Politically Speaking at Work: Be Careful

At times, people ask me who I am going to/have voted for in key election campaigns. Depending on who is doing the asking, my answer ranges from "none of your business" to a brief, but thoughtful, response and reason.

The point is that political discussion and debates can be a touchy issue, particuarly in the workplace. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the global outplacement consulting firm, warns about the pitfalls and offers some advice for the do’s and don’ts of on-the-job politics.

John Challenger:  “Political discussion is the hallmark of a free society, but when the debate enters the workplace, it can create some significant problems. Political debates in the workplace not only can present a possible disruption of productivity, but they can create a tension-filled work environment. 

"In extreme cases, these debates can even become hostile.  For co-workers who discover that they disagree on a hot-button issue like defense spending, women’s health, and health care plans, which have been thoroughly debated in the media, it can be difficult to set aside these differences when it comes time to coordinate on a project."

The firm offers the following guidance:

  • Keep it civil: Do not let friendly banter deteriorate into a name-calling shouting match.

  • Know your colleague: Career-wise, it is probably safer to converse with those who share your views.  If unsure about a colleague’s views, then avoid political conversations or carefully probe for his or her views.

  • Do not campaign: Give-and-take conversations are acceptable, but campaigning can be off-putting.  If someone expresses discomfort with political discussions, respect his or her wishes.

  • If you must talk politics, stick to politics: While politics are increasingly entwined with religion, consider that aspect of the debate off limits.

  • Do not evaluate based on politics: You may not agree with a co-worker’s political views, but, if you are a supervisor, do not let that influence your assessment of that person’s work and/or value to the company.

Parties Fight for U.S. Senate Majority

Republicans are vying hard to capture 51 seats in the U.S. Senate. Likely holding onto their House majority, a Senate victory would prove incredibly useful for them — even moreso if Mitt Romney were to win the Presidency, in what remains a very tight contest. Indiana is now a focal point as Richard Mourdock and Joe Donnelly are also in a remarkably close race. Brandon J. Gaylord of the Daily Caller opines on the chances of both parties:

Until “legitimate rape” became part of the political lexicon, the Republican path to a Senate majority was straightforward. Take the four Democratic seats in Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, and Montana, while accepting a loss in Maine, for a net of +3 Senate seats. This would create an even 50/50 split in the Senate. From that baseline the GOP would have needed to hold Scott Brown’s seat and win just one of the toss-ups in Wisconsin or Virginia. Other, less favorable options were open in Florida and Ohio.

In the past month, much has changed on the Senate landscape, but I’m still projecting the GOP will pick up three seats this November. Missouri is no longer a GOP lock. In fact, it barely qualifies as a toss-up. However, Republicans have expanded the map to compensate for the loss of one of their most favorable pick-up opportunities. In Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson survived his primary and is a consistent favorite over the Democrat, Tammy Baldwin. Josh Mandel in Ohio and Linda McMahon in Connecticut have drawn even with their Democratic opponents in recent polling. The races in Virginia and Massachusetts have hardly budged and remain true toss-ups.

Democrats have also received encouraging news. Besides a much better chance to keep Missouri, Bob Nelson is maintaining his lead in Florida, although his numbers are still very shaky for an incumbent. Democrats are also hopeful that a new round of polling will validate favorable surveys taken over the summer in Indiana and North Dakota. Despite Republicans being expected to win in North Dakota and Nebraska, Democrats believe they have superior candidates and fundraising. In Nevada, Shelley Berkley’s ethics problems have not yet hurt her campaign. She consistently trails her Republican opponent, incumbent Dean Heller, by less than five points.

Chamber Poll: Senate Race Tied, Pence Has Advantage in Gov. Race

Richard Mourdock (R) and Joe Donnelly (D) are in a statistical dead heat for the open U.S. Senate seat, with 17% of voters in that race still undecided, according to a new statewide poll released today by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

By a 41% to 39% margin (within the survey’s margin of error), Mourdock enjoys a slight lead over Donnelly.  In addition to the 17% of respondents who are undecided, 3% support Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning.

