April 17, 2014

Message to the GOP: Stop Demonizing Rail

Conservatives pine and yearn for the elimination of the gas tax. Until they don’t.

Critics of Governor Bob McDonnell’s ambitious and groundbreaking transportation plan fall into one of two camps.

The first camp is the anti-tax camp. This camp, on a matter of principle, opposes all tax hikes. They applaud the elimination of the gas tax, but they want to replace it with…nothing. The small increase in the state sales tax to 5.8% is completely abhorrent to them. Never mind that Texas, the conservatives’ mecca, has a sales tax rate of 8.25%. Yikes!

The second camp is the anti-rail camp. This is the section I will expound on because this camp is far more disturbing and dangerous to 21st century economic progress.

This anti-rail camp applauds the elimination of the gas tax. Some may even look at the sales tax increase as a good compromise moving forward because not all anti-rail people are anti-tax people. However, when these people found out that the new revenues will go to a general fund that will increase funding for rail, they go completely belligerent and berserk.

In 2009, then candidate Bob McDonnell campaigned for Governor on a transportation platform that included an emphasis on rail. His stump speeches outlined a vision for high speed rail connecting Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads via Richmond. I-95 is a parking lot and people waste so many hours of productivity and precious life everyday sitting in traffic. Imagine how much more productive our General Assembly would be if half of the people in the General Assembly commuted to Richmond weekly on the train and could work on their computers on the train. I was excited to cast my ballot for Bob McDonnell.

Governor McDonnell’s efforts were crucial in securing the five votes necessary on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to extend Metro to Ashburn. McDonnell’s political acumen is sharp and he knows that the hardcore right-wing extremists will hate him for bringing Metro to Loudoun County, but he would rather do the right thing for economic progress now instead of fend off a hypothetical primary challenger for higher office down the road by working to kill Metro. That is real leadership and courage. Now in the final year of his gubernatorial term, McDonnell is looking cement a legacy of innovation and progress for Virginia by proposing a creative, effective, and sustainable transportation funding plan for Virginia.

Why did it take so long? I do not blame the Governor one bit. He is one of the brightest Governors currently serving in the nation right now. He had to save his political capital and wait for the right time. Time is of the essence because the far right Republican base lives in another time altogether, namely the hyper-romanticized 1950s.

I was absolutely shocked to discover that the far right Republican base hates rail as a matter of ideology. The taxes used to fund rail and the labor unions who work on the rail projects are red herrings. Road construction presents the same issues, but Republicans have found ways to quietly resolve those issues to move the road projects forward. Republicans hate rail because they hate the people who like rail.

I don’t have television, but when I did a long time ago, my favorite television show was The West Wing. There was an episode that had a subplot about gun control. Josh Lyman was arguing forcefully for stricter gun control laws. His assistant Donna Moss presented some good counterarguments against gun control that were ignored. She then remarked that maybe it wasn’t that Democrats didn’t like guns, but that the Democrats “didn’t like the people who like guns.” The scene faded out to let the audience ponder that statement.

Given the strong, compelling reasons to support rail in a structurally changing economy that is moving from manufacturing to knowledge, it is imperative to support a transportation solution that will foster and cultivate a growing legion of internet-based entrepreneurs.

I am an ardent supporter of public transit. I have not always been such an ardent supporter of public transit. My attitude used to be that if public transit was available, that is great, but if not, life goes on. Then I found out in 2010 that life does not really go on well without public transit.

In 2010, I entered the modern era by purchasing a smartphone. I also embarked on the pursuit of the American Dream. I became self-employed and opened my own public relations consulting firm. I am a single-person home-based business. The work is endless, but the freedom is invigorating. My time increased. My time also became immeasurably more valuable.

There not a more helpless feeling in the business world than being stuck behind the wheel when an e-mail from a client arrives with pressing business. We can’t respond on our phones safely via call or, especially, text when we are behind the wheel regardless of whether we are stuck in traffic or if we are moving at 65 miles per hour. We can’t open our computers to complete a project when we are behind the wheel. We can’t work when we drive.

I was sold on public transit when I hopped on the Metro in Vienna to go to a meeting in Old Town Alexandria. My trip to King Street took 45 minutes, but I bypassed the traffic and the parking issues. During that time, I pulled out my computer, did work, and billed a client for 45 minutes. I arrived at the meeting fresh and ready to go. I could not multitask and make money like that while driving. I never looked back on my car driving ways. I now despise driving.

Supporting rail is not about being “tree-hugging liberals” though I have nothing against that if that is your style. Supporting rail is about freedom, opportunity, and prosperity. Business-friendly policies must include a transportation plan that promotes walkable, sustainable, business-friendly, transit-oriented development.

Yet, Republicans hate rail. Not only do they hate rail, they hate the people who like rail. They hate people like me, ambitious entrepreneurs who are the economic engine of Virginia.

While the far right Republicans hate ambitious entrepreneurs who need public transit to increase their productivity and profits, let us not avoid the big donkey in the room. Republicans have a defeatist mindset that says “density=Democrats.” As the far-right Republicans shriek and scream about killing rail and stopping density, they *offend* many conservative city folk who vote Republican and enjoy the urban lifestyle. Urban Republicans see their culture disrespected and denigrated by the far-right and question their affiliation with the Republican Party. The far-right extremists do nothing but alienate allies.

Let us destroy the “density=Democrats” mindset. Trains are simply a mode of transportation. They are neither Democratic nor Republican. Trains encourage density, but density does not require the existence of trains. Also, if “density=Democrats”, scarcity does not equal Republicans. West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Progressive-era Kansas are perfect examples of how progressive policies can flourish in low density areas.

Republicans are losing urban areas in the modern day by a landslide because they quit engaging with city folk, packed up, and ran to the suburbs and rural areas (AKA “white flight.” Look it up.). The cities continue to grow as rural areas shrink. This is a numbers game that Republicans will always lose in statewide and national elections.

About Phil Tran

Phil Tran is the premier political consultant and web developer for pro-life female candidates and elected officials in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. He is a political independent.