MUCH HAS been made, in our newspaper and elsewhere, about the different views that House District 75 candidates Kirkman Finlay and Joe McCulloch have about taxes, schools, state spending — you name it. Even their proposals for ethics reform are significantly different.
But what’s most important — particularly since both are capable, mainstream candidates — is not their different perspectives on policy. It’s the different values they bring to the job of governing.
Simply put, Mr. McCulloch is someone who values the consensus-building process that the Founding Fathers envisioned as central to our system of self-government; Mr. Finlay is not.
It’s true that Mr. McCulloch has more reason to talk up compromise and bipartisanship; the House is overwhelmingly Republican, so a Democrat who isn’t enthusiastic about working across party lines isn’t going to accomplish anything. But it’s also true that too many Democrats — and most of the new breed of libertarian Republicans — are perfectly happy making noise instead of making good laws.
When we say Mr. Finlay does not value consensus, we don’t simply mean that he doesn’t list reducing gridlock as his top priority, as Mr. McCulloch does. We mean he’s disdainful of the whole idea. For example, when we asked him what he would do to work with Democrats in the House, he said he didn’t recall Democrats doing much to work with him when he was a member of the Columbia City Council and that “I’m sort of excited to be in the majority for a change.”
What’s so bizarre about his chip-on-the-shoulder mentality is that Mr. Finlay’s fellow council members actually turned to him to lead the city out of its fiscal crisis. Which he did quite well.
The candidates’ differences on issues are less important — and in some cases less different than they appear; for instance, both support giving governors more authority, and closing tax loopholes — but overall we prefer Mr. McCulloch’s positions.
Mr. McCulloch understands that education reform must include making sure kids in poor districts have as many opportunities as those in suburban districts, and making sure school funds are better spent, for instance by consolidating districts to eliminate duplication; Mr. Finlay supports giving tax credits to parents to send their kids to private schools, although at least that doesn’t seem to be a passion for him.
Mr. McCulloch might be a little more open to tax increases than we would like; but Mr. Finlay is on the hunt for ways to cut our already-low taxes even more, and he signed a no-new-taxes pledge, which is one of the most irresponsible things candidates can do, since it abdicates their responsibility to make decisions based on the state’s needs.
Mr. McCulloch also has a far superior ethics platform, if only because Mr. Finlay’s only interest is in making lawmakers report all the money they and their families receive from government — which the law already requires. Like a growing number of candidates, Mr. McCulloch wants to toughen ethics enforcement, among other things by putting an independent entity in charge of policing legislative ethics. Which we need.
If we had a Legislature full of spendthrifts who were passing red-ink budgets, oblivious to fiscal reality, then we would need more people like Mr. Finlay in the House. But we don’t have that. Contrary to the claims by some special-interest groups who are pushing an extreme anti-government agenda without regard to reality, the Legislature — and especially the House — passes balanced budgets, without raising taxes (in fact, it routinely cuts them), and it’s growing the state’s reserves. It is, in short, fiscally conservative.
What we most need in our Legislature is more people — in both parties — who understand that no one person, and certainly no one party, is right about everything. That on nearly every issue, there’s a way to make even the losers feel like they got a little something they can live with. Mr. McCulloch understands that, and we believe he would make a fine addition to the House.