Think tank sees past rhetoric - offers advice for voters

By Robbie Sherwood
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 23, 2002

Keep your eye on the ball.

That is the key advice that the big thinkers at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy have for voters in these turbulent times as they elect new state leaders in November.

For 20 years the Morrison Institute, a think tank based at Arizona State University, has helped shape policy decisions at all levels of government with its research on education, health care, economic development, taxes and other issues.

Dr. Rob Melnick, the institute's director, urges voters not to fall for candidate sound bites that may not be realistic ("If elected, I'll see to it that all Arizona children will be able to read at grade level"). Instead, voters should ask "what a candidate making this claim actually proposes to do to achieve such a noble goal."

Voters should also ask questions about the long-term implications of any short-term solutions to problems proffered by candidates.

At The Arizona Republic's request, Melnick has offered to help voters differentiate between rhetoric and reality by identifying the "Top 10 issues that voters should give high priority when judging candidates.

1. Education Reform 101. This is the issue for Arizona. Public education affects our children, our economy, our quality of life. Our K-12 system must continually improve for Arizona to remain attractive and competitive. All the candidates have positions on how to do this. Voters need to determine if their approaches will do the job.

2. State budget. The painful struggle to establish this year's state budget will pale in comparison with what's ahead for our next set of state leaders. Voters should judge candidates on the merits of specific budget priorities.

3. State fiscal policy. What state fiscal policy? Arizona's state revenues and expenditures are not grounded in thoughtful policy, but are a function of political haggling and special interests. Look for candidates who understand this distinction.

4. Rural Arizona. The vast majority of candidates are from urban areas and often don't consider rural Arizona. What's good for the state shouldn't be a zero sum game between urban and rural interests.

5. Urban ecology. Arizona's cities will continue to grow rapidly. This will have a profound effect on the environment in and around them. Candidates should understand this and have some means of helping cities protect the environment without unduly restricting growth and economic development.

6. Changing demographics. Arizona's population is becoming more ethnically diverse. In particular, Hispanic children will very soon become the majority of students in our K-12 system. As pointed out in Morrison Institute's Five Shoes Waiting to Drop report, one size should not fit all when it comes to public education.

7. Economic identity. Voters should give high marks to candidates who have thought about economic identity more than economic development. Winning the Genomics Consortium is different from Arizona creating the variety of policies and programs needed to identify the state as a leader in the biotech industry.

8. Health care. Costs are escalating at a scary pace. Decisions made now will affect all Arizonans over the long haul. Candidates should have a clear position on what is the appropriate role, if any, of government on this issue.

9. Talent. The Five Shoes report documents a talent shortage. For Arizona to be competitive on the world stage, state political leaders should be powerful, outside-the-box thinkers on what it will take to develop and import workforce talent.

10. Education Reform 102. Nothing will improve K-12 education, and make Arizona more attractive, than the best teachers in the country. How do the candidates propose to accomplish this?

Politics are one thing, policies are quite another. Arizona voters should look beyond candidate philosophy and judge them on specific policy and program actions. In particular, voters should assess the candidates on their potential as stewards of Arizona - leaders who are willing to do whatever is best for the state, even if it conflicts with popular political philosophies.

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