Sunday, February 2, 2014

This is What I Was Afraid Of

As expected, the President mentioned the Presidential Commission on Election Administration during Tuesday's State of Union address:

Citizenship means standing up for everyone’s right to vote.  Last year, part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened.  But conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats are working together to strengthen it; and the bipartisan commission I appointed last year has offered reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to vote.  Let’s support these efforts. 

I intended only one general update from the Commission's report. But the day after the State of Union, I received a press release from the National Association of Counties (NACO), summing up the impact of the items raised during the President's annual address upon NACO and the member counties.

If this release is any indication, it wasn't evident that the half hour to vote objective is one that will need to be shared by election officials and county officials. 

Many of the items mentioned in the Commission report will need funding, particularly from the counties that provide budgets for election administrators.  I've pasted in the NACO release below, but it doesn't mention these reforms, and yet acknowledges:

Matt Chase, NACo’s executive director, said the national legislative and policy agenda affecting counties and communities is complex and challenging, but that county leaders stand ready to work with federal partners to deliver for the American people.

I'm not being critical of NACO here, just recognizing that, to loosely quote Stewie Griffin as Darth Vader in Family Guy's parody of Star Wars, "I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't" point this out:

This is a federal Commission (comprised smartly of some local election officials) with recommendations for local election officials, usually county election officials.  There are no federal partners, really, and not even a federal requirement that local communities conduct national elections.

Still, the President, ostensibly NACO's number one federal partner, has endorsed a report created by a Commission he appointed.

(Er....I'm beginning as I type this to understand the phrase "Bully Pulpit," and I recognize that by calling this out I am hijacking my own blog a bit and potentially being a bully.  I'm not trying to do either, but this is a big deal for our voters.)

Without NACO's buy-in and support of the Commission's recommendations, most are destined to remain, well, recommendations.

Particularly, funding will be needed to update voting systems.  A great article discussing this should be in USA Today's Monday edition but can be accessed by clicking this sentence.

I'll be back on the ground (and not here in the general world where I like to say, the rubber meets the sky) later this week.  Heck, we're supposed to have a massive February snowstorm on Tuesday, nearly a year from the scarring one we had during last February's election.  At least we're 3 weeks out from advance voting this time.

Here, though, is the full release:

County Priorities Part of President's
State of the Union Address

Transportation, infrastructure, economic issues cited

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  America’s county officials were encouraged by some issues President Obama raised in his State of the Union address including transportation and water infrastructure, economic development, healthcare and immigration reform.
“NACo was pleased to hear President Obama identify county government priority issues such as transportation funding and economic development as part of his plan to help our county economies grow,” said NACo President Linda Langston, supervisor, Linn County, Iowa.  “Counties provide essential services to create healthy, safe, vibrant and economically resilient communities. We can better meet the needs and expectations of the American people working closely with our federal partners as the president pledged during his State of the Union Speech.”  

Of particular interest to counties is transportation infrastructure funding. Counties play a critical role in our nation’s infrastructure, investing more than $106 billion each year in public works infrastructure. Counties own 45 percent of America’s roadways and 228,000 bridges, and are involved in the funding and ownership of nearly one-third of airports and around 30 percent of transit systems. 
Specifically, the president called on Congress to pass a new surface transportation law for federal highway, transit and safety programs and the Water Resources Development Act, both NACo priorities. 

“NACo supports the president’s commitment to fixing the nation’s growing infrastructure deficit,” said NACo First Vice President Riki Hokama, council member, Maui County, Hawaii. “The president understands and counties agree that failure to make smart and increased investments today will cost counties more money in the future.”

Workforce issues, long-term unemployment and economic development were other county priority issues mentioned in the president’s speech. Counties invest more than $25 billion on economic development each year. This investment is especially vital as counties across the country continue to recover from the recession. In 2013 only 54 county economies, mostly in the Midwest, reached their pre-recession levels of unemployment.

“NACo supports further investment in economic development and agrees that we must invest in a skilled workforce development system to meet the needs of businesses and reduce the nation’s unemployment rate,” said NACo Second Vice President Sallie Clark, commissioner, El Paso County, Colo.

Counties and county officials are key players in financing and delivering health care. Counties invest $70 billion annually in health services, supporting 960 hospitals and 1,550 local health departments.

“NACo agrees with the president that we must continue work together to find ways to increase access to health insurance coverage and quality care,” said NACo Health Steering Committee Chair Committee Chair Larry Johnson, commissioner, DeKalb County, Ga.

Immigration reform, a long-stalled issue on Capitol Hill, is another county priority issue because of the effect the current system has on county services and taxpayers. Counties are required by law to provide emergency health, free elementary and secondary education, and public safety to all residents, regardless of immigration status. Comprehensive immigration reform is one of NACo’s legislative priorities for 2014.

Matt Chase, NACo’s executive director, said the national legislative and policy agenda affecting counties and communities is complex and challenging, but that county leaders stand ready to work with federal partners to deliver for the American people.

“Most of the key domestic issues raised by the president tonight have a direct impact on our nation’s county governments,” Chase said. “This is why NACo and county elected leaders from across the nation remain committed to strengthening our intergovernmental system of federal, state and local governments. County governments play a key role in developing and funding core community building blocks like health, justice, public safety, transportation and community development services.”

More information about Why Counties Matter is available on the NACo website or by contacting Jim Philipps at 202.942.4220.

The National Association of Counties (NACo) is the only national organization that represents county governments in the United States. Founded in 1935, NACo assists America’s 3,069 counties in pursuing excellence in public service to produce healthy, vibrant, safe and resilient counties. NACo promotes sound public policies, fosters county solutions and innovation, promotes intergovernmental and public-private collaboration and provides value-added services to save counties and taxpayers money. More information at: .