In the election for Indiana Governor, Mike Pence (R) holds a commanding 50% to 32% lead over John Gregg (D), with Libertarian Rupert Boneham supported by 3%.  In that race, 15% of respondents are still undecided.

The scientific public opinion poll of 600 registered voters statewide was conducted by Market Research Insight from August 6-9, 2012.  The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4% and utilized live interviewer telephone surveys to maximize accuracy. Dr. Verne Kennedy, senior analyst for Market Research Insight, served as project director for the poll. Kennedy has conducted more than 200 public opinion surveys in Indiana over the past two decades.

When poll respondents were asked to identify their political affiliations, results were 46% Republican and 38% Democrat, with 16% identifying as independents. Mourdock and Donnelly achieve similar support levels among their respective party voters, but 41% of self-identified independent voters are still undecided.

“As typical, both Democrats and Republicans are relatively polarized, favoring the candidate for their party,” Kennedy says. The 16% of Indiana voters who say they are completely independent will likely determine the outcome of the Senate race.

“Mourdock has the advantage in the election because more of the 17% of undecided voters on this race identify themselves as Republicans than Democrats,” Kennedy explains. “For instance, among those voters undecided on the U.S. Senate race, 33% indicated their support for Pence for governor compared to 6% who support Gregg in that race.”

The public opinion poll was commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and its non-partisan political action program, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG). Learn more by viewing the polling report and crosstabs.

There’s Only So Much (Political Advertising) a Person Can Take

Who doesn’t enjoy a good campaign commercial? With politicians lambasting their opponents, blaming them for the recession, mortgage failure, tax crisis, Midwest drought and McDonald’s taking away the McRib sandwich (okay, those last two are a bit facetious – obviously no one controls the weather), what’s not to love?

And no doubt you’re already saturated with political campaigns. “How can this be?,” you proclaim. “It’s only August!”

You are not wrong in your exasperation. The sheer number of television campaign advertisements shown so far this year is shocking (with three months to go before the election, even) and the amount of money spent by candidates and Super PACs is astounding.

Think you’ve had enough? Be glad you don’t live in Ohio. Or Florida. Or North Carolina. The money spent on the presidential election alone in this cycle has been $37.2 million in Ohio on TV ads; $36.3 million in Florida; and $20.4 million in North Carolina.

In fact, across nine “battleground” states (the three listed, along with Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire), the presidential campaigns and Super PACs have spent $174 million on television spots alone. And that amount was just for nine states through the beginning of July.

Let me put that into perspective: According to ESPN, in 2012 the average cost for a 30-second television ad during the Super Bowl was $3.5 million. That $174 million spent so far on presidential advertisements in nine states equals about 50 Super Bowl commercials. (Unfortunately, politicians don’t include the Budweiser Clydesdales or barking dogs dressed as "Star Wars" characters in their ads.)

It’s not just which states you are in, but also the networks you watch. For instance, if you are a regular Fox News viewer, chances are you’ve seen a number of the 479,055 advertisements that have aired on the network thus far. CNN is next with 191,027 campaign ads and another news network, MSNBC, aired 75,207, according to NCC Media.

You can’t really avoid it by changing the channel, either. ESPN, TNT, USA, Lifetime, HGTV, and the Weather Channel, to name a few, top the list of number of ads aired this election cycle. Even Food Network viewers can’t escape the barrage (33,118 ads so far interspersed between Paula Deen and Bobby Flay).

It’s safe to say that as the election draws closer, we will see even more of these ads. But, are they effective? Americans that are planning to vote most likely have decided which candidate they will support – but there are always individuals that can be wooed at the last minute.

One thing is for sure, however: The broadcast television industry must really love election time.

