Great Idea, Wrong Attitude

Today’s WaPo reports a series of meetings are being held between members of the GA Republican Senate and house delegations to find common ground on transporation spending. A comment deep in the article brought some cultural nuggets to mind, and also suggested the talks are-to the glee of Governor Kaine-likely to end in failure.

Many years ago in the movie Primal Fear an attorney categorizes a settlement meeting as requiring negotiation and not compromise. The difference? In a negotiation both sides start the process at zero and gain something, but in a compromise both sides start the process expecting to get all they can, and inevitably get less than what they wanted.

From martial Japan (as well as on the tv show Thirtysomething) the story is told of two samaurai from opposing forces encounter each other on an isolated road. They draw their swords and assume a combat stance…but neither one moves, because the first to move gives up the advantage. Even as night came and the skies opened, neither one moved…preferring to stand wet and in the dark rather than risk making the first move.

Why did these stories come to mind? Reported in the article:

Sources in both camps expressed some optimism that the talks have helped. But getting both sides to compromise after more than five years at each other’s throats is proving difficult.”

Meetings such as these are great and long overdue.  The Va GOP needs a new vision and an explainable plan for fixing the transportation needs of the Commonwealth.  My fear is that the reporter used exactly the right language to describe the situation.

Secret meetings to decide on transportation spending are not needed.  What is needed are open discussions to determine a GOP position on how to at least begin to handle the transportation problems in Virginia.  These discussions should put everything on the table, from tax increases to DOT reorganization to giving more authority to localities.  Start from scratch.

Understand that the Democrats could care less about this.  A transportation deadlock plays into their hands.  The GA Democrats will simply say we need more money to handle these problems, and when the GA GOP vote it down without offering an alternative then the Democrats will have their primo issue in the 2007 statehouse elections.  This will not be good ground for GOP candidates to fight on.  I have a hunch voters will line up with Democratic candidates simply because they offer a unified plan-as opposed to the GOP, who chose not to offer a plan at all.

The challenge here is more than simply not raising taxes.   It is a matter of solving problems.  The Democrats have already finessed the issue.  Tim Kaine wants to spend $500 million  on transportation, but you are not going to get that kind of money out of more fees.  Taxes will have to be increased.  Why has the populace not already stormed the governors mansion with torches and pitchforks?  Because they want a solution to transporation issues, and if the GOP does not offer one and clearly explain how it works and will work when executed, then voters will default to solution that is on the table…even if it means more taxes.

These “secret talks” are fine in theory, but if the goal is a compromise and not a unified plan, then no one will get what they want and everyone will be unhappy.  Instead, start from scratch and come up with a plan that uses all the tools available…otherwise, come next November the GOP CA contingent will be standing still, in the dark, getting wet, while staring at a larger democratic opposition.

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