David Rodeback's Blog

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Thursday, December 12, 2013
Adults versus Zealots

The first step is admitting we have a problem. A big problem.

The first step, they say, is admitting we have a problem. 

We have a problem. It's a solvable problem, but we need to understand it first. That is our task here today and tomorrow. Solving it comes later.

Good government is in grave jeopardy.

I'm not talking about the federal level, where the values and restraints which support good government are mostly gone, and the idea of restoring it is a pretty dicey proposition, not to mention a massive one. I'm not talking about Utah state government, which exhibits the predictable ills of one-party government. I'm talking about American Fork, Utah, where most voters and candidates have lately shown an astonishing resistance to reality.

One Election Away

Until January we have a 5-0 majority of serious, responsible leaders on our city council. To reduce my word count -- and perhaps also to make a point -- I'll call these people adults here.

Apparently, we don't value the blessing of responsible leadership enough, because we voted last month to forfeit it. The zero in the present 5-0 is for ideologically poisoned, fact-resistant zealots who don't care to get the math right or the facts straight. For economy's sake here, I'll call these people simply zealots

If the two men taking office in January take their cues from the same ideological wave which swept them into office -- if they are the same people they were when they campaigned -- then in January the adult majority slips to 3-2. I said "if," because I'm hoping that reality will seize a beachhead in the minds and hearts of these councilmen-elect, start colonizing there, and gradually push their ideology back within its proper bounds. We'll see.

Worse, all three adults will be up for reelection in 2015. Thus we are two years -- and one bad electoral result out of three -- from having a majority on our city council which won't vote to fix a roof that leaks like a sieve, if it involves spending money. You already know fixing roofs costs money, and the costs increase exponentially with procrastination. The serious procrastination with roads began in the 1990s. Current leaders have been able to reverse some of the effects of that procrastination, but they have been operating in the cash-starved conditions the Utah Legislature seems to prefer for local governments, and against the backdrop of a major recession and the worst recovery since the Great Depression. I'm impressed that they've made any progress at all.

One Vote Away . . .

There's a more immediate risk.

If the aforemention colonization (or political maturation) fails -- or until it succeeds -- we are one wobbly adult away from a don't-fix-the-roof majority in January 2014. If there's much wobbling, you'll start even before the 2015 election to see people who can afford to move actually do so. They will leave American Fork for someplace where the streets will still be paved in two or three years, where fire protection meets modern standards, and where there's enough money to fix broken snowplows and playground equipment.

Why might the three adults in the room wobble? Two reasons, at least.

First, the zealots' ideology isn't all bad. Except for its extremism, it parallels some adult views to a degree.

Second,  political destruction awaits the wise and courageous. The zealot machine which will destroy them is no less extreme than President Obama's. It may be learning its tactics from President Obama's. Certainly, it has nearly as great disregard for truth as President Obama's and is just as fond of low-information voters as President Obama's . . . but is on the other end of the political spectrum.

In such a climate, not going wobbly is an act of significant political courage. I think Mayor Hadfield and Councilmen Clark Taylor, Rob Shelton, and Brad Frost have it in them, but don't expect the zealot machine to report it that way.

What's So Bad about . . . ?

Back in the 1990s a similar starve-the-government faction in American Fork got us into a world of hurt. Of the three most public pains, two are the enormous cans they kicked down the road at horrific expense, road maintenance and pressurized irrigation. The third is what I'll call the strategic avoidance of professionalism -- at least, the minimal level of professionalism that would have kept the City from getting sued over and over again by people who had good cases.

Currently, the zealot faction talks as if it wants to take two parallel paths to lots of expensive, unnecessary litigation.

First, it wants to starve the government. This will cause competent, experienced, well-trained staff who want to stay with the City to leave, because they can't afford to stay, can't bear to stay, or can't resist similar jobs elsewhere with more competitive compensation. No, the zealots don't want these effects, if you ask them -- usually, and unless they're really feeling their oats at the moment -- but they are fully committed to the cause that will produce them.

Second, the zealot faction prefers to "stand on principle" rather than acting responsibly. One of the new city councilors actually berated the city council before the election for making changes in the City budget required by ObamaCare. He wanted the City to defy ObamaCare in the courts. It was a genuine "Hey, man, that's my tax money!" moment for me -- but exactly in the opposite direction from his own thoughts. (For the record, this was not the councilman-elect who declared during the campaign that it would be better to have unpaved streets than to borrow or tax to repair them.)

When this discussion continues tomorrow, we'll talk about principles and -- you will love this word -- amnesty. However, we will not be talking about immigration.

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