A moment of silence to mourn the passing of Governing.
In the world of “fake news” and global media conglomerates, Governing is a rather obscure publication that has, for 32 years, examined the inner workings of state and local governance – basically what legislatures, counties and cities do and why they do it.
It’s not sex. It’s not scandal. It didn’t have to bleed to lead. It was mostly about what it really takes to fill potholes, make transit run on time or build a smarter electric grid.
Typical Governing headlines:
“The problem with one-stop government,” and
“The parking garages of the future,” and
“Will upzoning make housing more affordable?”
Alas, such content is fast losing its relevance in a Trumpian Tweetisphere Age where politics often seems to, um, trump policy.
“Governing has proven to be unsustainable as a business in today’s media environment,” reads the magazine’s obit. It concludes, optimistically, with “we’re confident that the tremendous work of America’s state and local public servants will go on.”
I hope they’re right.
Politics is easy. Governing is hard. And America’s dirty secret – the one that may ultimately lead to our downfall as a functioning civilization – is that we too frequently opt for the easy way out.
You can see it at all levels.
Politics: Cut taxes, yes.
Governing: Balance the budget, no.
Politics: Prohibit cities from doing anything about guns, pollution, unsustainable growth, yes.
Governing: Do something about guns, pollution and unsustainable growth, no.
For a long time it seemed as though cities and counties would be the last bastions of good old fashion governance in America. The old chestnut that potholes aren’t political is comforting if oversimplified.
But the right wing think tanks have figured out that cities, especially large ones, tend to be run by Democrats, while Republicans usually dominate the legislatures. Thus the new “preemption agenda” has been aimed at stopping city and county commissions from doing pretty much anything. The politics of preemption just forced Alachua County and Gainesville to back off their newly enacted plastic bag bans.
Now all we have to do is sit back and wait for Tallahassee to do something about the one-and-done bags that clog our sewers, litter the landscape, kill marine life and poison the food chain.
“Will states stop cities from combatting climate change?” poses one Governing headline. They’re certainly trying.
Governance, it seems, isn’t just irrelevant, it’s becoming a fighting word.
Just understand that when Trump derides Chicago, Baltimore, Atlanta et al as “rat infested” hellholes, he’s using Republican shorthand for “governed by Democrats.”
Which is not to say that governance is dead in America. Not yet.
Partisan gridlock may be the status quo in Congress. One-party state rule is trying mightily to stymy local innovation and problem-solving. But if there is anything like a governance revival going on in America, you’re still more likely to find it at city hall than in the executive mansion.
Alan Ehrenhalt, who has been writing for Governance almost as long as it’s been around, puts it best:
“What if the national political culture is just as bad as most of us believe, but another corner of the political system is steadily getting stronger?” he poses in one column. “Federal and state government may be a mess, but local governments are an increasingly positive force, innovating and solving problems that would have been beyond them a generation ago.”
Which is another way of saying that you can’t keep good governance down.
So keep fighting, commissioners.
(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.)