Our Next Big Political Challenge (It’s Not the One You’re Thinking Of)

This week in North Philly Notes, John Kromer, author of Philadelphia Battlefields, writes about the upcoming elections.

The November 3 presidential election will continue to capture our attention, as it should, until the votes are counted and the (possibly inevitable) legal challenges are resolved. Whenever that happens, however, another big challenge awaits us.

Whichever way the presidential election turns out, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be entering into a period of national stability and widespread harmony anytime soon. The polarization that we’re experiencing now has been years in the making, and it will take years for our country to heal.

This doesn’t mean that nothing good can happen after November 3—it just means that restoring tolerance, civility, and compromise to our political environment won’t be quick or easy. And it’s important to recognize that much of the constructive political change that needs to happen is not likely to originate in the White House or the Capitol. At the federal level, bipartisanship has been a rare phenomenon, and gridlock may continue to be Washington’s default position for the foreseeable future.

Instead, the best new public policies are likely to emerge as initiatives that are introduced and tested at the state and local level, then authorized by the federal government and expanded on a national basis. The best-known example of this policy development sequence is the Affordable Care Act, modeled after the 2006 health care reform law that was approved in Massachusetts during the administration of then-governor Mitt Romney.

In addition, more state governments are taking the initiative to formulate new policies that don’t require federal-government authorization or conflict with federal mandates. For example, New Jersey and other states are creating health insurance exchanges that are fully administered by state agencies, using their own enrollment platforms in place of the HealthCare.gov platform established by the federal government.

Some policy innovations have emerged at the local and county level as well. To address widespread concerns about health and safety problems associated with blighted vacant properties that had proliferated in many urban and rural communities in Michigan, the state legislature authorized the creation of county and municipal land banks to facilitate vacant property acquisition and development. After witnessing the positive results that land banks had produced in Michigan, many other states subsequently adopted land bank legislation, giving themselves a more systematic approach for rehabilitating or eliminating blighted properties. In Pennsylvania, some of the leaders who were most responsible for securing land bank authorizations were Republican elected officials representing largely rural districts.

The months and years following the presidential election are not likely to be easy—but there’s good news: some of the changes that need to happen in order to enable our society to improve and prosper are already beginning to take place. While staying focused on the need to improve governance at the federal level, we as citizens also need to look for opportunities to bring about constructive changes closer to home.

%d bloggers like this: