Happy New Election Year

This week’s Courier Herald column:

The page has turned on the calendar and we have a fresh new year ahead of us. It’s a time of year brimming with optimism – even more so than usual if you’re a UGA fan. If you’re not, there’s still time to make a resolution to fix that.

The Bulldogs are in a position to win a National Championship for the first time since I was in elementary school. This year’s resolutions include the goal to lose about as much weight as I probably weighed in total back in 1980. Time has not been kind to the waistline, or the Dawgs trophy case. I can fix one of those. I’ll continue to hope that the players and coaches maximize their potential Monday night.

As folks are now focused on their “new year, new me” plans, we are also staring down the barrel of an election year. This is no ordinary election year. While many people and most of the national news media focuses on Presidential and Congressional campaigns as the elections that matter, we have open positions at the top of Georgia’s ballot.

In November of this year, Georgians will elect a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Insurance Commissioner, and Public Service Commissioner. All other statewide elected officials, and state legislators will be on the ballot.

Each candidate will have the opportunity to share their vision for the state. Think of them as four or two year resolutions. They will be a lot like the ones we will be making. Some represent a genuine and sincere effort to bring about positive change. Others will be empty platitudes that will be forgotten as soon as something else that is tastier comes along.

Whether you’re making your own resolutions or judging the promises of candidates that they hope to implement in 2019, the fundamentals of separating the empty wishes from tangible plans are the same. If you want to make positive change, there must be an actual plan. If you’re expecting someone else to effect change in government, they also need a plan.

To start to see if there’s a plan, ask yourself if your resolution or their pledge can fit within the parameters of “SMART” goals. Is the plan Specific? Can it be Measured? Is it Attainable and Realistic? Is there a set Timeframe for the goal to be met? If the answer to each of these questions isn’t “yes”, then you don’t have a resolution. You have an empty wishful platitude.

A pledge to “lose weight” or “be a better person” is a wish. A plan to work out five times per week while restricting yourself to 2000 calories per day over 6 months losing 8 pounds per month is an action plan.

Likewise, campaign promises to “make Georgia more competitive” or “fix education” lack any actionable specifics. Some of the candidates have offered specifics. At least a couple on the Republican side have pledged to eliminate the state income tax. One wants to simultaneously double transportation spending without new taxes while another wants the state to pick up much of the current cost of local law enforcement.

These are specific, but are they measurable and realistic? Without details of specifics, eliminating half the state’s revenue and increasing spending while balancing a state budget every year would say they are not. Candidates making these promises must be asked to show their work during the primaries. The Democrats certainly will in the general election.

Likewise, Democrats funded by teachers’ unions/associations often start with the platitude that they will fix education. The metric usually offered is that of spending. If any accountability metric is attached to teacher or school performance, the conversation is quickly shifted to why money isn’t the only problem in education. And then back to why money is all that is needed.

Any resolution to “fix” education must include actual performance and accountability metrics. Otherwise, we need to be honest and understand these pledges are about employment and salary, not the end product of creating skills within students.

A civics resolution we must make is that we will monitor these elections throughout the year and help the candidates refine their resolutions with specifics and metrics. Platitudes are nice, but they’re not going to get us into better shape. There needs to be a specific plan, and a demonstrated commitment to action in order to effect change.

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