State Rep Leading Charge for Natural Gas

Did you see gasoline prices at the pump hit almost $4 recently? Earlier in the year experts projected that we’d see it go as high as $5 this summer – and summer is definitely not over.

Depending on how often you fill your gas tank, driving back and forth to work, the grocery store, daycare – just the basics – can add up quickly. (We budget at least $300 a month for gasoline in our household, with only one car and a small child keeping us at home most evenings.)

Imagine having a fleet of vehicles that have massive tanks to fill (dump trucks, ambulances, school buses, tractor trailers, snowplows). That would add up quickly – and does – for the state of Indiana and public and private businesses of all types here. 

The point is: gas is expensive; diesel is expensive. And, neither are the cleanest fuel options available. But, is there another legitimate option? Possibly.

State Rep. Randy Frye (R-Greensburg) is leading the charge for compressed natural gas as an alternative. During the recent Clean Energy Summit held at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, Frye invited Greater Indiana Clean Cities Coalition Executive Director Kellie Walsh to present information to a group that included representatives from a number of utility and energy organizations.

Walsh’s presentation highlighted the fact that 80-90% of natural gas is produced domestically. 

Some other interesting facts:

  • Natural gas is not a threat to soil, surface water or groundwater; its nontoxic, noncorrosive and non-carcinogenic
  • It has lower ozone-forming emissions than gasoline
  • Most natural gas is drawn from wells or in conjunction with crude oil production and can come from subsurface porous rock and shale
  • Natural gas powers about 112,000 vehicles in the country and roughly 14.8 million worldwide and has been used as a transportation fuel for over 30 years
  • Compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas are considered alternative fuels under the Energy Policy Act of 1992

Frye told Inside INdiana Business with Gerry Dick that the state could save around $200 million in fuel costs over a 10-year period by switching vehicles to compressed natural gas. He intends to work on legislation to incentivize the switch, he says.

While the natural gas seems to be there for the taking, there is not much infrastructure in place to support it: filling stations would have to be built; fleets would need to be retrofitted with natural gas engines (which Cummins makes already, by the way).

This just scratches the surface of the positives and negatives of natural gas; most likely it will be a story that we follow in the near future.  

Young: Americans Need to Choose Which Vision They Support

If you’re an Indiana Chamber member, one of the benefits that you should not overlook are the Policy Issue Conference Calls. John Gregg and Mike Pence are coming (more on that below), and here are just a few of the comments from Indiana 9th District Congressman Todd Young during today’s discussion.

  • On the "tense" atmosphere in Washington and the prospects for budget reform: "No one anticipates great breakthroughs or grand bargains in the next several months. You want to assure you have maximum leverage when you sit down at the bargaining table and this election is about leverage."
  • While he is frustrated, like others, by politics taking precedence over policy, Young admits that the parties have "different, irreconcilable visions and we need the American people to weigh in."
  • In discussing the prospects for broad tax reform, he says this Congress simply doesn’t have the "presidential leadership." He notes the 1986 tax reforms involved a Democrat-led House and Republican Senate, with the leadership of President Reagan allowing those groups to "come together and reconcile their differences."
  • About his co-sponsorship of the REINS Act, which would require up-or-down votes by Congress on any federal regulation with a projected $100 million or higher economic impact. "This would allow you to hold us accountable, and I want to be held accountable. In the end, you can then blame us if these rules and regulations are made the law of the land."
  • On his role on the Armed Services Committee, noting that administrations of both parties have not done a good job at developing a strong military strategy: "In the end, strategy ought to drive military spending. I wanted to be part of that larger conversation."

Young adds that a House vote is expected next week on the repeal of the medical device tax that could be so devastating to the Indiana economy. While House passage is possible, the Senate is not expected to act on the legislation. Also, look for the opportunity for Chamber members to weigh in on tax reform priorities with Rep. Young.

This writer (and many others) thinks we’re looking at a rising star in Congress. Thank you, Rep. Young, for your time today and we look forward to working with you at even greater levels in the future.

