The Tragedy of Sacrificing Good Public Policy While Pandering for Votes

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Caught up in the swirling tides of a presidential election year, citizens are rightfully concerned that much of what we’re seeing from candidates are actions primarily intended to influence voters.  That’s quite different than formulating good, sound public policy that relies less on politicians or their Republican vs. Democrat battles and more on actually providing “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

The examples are legion right now, including absolutely off-the-charts crazy moves such as Texas preparing to “endorse the death penalty for abortion providers and patients.”    Or how about Florida’s benighted governor Ron DeSantis mandating that teachers take training to instruct students in Christian Nationalism — despite the Constitution’s clear separation of church and state?

Of course up here on the northern tier we can shake our heads and say, “Well, it’s the South and they’ve been bats–t crazy for a long time.”  But the unfortunate truth is, political expediency taking priority over good public policy is endemic across the nation.

Here in Montana, for instance, our Congressional delegation continues to support Colstrip’s archaic and massively polluting coal-fired plants.  Given the cheapest power available to Montanans comes from wind and solar, both of which are significantly on the rise, one might credibly ask why our politicians would continue to support dirty and expensive coal power.  The answer, of course, is they think they’ll garner a few votes for “protecting” Montana jobs.

The same goes for the timber industry, where suddenly the closure of Pyramid Lumber in Seeley Lake is a crucial, election-year issue.  Only it’s not.  As the mill owners explained, the real problem is finding housing for their work force and the cost to upgrade (job killing) automation — neither of which will be changed anytime soon no matter for whom you vote.

Political expediency will soon be on full display since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed halting private grazing on National Wildlife Refuges and ranchers are already howling about losing access to tens of thousands of acres on the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge — while continuing to claim cattle are necessary to meet some “management goals.”

What’s not said is that we have an abundance of wild buffalo in Yellowstone National Park that would dearly love to go to the refuge instead of being shot or sent to slaughter when they cross the invisible park boundary. Doing so would meet the purpose for which the Refuge was established, solve the problem of what to do with Yellowstone’s wandering bison, and fulfill any “management goals” purportedly achieved by large ungulate grazing.

But Montana’s politicians won’t do what’s right.  Instead, seeking votes, they’ll promise to defeat the proposal, undoubtedly led by Democratic Sen. Jon Tester since he’s up for election, to show he’s not in thrall to the Biden administration as he’s done before with any number of issues that would have benefitted Montanans.

Likewise, Republican Sen. Steve Daines just killed the nomination of Montana’s Danna Jackson, an attorney for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, who would be Montana’s first Native American federal judge.  Why? For exactly no credible reason except perhaps to show how political expediency is oh so bipartisan.  Who loses?  Montanans, who are now deprived of a tremendously talented and experienced judicial candidate.

The more you look, the more you’ll find political expediency crushing good public policy decisions.  The more you find, the more repulsive it becomes as the stupid battle between Republicans and Democrats increasingly ignores doing the right thing for their constituents in favor of pandering for votes.

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.