote for the Panama Treaty. He allowed as how he was elected to use his judgment and he knew better than the voters of New Hampshire. An Allegheny Airlines co-pilot, Gordon J. Humphrey, who never had held office at any level in New Hampshire, became Senator Humphrey in the 1978 election.
I suspect that a number of Senators, especially the Republicans, will not be in the next Congress. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) had no likely opposition before his work on that Immigration Bill. Now there is talk about finding a first-tier opponent for the November 2008 election.
I mention this because there are two issues on the horizon which are certain to outrage voters but will no doubt confound the legislators which approve of the issues under consideration.
The first is the so-called NAFTA Highway. I am a Commissioner for the major study taking place to make recommendations for fifty years forward on surface transportation. I raised the issue of the NAFTA Highway with the Department of Transportation. I was told, "Not us".
Who then? Why are there states which are looking toward interstate compacts? The idea is to approve of a 12-lane highway, six lanes in each direction, to run from Mexico to Kansas City, then in due course all the way to Canada.
A 12-lane highway built for trucks is bound to raise the ire of the voter. Yet I am willing to wager (although I am not a betting man) that state legislators who might vote for this monstrosity will be absolutely astounded by the negative public reaction. And if some of them are defeated in the process, so more the bewilderment.
Just wait and watch it happen. Meanwhile, there is another issue, again at the state level, which is confounding its proponents. My old friend Mitch Daniels, White House Political Director in the Reagan days, Director of the Office of Management and Budget during the first Bush term and (more relevant to Indiana) Chief of Staff to Senator Richard G. Lugar when Lugar was Mayor of Indianapolis, was elected Governor of Indiana while Bush was being re-elected in 2004.
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