As far as future policy calls, mark September 21 and September 28 for one-hour discussions with Indiana gubernatorial candidates John Gregg and Mike Pence. Listen to the conversations and feel free to weigh in with your questions and comments. Much more to come as we approach those September sessions.

Chalk Up Another Victory for School Vouchers

A rapid expansion of Louisiana’s school voucher program, officially signed into law last week, is the latest in a series of initiatives to expand school choice throughout the country. The Friedman Foundation offers its perspective. Milton Friedman first proposed vouchers in 1955.

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law today an expansion of Louisiana’s school voucher program, making it one of the largest such programs nationwide.

Vouchers, which allow parents to use government funding for their children’s private school tuition, were first proposed in 1955 by Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, who believed universally available vouchers were the best way to improve education. In 1990, the first voucher program was created in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, though only for low-income families. Last year, Indiana took historic action by making more than half of its student population voucher-eligible. Now, more than half of all Louisiana students will qualify for vouchers.

“States are realizing that school choice works,” said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Milton Friedman’s legacy foundation. “The more that states can move from limited school choice to universal availability, the greater its benefits will be to those in need. Indiana is witnessing this now. So, too, will Louisiana.”

In Louisiana, vouchers have been available since 2008, but only to New Orleans children and students with special needs in eligible parishes. In the 2012-13 school year, the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program will allow low- and middle-income students statewide to receive vouchers if they are enrolled in public schools graded “C,” “D,” or “F” by Louisiana’s accountability system.

Currently, 18 states, including Louisiana, and Washington, D.C., provide private school choice through vouchers or the tax code. In 2011, called “The Year of School Choice” by voucher supporters, 13 states increased the availability of school choice; eight new programs were created and 11 existing laws were expanded. This year, Florida and Arizona have approved increases to their private school choice programs, while Virginia and New Hampshire—neither of which allow private school choice—have passed scholarship proposals.

Social Media and Politics: Nebraska Awkwardness Edition

PR Daily has this troubling Twitter anecdote from the Nebraska Senate Primary. The details follow, but one candidate is basically accused of trying to "follow" his opponent’s daughter on Twitter. Sounds creepy at first, but in his defense, he delegates Twitter management to an aide. But it makes for an interesting exchange:

Talk about an awkward debate moment.

During a debate in Nebraska last week, one Republican Senate candidate, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, accused his opponent, state Treasurer Don Stenberg, of being “creepy” for following his 14-year-old daughter on Twitter.

Bruning unleashed this salvo:

“Let me ask you this, Don. This Sunday, my daughter walks in, and says, ‘Don Stenberg’s trying to follow me on Twitter.’ My daughter’s 14-years-old. Now you tell me: I’d like to know, why does a 62-year-old man want to follow a 14-year-old girl on Twitter? I’d really like to know. She said, ‘Dad, that’s kind of creepy.’"

In return, Mr. Stenberg said the following:

“Quite honestly, I don’t do my own Twitter. Dan Parsons does it for me. We’ve got thousands and thousands of folks, and as soon as we get done here, I’ll call Dan and make sure that’s taken off. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

That’s not a bad verbal response, but note his body language. His vocal delivery is much less sure than it was in his previous answer, and his post-answer body language reveals obvious anger. It’s hard to tell whether his ire is directed at his opponent or at his aide who requested to follow Bruning’s daughter; either way, his annoyance is obvious.

