There’s been a big — and to us, unpleasant — change in the atmosphere that hovers over the 50 states over the last 25 years or so. Potentially divisive emphasis on politics has been on the ascendency. And we don’t see that as helping create more successful programs or better citizen services.
A little background is in order. Our first major inroad into the state and local government field came with the creation of our “grading the states” efforts at Financial World magazine, which morphed into the far more exhaustive, thorough and academically grounded work on the Government Performance Project, which was featured in Governing Magazine.
The effort was to evaluate the management capacity of the fifty states in human resources, finance, infrastructure and so on. There was very little mention of politics in any of this work. And subsequently, we’ve concentrated our efforts on management and policy, not politics.
When we started we were able to take pride in the fact that we frequently didn’t know whether the various state governors were Democratic or Republican. That didn’t seem germane to discussions of management. Others may have drawn correlations between our work and a political analysis, but we never found it necessary to do so.
Slowly, but surely, times have changed. No longer can you avoid political divisions and their impact on policy in particular, and management to a lesser degree. No matter how black and white our evidence-based research may seem to be, there’s generally an overcast of red and blue. For instance, while the decision to accept Medicaid expansion funds under the Affordable Care Act should have been based on policy and fiscal management-oriented factors, it turned out that the vast majority of the red states rejected the federal dollars and the majority of the blue states went in the other direction. Along with a few others, Governor John Kasich of Ohio broke ranks with the Republican states, and was regarded as a maverick by many.
We guess this is the way of the world. And things are still nowhere near as oriented to partisanship as the federal government. But still, we miss the old days.