Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan addresses a crowd in Wellsville, Ohio during the 1896 campaign. Bryan was the first candidate to successfully embrace "whistle-stop" campaigning, harnessing the power of a young rail network to reach masses of voters. (Photo via archive.org link: http://bit.ly/UfVMRY)
(Tom Lisi -- Transportation Nation) Every presidential candidate does it: hop from town to town trying to shake as many hands, kiss as many babies, and spread that in-person charm to as many swing state voters as possible.
This touring style of campaigning didn’t take place until the U.S. had developed a comprehensive railroad system in the latter 19th century. Before then, candidates courted the mostly white male, property-owning electorate through newspapers. In the earliest presidential elections, it was considered unseemly for politicians to tout themselves in public. No longer.
In the age of super PACs and mega donors, candidates routinely charter flights across the country to get to and from big fundraisers -- but the bus is the standard bearer. Romney campaign buses have worn slogans such as "Conservative, Businessman, Leader" and "Every Town Counts." The Romney campaign bus, above, with its candidate in Tarlton, OH, at times does not even have the former governor on it, and will instead transport local politicians to rallies, or go on missions to taunt Obama supporters.
President Obama, pictured here leaving Ireland in 2011, has to use Air Force One to travel by air, whether it’s official state business or part of his campaign trail. The president is supposed to reimburse taxpayers when the plane is being used for travel to fundraising events or stump speeches. One watchdog organization estimates that it costs over $180,000 an hour to operate Air Force One.
The grassroots-style campaign for president became tradition by the time of Reconstruction, but, arguably, the first candidate to turn it into a national phenomenon was the populist Democratic nominee of 1896, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan conducted a six-week "whistle-stop" tour leading up to the election, usually giving 20 to 30 speeches a day.
Before Air Force One, there was U.S. Car No. 1. The Ferdinand Magellan was specially armored to carry President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II. Harry Truman used the Magellan for his famous whistle-stop campaign during the 1948 election. One of the most famous moments of campaign history: Truman stood on the Magellan's observation platform, newspaper triumphantly hoisted high, holding the famously incorrect headline, “Dewey defeats Truman.”
President Eisenhower was considered all but a lock for re-election in 1956, but at the Republican convention that year, a delegate wrote in “Joe Smith" for Vice President to protest the unanimity of the GOP nominations. Here, Democratic opponent Adlai Stevenson meets a Chicago supporter named Joe Smith before embarking on a tour of speeches with his campaign plane, the Joe Smith Express.
With more campaign cash to go around, focus on the presidential primaries has grown over time. Coach buses allow candidates to travel to many destinations in one state, and have room for the media to come along for the ride. John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” had a welcoming reputation among the press corps during his 2000 primary run.
The Eisenhower administration retired the The Ferdinand Magellan due to lack of use in 1958. But it made a comeback in 1984 when President Reagan used it for one-day trip in Ohio. Campaigns have since brought back the nostalgic whistle-stop style, including President Obama in 2008 when the Illinois Senator campaigned on a restored Pullman car. McCain, who opposed Amtrak funding, carried on whistle-stopless.
FDR loved traveling by rail. He even had his own entryway to Grand Central Terminal in NYC, where a car specially designed for him* still sits, entombed and dusty, below the active station as we reported in our story on the lost subways of NYC. See pic here.
*An earlier version of this sentence incorrectly referred to this car as the Ferdinand Magellan.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Four years ago, before the bi-partisan consensus on infrastructure spending had frayed, it might not have been remarkable to hear a Republican candidate for President say he -- or she -- believed in infrastructure spending, even if that meant borrowing. But in a year where Republican governors from Florida to New Jersey pulled the plug on big, already-in-the works projects, maybe it is.
"We're going to have to make an investment in our infrastructure and that's a place where if we make that investment, it will pay a return," Romney told a town hall meeting in Charleston, South Carolina December 17, expanding on remarks he made in New Hampshire last week.
And by infrastructure Romney took a broad view -- including roads, bridges, rail, ports, and air travel.
He also gave a little window into his economic theory.
"For instance, with regards to ports, as ports are dredged and made deep water ports and made more competitive they are then able to have more produce come in to them, more products come in to them and can charge therefore on the product coming in and can pay back the cost of the dredging or improvement," he said.
Here's a video posted by Building America's Future, a group that supports more spending on infrastructure. Full transcript of the exchange below.
Here's the transcript:
Question: What is your vision for improving our infrastructure system?
Romney: We got infrastructure issues in our ports, on our rail yards, on our aircraft systems, in our highways in particular.
I came in as governor of my state and my transportation people said that we had 550 structurally deficient bridges in my state. Five hundred and fifty. And we were spending $100 million a year on bridge repairs -- I doubled that to $200 million a year.
Now, that means I had to cut some other things to make sure we were able to put priority behind getting our bridges up to speed. We're going to have to make an investment in our infrastructure and that's a place where if we make that investment, it will pay a return. I don't mind borrowing if something has a revenue stream that will pay back the borrowing.
What I don't like is what we see in Washington where we borrow for just everyday expenses with no new revenue stream to pay it back.
But for instance with regards to ports, as ports are dredged and made deep water ports and made more competitive they are then able to have more produce come in to them, more products come in to them and can charge therefore on the product coming in and can pay back the cost of the dredging or improvement.
That's what's going to have to happen on our ports, on our highways, in our aircraft system.
We're going to have to make the investment to upgrade our infrastructure to make it competitive globally but also so our enterprises can be successful in moving products around. Then we can be competitive sending products around the world.