He lost control of the moment—and as a result, he lost the exchange

In these situations, maintaining control is critical. Stenberg’s approach of running toward the charge (“I don’t think it’s appropriate”) was a good one. But he should have delivered that line (or my suggested lines below) with full confidence:

“Jon, I agree with you. Children should not be fodder in political campaigns, and this is the first I’m hearing that one of my campaign aides tried to follow your daughter on Twitter. As soon as this debate ends, I’m going to have a conversation with my staff and make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”

Once he successfully finished running toward the charge, he could have taken the opportunity to counter-attack:

“But you know, Jon, I’m disappointed in you. Instead of speaking to me privately about this, one father to another, you opted to use this situation as an opportunity to score cheap political points. That’s exactly the kind of political stunt voters are sick of, and as far as I’m concerned, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
 

Fewer Voters Blame Pres. Obama for Gas Prices

Personally, when I see a hyperpartisan political opponent of a sitting president prattle on about how he’s responsible for high gas prices, I generally roll my eyes. (Truth be told, I generally roll my eyes when hyperpartisan people say anything.) It just seems like there are a lot of factors — OPEC-related and the like — that are out of America’s hands (although President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline likely won’t help matters). But according to a recent Washington Post article, fewer voters appear to be blaming the President for lofty costs at the pump:

Back in September 2005, gas prices surged to $2.90 per gallon across the country ($3.50 in today’s dollars), largely because Hurricane Katrina had shut down production across the Gulf of Mexico — an event that couldn’t plausibly be blamed on Bush. Yet 28 percent of Americans still blamed the president anyway. (Of course, one explanation is that voters were expressing discontent with the way the Bush administration handled the aftermath of Katrina.)

This time around, meanwhile, gas prices are even higher — the national average is now $3.74 per gallon — largely due to tight supplies and tensions between the United States and Iran (and the latter situation is something the White House actually is heavily involved with). Yet only 18 percent of Americans say the president’s responsible for pump prices. The number of Americans who are refusing to assign blame has jumped. Who knows? Perhaps after years of high gas prices a sense of fatalism has set in.

This jibes with political science research finding that, for the most part, a president’s re-election doesn’t hinge on the price of gasoline. Of course, that doesn’t mean that gas prices are meaningless — or that Obama can breathe easy about the situation. If spiking oil prices end up biting into economic growth, then the president’s prospects for re-election really would start sinking. As always, the economy matters a lot.

Business Movement Grows to Support Transportation Infrastructure

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Congress on January 23 encouraging it to support investment in the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure. The letter had around 1,000 signatories from the business community, as most feel enhanced transportation infrastructure (better bridges, public transportation, etc.) will make America a better place to do business. Congress has until March 31 to reauthorize the current funding law: 

TO THE MEMBERS OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE AND SENATE:

As Congress embarks on a new legislative session, we, the undersigned companies and organizations, urge you to Make Transportation Job #1 in 2012 and pass federal highway, transit and safety legislation before the current law expires on March 31. The long-delayed reauthorization of federal highway and public transportation programs is a major piece of unfinished business that can provide a meaningful boost to the U.S. economy and its workers and already has broad-based support.

To grow, the United States must invest. There are few federal efforts that rival the potential of critical transportation infrastructure investments for sustaining and creating jobs and economic activity over the short term.

Maintaining at 2011 levels—and ideally increasing—federal funding for road, bridge, public transportation and safety investments can sustain and create jobs and economic activity in the short-term, and improve America’s export and travel infrastructure, offer new economic growth opportunities, and make the nation more competitive over the long-term. Program reform would make the dollars stretch even further: reducing the time it takes transportation projects to get from start to finish, encouraging public-private partnerships and use of private capital, increasing accountability for using federal funds to address the highest priority needs, and spurring innovation and technology deployment.

We recognize there are challenges in finding the resources necessary to adequately fund such a measure. However, with the economic opportunities that a well-crafted measure could afford and emerging political consensus for advancing such an effort, we believe it is time for all involved parties to come together and craft a final product.

In 2011, political leaders—Republican and Democrat, House, Senate and the Administration — stated a multi-year surface transportation bill is important for job creation and economic recovery. We urge you to follow words with action: Make Transportation Job #1 and move legislation immediately in the House and Senate to invest in the roads, bridges, transit systems that are the backbone of the U.S. economy, its businesses large and small, and communities of all sizes.