Friday November 16, 2012

Patti Komline

Over the last few days, I’ve been reflecting on my lukewarm disappointment with regard to Mitt Romney’s loss. I’ve also been asked many times for my thoughts regarding the future of the Republican Party in Vermont.

Nationally, I believe we are in a decline of our own making and neither presidential candidate can turn the economy around. Perhaps we’ll sink faster with President Obama but either way we’re going down. A friend said it best, after the Titanic hit the iceberg, changing captains wouldn’t have made a difference. Improving our economy will take some major buy-ins from the public.

America needs to go on a fiscal diet. (Americans need to go on a food diet too, but that is discussion for another time.) When you put on too much weight you need to decrease calories and increase exercise. Well, we need to decrease our budget and increase our taxes -- at the same time.

Liberals will balk at the idea of budget cuts and conservatives will take a strong stand against increased taxes. Everyone will yell and scream and the politicians will back off making tough decisions because they won’t be re-elected if they do.

We spent ourselves into this mess and it is time to accept the consequences. Unfortunately, the public isn’t very good at facing this reality and we lack the discipline to withstand "short term pain for long term gain." One only has to look at the situation in Europe in the wake of their austerity measures to see how well received this would be. I doubt either party will do what is necessary and partisans will point fingers but in truth, we are all to blame and if we stood ready to clean up our mess, elected officials would take the steps necessary to address our deficit, which would go a long way toward creating a better future for our children. We owe them that.

Another aspect of our struggling economy, which we hear about ad nauseum from politicians, centers on creating jobs. This recession has landed us in a place of less job need. People were laid off and businesses found they could get by with fewer employees. Some struggling businesses also abuse the willingness of young people to work as interns for little or no money in the hopes of procuring jobs. (Also a topic for another day, but I do think that this is as much a travesty as our illegal worker issue.)

In years past young people could graduate with a degree in liberal arts or other esoteric majors and find career path employment. Now, these graduates are saddled with college debt and stuck with minimum wage jobs.

This "recession generation" is part of the 47 percent that was so in-artfully stated. I could forgive Gov. Romney for the slight, but I hear others pick up and defend this statement, which makes me cringe.

Many would be thrilled to move out of the category of the working poor. I hope the resilience of youth will stave off their despair because if that sets in we are all in serious trouble. How do we address this challenge? We start by encouraging high school graduates to opt for studies in technically specific areas. Life has changed and receiving a degree in Ancient Egypt may have to be put aside by the reality that a nursing degree is more practical.

Colleges have to suck it up and teach classes that hone real life job skills. A professor might really want to teach the History of Landscape Architecture to an accounting major but electives (which are required too) should be more realistic. Making these practical decisions are the responsibility of individuals.

Here in Vermont our government can also step up. We need to address the Poverty Cliff, which discourages people from becoming financially independent. And we must do better at job training and placement for those struggling to make ends meet. Giving people hope and direction will empower them to take control of their lives. We should also think creatively with regard to job creation and engage young people to help us. Innovation is our future and these very people will get us there.

The Vermont Republican Party needs to realize that many people are struggling and need help. Some game the system, but there are more people who want desperately to be part of the 53 percent. To denigrate them is shameful.

The GOP also needs to accept the fact that the majority of people in this state are socially liberal. The party ignores this at their peril. But Vermont Republicans aren’t the only ones in denial. The Vermont Democratic Party needs to believe that businesses are struggling and government should be making it less onerous for them to thrive. Regulations, taxes and restrictions should be kept to a minimum so they can grow and expand their work force.

You can say Vermont is good for business or you can say it’s bad. Before people choose to move their business here they look at a spreadsheet and their bottom line, not at partisan rhetoric.

Have we truly hit our economic iceberg? Nationally, we need to get on our fiscal scale, takes a good long look and decide that now is the time to do something about our expanding deficit, and young people need to accept the fact that they have to seek an education which prepares them for real jobs.

Within Vermont, I hope the Democratic Party doesn’t get so carried away with their huge majority that they become deaf to those who might be raising legitimate concerns and the Republican Party needs to open their eyes and ears to Vermont’s priorities. Hope and Change, what are the chances?

Dorset Republican Patti Komline represents the Bennington Rutland 1 District in the Vermont House.