Thursday, October 23, 2008

The difference pork (the political kind) makes in rural states

Two stories in today's New York Times touch on the power of pork in the largely rural states of Kentucky and South Dakota.

Dirk Johnson and David Herszenhorn write here about the role of earmarks in the re-election campaign of South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson, while the topic looms larger still in Carl Hulse's story about Kentucky's Mitch McConnell,"A Senate Leader's Pork-Barrel Punch."

Here's an excerpt from from the former story:

For his part, [Johnson's Republican opponent] Mr. Dykstra, a social conservative educated at Oral Roberts University, has called Mr. Johnson a “workman-like, bring-home-the-bacon” sort of politician.

Democrats here heartily welcome the description. People in some parts of the country might consider earmarks a symbol of waste, but in South Dakota, according to Mr. Jarding, the Johnson aide, “if we don’t get earmarks, we don’t have water running to some people’s houses.”
And here are some from the story about McConnell, which details the federal funds he has helped deliver to Kentucky over his many years in the Senate:

Mr. McConnell’s focus on federal aid illustrates how he and other lawmakers view such legislative earmarks as valuable political currency back home despite their increasingly bad name in Washington. It also shows that in the current hostile environment, Mr. McConnell has decided to focus less on overarching policy issues than on old-fashioned pork.

His opponent, who is pushing a “Ditch Mitch” theme, says it is with good reason. Mr. McConnell may sprinkle money around the state, but the Lunsford campaign calculated it at about $30 per capita last year, an amount the Democrat labels “chump change.”
Lunsford points out that McConnell has helped "Bush to create an economic catastrophe" by blocking health and tax policies that are ultimately more valuable to the state's residents than "a few local projects." I would say Lunsford's got a good point there. Empirical studies show that per capita federal aid to residents nationwide is a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to what states are now providing for their residents in terms of infrastructure and services. Affordable health care and equitable tax policies at the federal level sound a whole lot more valuable than the urban-focused earmarks noted in this article.

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