Monday, April 27, 2009

Values, interests and the legislative session

Our two political parties are more than political organizations created to elect their members and divide the spoils. First of all the spoils are small. State legislators make 30% below the state median wage in exchange for 80 hour weeks during session plus a harsh season of campaigning every two to four years .

At the legislative level what binds them together are core philosophical beliefs. Republicans believe strongly in the power o f the individual and the unfettered hand of the free market. Government and the taxes that pay for it is their main enemy. Democrats place more value in the power of community and the strength that comes from business, labor and individual working together. They believe that government should be used for the common good. Obviously, these are poles on each end of the spectrum with most of the people in between but this differentiation can be clearly seen in the legislation they fight over whether it is budget and taxes, the role of labor unions, protection of the environment or creating jobs.

These two broad philosophical approaches have an economic base as well. Those who benefit the most from the free market are Republicans. Historically, the wealthy, big business, finance and mostof small business are Republicans. Those who benefit from community and government such as labor unions, teachers, environmentalists and the middle class are Democrats.

Obviously, there are exceptions, some of them notable. The two most interesting exceptions are cultural issues and the new economy. Many economic democrats, primarily in the South, shifted to the republican side over cultural issues. Many businesses and professionals shifted to the democratic side in resonse to the rightward cultural shift of Republicans but also due to the dependence of the new economy on government for research and education.

The press and to some extent popular opinion tend to see political parties and caucuses and tools of the interests that support them. There is some evidence of this but it is for the most part untrue. If you look at the elected members of the legislature you will find that for the most part that Republicans are people from management and business and Democrats from the public sector, teachers, social workers, nonprofit managers, nurses, and labor union leaders. When they think about issues that is the frame from which they approach them.

When gathered together in caucuses you can see this reflected in their values. When Senate Democrats met in retreat last fall the most popular values statement was, "I'm here to make sure those at the bottom don't get screwed." For the most part people vote their values.

This is an interesting lens from which to view the past legislative session because it appears to many that Democrats didn't vote their values . What is behind that? That's the subject of my next entry.

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