I am continuing my Johnny Appleseed book tour while absorbing national and regional vibrations. Earlier this week I was at the LBJ School in Austin, Texas, and have been in Houston over the past two days, talking and listening with a wide cross section of academics, students, book readers, business and labor leaders, and media.
As at earlier stops, I have found an intense interest not only in the presidential nominating campaigns and candidates but also the major international and domestic issues on our table. Voter turnout in early primary and caucus states appears to validate this interest. With no incumbent on the ballot for the first time since 1952, Americans are paying close attention.
Paying less-close attention, it would appear, is The New York Times, which this morning endorsed Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain for their respective parties' nominations. Newspaper endorsements, as all establishment endorsements, have less importance than they once did. But this was a particularly careless one, taken before the candidates' characters and positions on vital issues have become fully apparent – even to the The New York Times.
Barring a last-minute surge by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Florida's primary next Tuesday should cement McCain's and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's status as prime GOP contenders. Giuliani foolishly passed up earlier contests in favor of an all-out push in Florida, where he expected a victory to propel him forward for the following week's Super Tuesday contests. If he maintains his present weak third-place standing in Florida, Giuliani will be out of money and momentum.
Democrats also have a Florida primary, but, like the one in Michigan earlier this month, it is not officially sanctioned by the national party and no delegates will be at stake. The big contest for them is tomorrow in South Carolina, where Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama will cement their positions as their party's finalists.
Absentee and early voting has been taking place for several days in Florida, and perhaps half of Tuesday's total vote already has been cast – more bad news for Giuliani. Even if he rallies over this coming weekend, Giuliani will be unable to affect these already-cast ballots.
Quick takes going into the weekend:
- At the national level, the economic stimulus package is on its way to enactment. It will deepen federal deficits short term and have little long-term affect on the economy. But it will get immediate cash into the economy and, at the same time, encourage some business investment which might otherwise not have taken place. Financial markets appear to have stabilized, at least for now, in the expectation that White House, Congress and the Federal Reserve will act promptly if and when necessary to stem further deterioration. We may or may not be in the early stages of recession. Either way, the prompt government actions bred investment-community confidence.
- Dispatches from home have discouraged me. Washington state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen's fox-in-the-henhouse proposal that Sound Transit take over regional transportation planning and decisionmaking is a formula for more of the Proposition 1 foolishness which we recently suffered and overcame. A new agency, superceding both Sound Transit and the Regional Transportation Investment District, is badly needed. Equally dismaying was the proposal by former Gov. Dan Evans and others for a whopping public investment in a Husky Stadium makeover. This notion apparently is DOA in the Legislature, as it should be. Let's make some interim repairs to the shaky lower part of the structure and develop a longer-term plan for the rest. Moving the Husky Stadium running track to another venue pales in importance against the need to pay for basic public services during an economic downturn.
- Earth to citizens of our state and city: We face tougher economic times. The housing bubble is over. Tax revenues will diminish over the next couple years. This is a time for belt-tightening – not new expensive and grandiose ideas which cannot be justified when placed against more immediate and pressing matters, such as fixing the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Evergreen Point Bridge and making overdue upgrades in local bus service and lifeline bridges and highways. Fellow citizens, think practicality, affordability, and buying those things which we both need and can pay for.
- Here in Texas, the state is moving to impose tough performance standards on its teachers and students. Washington, take heed.