How the left and right differ on reform

I was in DC on Monday at a conference hosted by the Brookings Institute on reforming Pennsylvania – yes, our state is so bad that we are a great case study for the rest of the nation. I am pretty certain I am the only member of the vast right-wing conspiracy there. John Baer also has a write-up of the event.

My primary contribution was to note the need to separate good-government reform from specific policy goals, as our reform coalition has done. Brookings original intent was to urge political reform to promote their plan to revitalize Pennsylvania’s economy – but their ideas for revitalizing Pennsylvania’s economy differ sharply from ours (see our PA Diet Plan) in that they rely on more strategic spending or better planning by government, rather than limiting the size of government, reducing the burden of taxes, and relying on the private sector to drive our economy.

Nonetheless, I learned a few things on how the center-left and center-right groups differ on reform.
  • Everyone agrees with the need for Transparency in government. Turns out everyone wants to know what our government is doing – whether we are talking about improving the open records law, putting state contracts and spending online, or auditing the legislative leadership accounts.
  • Again most everyone agreed on the need for redistricting reform, and making it a non-partisan commission (as well as opening up that process to the public). There just isn’t a lot of trust for legislators drawing their own legislative districts.
Priorities for the Left:
  • Campaign finance limits and taxpayer funding of campaigns were a priority of nearly everyone in attendance, save me. I think this difference between the left and the right boils down not to our interpretation of our First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech (though clearly there is a difference there), but the views on government vs. the private sector. The left puts its trust in greater government regulation and control, the right in restricting the powers of government. The reason there is so much “money in politics” is because government has too much power to regulate, tax, and control the private sector. Campaign finance restrictions and government funded-campaign won’t give power to the people, but take it away.

Fears of the Left:

  • Few in attendance we supportive of a Constitutional Convention, or Initiative, Referendum, and Recall. This may seem somewhat surprising, since the left often talks about uses “power to the people” and helping the “little guy,” but distrusts popular sentiment. However, the same is true of many on the right. The left fears that a Con-Con or I&R will lead to the defense of marriage amendment or spending limits. The right fears gun control and defining government health insurance as a right.

    The Commonwealth Foundation’s support is gauged in a limited ConCon (i.e. the Declaration of Rights would be off-limit) and in a more restrictive I and R process – I was able to persuade some folks by noting that we wouldn’t want the California model of initiative, but other states such as Colorado (as discussed on The BOX last week) have more effective procedures.

    Again, I think the difference goes back to differing philosophies of government – a ConCon and I and R are additional checks on our government, something the right generally supports (except whenever President Bush asks for more executive power) and the left generally opposes (except for checks against the Department of Justice, Defense, Homeland Security, and Karl Rove).