Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 3:35 PM on Wednesday, September 5, 2012

General Election Primer

There's still time to ponder important issues


State and national primary elections are over and America awaits its future. Who will be elected in November's general election? Who should be elected?

In today's barrage of political claims, counter claims, and disclaims, I suggest a simple concept to sort things out: The candidates should see our government as functioning similar to a plant.

Like our government, most plants have two sides; the roots below ground and the stems and leaves above ground. You decide which part of the plant is Republican and which is Democrat and add the illuminating metaphors. The point is that each needs the other.

Whether it be water and nutrients from the roots supporting and being supported by photosynthesis from the leaves or a healthy economy serving and being served by a healthy populace and environment, both parts are inseparable.

Candidates who attempt to divide in order to conquer must be seen as invasive and a threat to our future. Candidates who believe that extreme points of view are utopian, whether that be of the Ayn Rand or Ralph Nader variety, need to be rooted out, not rooted for. Extreme points of view do serve a purpose by letting the rest of us know where the social boundaries are, but inflicting such ideologies on the public-at-large may present more risk and fewer benefits than most will accept.

Better are the candidates who see some value in the other side and strive to strengthen their position by finding common ground. This collective tone may rankle extremists, but being supportive though not pandering is the ideal of governance. Shouldn't those who govern seek to make things better by having government take on tasks that have collective benefit but are beyond the means of most individually?

The big question of the day is the purpose of government.

Ronald Reagan said that government is the enemy. Barack Obama implies that government can be your friend.

I think both are right — in separate circumstances. To simplify the private/public sector debate: The role of the private sector is to be efficient and the role of the public sector is to be fair. It is rare to achieve both at once. Which is appropriate depends on the specific task.

For instance, it is more efficient to have commercial fishing by the private sector, but more fair to have fisheries management and allocation by the public sector. Blind allegiance to one sector without recognizing the appropriateness of the other sector is ideology at its worst.

Missing in this private/public sector debate is the role and purpose of the nonprofit sector. The late Peter Drucker, known as the guru of management, often wrote about the economic significance of the nonprofit sector, which is essentially the third leg of our economic/social stool. It's a mostly American concept that has attributes of both the private and the public sector.

Many nonprofit organizations accomplish important public roles everyday without a profit skew or bloated agency bureaucracy, yet their value has received virtually no discussion during the campaigns. Why is this?

Another subject that receives little attention in the ongoing budget debates is adequate funding for proper stewardship of publicly owned (common pool) natural resources. While there are pirates out there whose solution to this budget issue is to privatize these treasured assets (e.g. fish and game), the more responsible debate has yet to happen. Funding to support science-based research and sustainable management of these resources seems caught in the crossfire of the raging debate about government funding for much more expensive social programs. The two have little in common and must not be comingled.

Furthermore, the looming threat of across-the-board budget cuts based only on program numbers instead of value is simplistic and counterproductive if sustainability is at risk. Any candidate willing to start this discussion deserves our vote.

Election day is still far enough away to ponder these issues and ask the important questions. Hopefully, we will end up with a Legislature and Congress that is closer to the mean than just plain mean.

George Matz lives in Fritz Creek. He has worked for the private, public and nonprofit sectors. He is a retired state employee having worked as an analyst in OMB as well as other agencies.