As I noted in Wednesday’s email to subscribers, my wife and I recently returned from a visit to New Orleans, my third visit. Each time my trip seems to involve warm weather, rain, and a trip over a swamp. The last visit included an actual visit to a swamp to tour it.
Alligators, hot and muggy conditions, and a guide to take you into the heart of the swamp are all reminiscent of another trip my wife and I made to Washington D.C. for our tenth anniversary. Unfortunately, we were married in August so imagine walking around the Washington mall and tidal basin on the hottest day of the year.
So I get the swamp analogy, although I’m not fond of it being used to describe our state capital. I can think of a lot of names to call Madison, but a “swamp” isn’t one of them – especially after Republican control of state government since 2011. Our state is hardly Utopia, but it’s not Washington D.C. and it’s certainly not Louisiana.
Which is why I’m puzzled by state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and her plan to “drain the swamp” of Washington by moving government out of the District of Columbia. Instead of draining the swamp, all she is likely to do is spread it around.
Vukmir, a candidate for U.S. Senate, wants to apply the lessons of Wisconsin to the country as a whole. One of the lessons of Wisconsin, supposedly, is moving government agencies out of the capital to make them more responsive. That might make sense for some state government functions, especially when it comes to saving rent on office space near the Capitol, but moving an agency to another part of the state is not nearly as complicated or corruptible as moving a federal agency across the country.
Our founding fathers, in their infinite wisdom and a spirit of compromise, chose to create Washington D.C. from a swamp so that no one state would have an inordinate influence on the newly created central government. Vukmir’s idea is to reduce the lobbying class by pushing the government out of Washington. But all it will do is further isolate our federal legislators from the executive branch agencies, causing legislators to rely more upon (you guessed it) lobbyists and the executive branch for information about what the agencies are doing.
Worse, we have already seen what happens when the federal government becomes another industry relocating in a politically competitive process. The federal government already had an almost impossible task closing excess military bases because local economies grew to depend upon them. Republicans (correctly) mocked the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) because he was slowly moving one small federal agency after another to his home state.
So when it becomes clear that more of these federal jobs are to be sprinkled around the country, does Vukmir honestly expect states to sit still and quietly say to themselves, “pleasepickuspleasepickus?” Or is it more likely there will be lobbyists from every state going to Washington putting pressure on their state delegations to demand a federal agency relocate back home in exchange for some sweetheart deal? Could we even see Foxconn-sized incentive programs to move a federal agency from Washington to some state, causing a lose-lose situation for the taxpayers?
No, the founding fathers had this one right. They drained a swamp and built a capital independent of the states. The way to drain the swamp now is to reduce government spending and the size of government so there is no need to have so many lobbyists in Washington, not move the swamp around and hope it evaporates.