I recognize that America has to compete and for us to compete to have good jobs we have need to have good infrastructure and I'll stand behind --
By the way, the decision as to which ports to dredge and which rail lines to improve and which highways to get upgraded that's a decision to be made on analysis of need, a potential for return and opportunity not based upon politics.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Pop quiz: What national political figure, as one of his first acts as chief executive, created a new agency tasked with coordinating housing, transportation, and energy policy in the pursuit of “smart-growth” development? Hint: in his four years as leader, this politician championed a fix-it-first infrastructure strategy and awarded taxpayer-funded grants to communities dedicated to sustainability, insisting that, “by targeting development to areas where there is already infrastructure in place, not only can we revitalize our older communities, but we can also curb sprawl as well.”
If you said President Barack Obama, that’s understandable—Obama also believes in fixing existing infrastructure and curbing sprawl, and he also created an agency to bring together housing, transportation, and energy policy—but that's not who we're describing.
The sprawl curber in question was, in fact, one of the the president’s potential challengers, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. In 2003, shortly after taking office, Romney created a state Office of Commonwealth Development, which—like Obama’s Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities—broke down the silos separating livability issues and made policy out of smart-growth ideas.
The OCD’s criteria (PDF) for public grants read like a new urbanist handbook. Successful projects should “provide transportation choice,” by being “walkable to public transportation,” the guide said. A good plan “reduces dependence on automobiles by providing increased pedestrian and bicycle access.”
But those were the ideas championed by the governor of a fairly liberal northeastern state, not those of a presidential hopeful vying for the nomination of an increasingly conservative party. Recently, Romney has been reminding debate audiences, opponents, and interviewers almost constantly that he doesn’t believe that what was good for Massachusetts is necessarily a prescription for the nation. He’s proud of his record, he says, but his emphasis has changed.
For one, he’s become an energy hawk, calling for the immediate approval of the Keystone oil pipeline. “Oil is obviously one of our most crucial energy resources and the single most important fuel for our transportation needs,” says his online campaign platform (PDF), which calls for increased domestic oil production and an amendment to the Clean Air Act to exclude the regulation of carbon.
This is the same Mitt Romney who in the spring of 2004 unveiled Massachusetts' first Climate Protection Plan (PDF), saying: “The same policies that protect the climate also promote energy efficiency, smart business practices, and improve the environment in which our citizens live and work. For Massachusetts, promoting climate protection in the Commonwealth and throughout our nation also promotes Massachusetts businesses that are at the forefront of the new markets for renewable energy technologies.”
Romney has made the creation of jobs a central pillar of his campaign, but he’s keen to trim the federal payroll—in the transportation sector, among others. In late September Romney opined in the New Hampshire Union Leader (a paper that went on to endorse Newt Gingrich) that “Amtrak is a classic example” of the many “functions that the private sector can perform better than the public sector.”
This conviction may come in part from a transition he witnessed as Governor. Just before Romney took office, Amtrak declined to bid to renew its operations of Boston’s commuter rail system, and a newly formed consortium, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, took over the nation’s fifth-largest regional rail network in the summer of 2003.
But the deal hardly serves as a success story for privatization. Mass Bay, as it is known, is paid more than $250 million a year to manage the railroad, and the company came under harsh scrutiny recently when it came to light that the MBTA, the public transportation authority that funds that contract, waived millions of dollars in penalties the private company was supposed to have paid for slow service. Despite Mass Bay’s performance issues, the consortium’s contract was extended for two years in January.
Romney played no role in awarding or extending the Mass Bay contract, and he made no moves to privatize city trains and buses operated by the MBTA. Instead, when the T showed signs of fiscal trouble in 2003, Romney signed a law to allow fare hikes. "It was just a slap in the face," Democratic State Representative Gloria L. Fox told the Boston Globe. "It just goes to show that the poor pay more." But Romney stopped short of advocating increases in ticket prices. He ordered an audit of the T’s finances, and suggested strongly that they look for ways to increase ridership and improve service before asking riders to pay more.
Governor Romney took a similarly business-like approach to the state’s highways. In 2004, he signed a reform bill to streamline and consolidate the operations of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the state Highway Department. The move was philosophically similar to recent proposals, by both parties in Washington, to simplify project selection and funding mechanisms in federal transportation.
All in all, Romney remained a metro-friendly moderate during his tenure as Governor. In 2005, mid-term, he unveiled a twenty-year, $31-billion state transportation plan that re-emphasized his “fix-it-first” convictions, directing “seventy-five percent of all new capital spending toward maintaining and improving the Commonwealth’s existing transportation network.” Hailing the “post-Big-Dig world,” Romney’s plan was modally balanced. Twelve billion went to “reconstructing, decongesting and expanding roadways across the Commonwealth, including all major choke points,” while nine billion went to “achieving a state of good repair on the MBTA’s aging assets.”
Will Romney’s smart-growth past be thrown back at him as “right-wing social engineering”? Will his ruminations about a private Amtrak take firmer root? Will he continue his anti-Federal tack and declare transportation the prerogative of the states? It’s hard to know. Perhaps it won’t come up much in the primaries—it hasn’t so far.
But some are betting that Mitt’s a transportation man, deep down. According to an analysis of campaign contributions from the transportation sector this cycle, Romney comes in second among politicians nationwide (including the President), with $485,626 as of press time. The leader, Texas Governor Rick Perry, tops Romney by less than $5,000, and the two are way out in front. House Speaker John Boehner, in third place, has raised less than half the haul of either man.
(Special hat tip to blogger Mike Laub whose obsessive catalog of old Romney press releases provided a wealth of information.)