Monday, June 16, 2008

Saporta on Perdue and commuter rail

Maria Saporta, who has been a leading voice for years on smart growth issues, reacts to Perdue's announcement supporting commuter rail:
At long last, we finally are making tracks towards the future.
She also has some great insight into why Perdue finally changed his mind on the issue, including a talk with Congressman David Scott (D-Atlanta):
“I told the governor, ‘Only you can move it forward at this point. If we don’t move it forward, it puts us in a difficult position,’ ” Scott said.

He said Georgia had “almost become a laughing stock” in Congress.

Given the traffic problems in metro Atlanta, the inaction by the state bewildered Scott’s colleagues in Congress who would have done anything to get that amount of federal funding for commuter rail.
Apparently this line of argument worked. Read the whole article, its is the sort of insight and access that only Saporta can provide, because she has known all these folks forever. It also highlights the vast difference between reporting and blogging (okay, some big deal bloggers have their own sources and break news, but most of us are very reactionary and will never have the kind of access Saporta does).

This story also reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend over the weekend. She expressed a considerable level of despair about politics and her ability to make a difference. She'd written to politicians before on numerous issues, and never felt like it even made a dent. "What's the point?" she asked.

It is true that one voice gets lost in all the clatter of politics. It is easy to get disillusioned. And it is true that Perdue's decision (as Saporta lays out) has much more to do with other political factors and alliances. But without consistent public outcry on the need for commuter rail in particular, Perdue likely would not have came down in support of rail. Almost all political victories have at their heart an organized grassroots movement with votes attached.

I should also mention that savvy politicians know if the person that sends a letter votes, and it does make a difference. It is not hard to construct a database with voter history information that is publicly available. So when a legislator gets a letter from someone who is not registered to vote, it doesn't have nearly same effect as when he gets a letter from someone who has voted in every primary for the last six years. Not only does that person vote, but he is the kind of voter that neighbors ask, "What do you think about these choices?" He is influential, and his voice gets a little more attention in the political maelstrom.

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