Friday, October 28, 2011

If you don't like our government, maybe you shouldn't be running it...

            I usually don’t open emails from Shelley Capito, the current senator of my former congressional district, and only partially from reasons of geography.   This time, the title of her email seemed fairly innocuous – a congratulations to West Virginia University, for becoming a member of the Big 12, (even over the objections of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who apparently thinks that somewhere in his job description is a paragraph that explains how it’s OK to mandate how sports team conferences are organized).   Though I did not attend WVU, I have some half a dozen family members who are alumni or current students, and my grandfather is enough of a fan that he bought my parents a Mountaineer lawn gnome as a Christmas present.   (If I had a lawn, I’m sure I would have gotten one, too.)   So keeping vaguely informed about the trials and tribulations of WVU sports teams can be very helpful in making small talk with my relatives back east.

            Unfortunately, the title of Senator Shelley’s email was the electronic version of a bait and switch.   After one sentence saying that she thought it was great that West Virginia had made the Big 12, she jumped right into the sort of subjects that make me consider unsubscribing from her email list.   I’ll quote a few sentences from the press release included in the email.

            “Today, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., released a new video inviting local businesses to share with Members of Congress how government regulations are holding them back through American Job Creators. The initiative is part of an ongoing effort by Republicans to encourage our nation’s job creators to share their stories about how government impacts job creation.”

            I tried going to the site hyper-linked above, but the AJC share-the-stories form had so many mandatory fields that patently didn’t apply to a normal, non-company-owning person that I couldn’t figure out a way to express an opinion through the site.   I then decided to email Senator Shelley, only to be confronted with a form that required my full ten-digit zip code before I could send anything.   I do, in fact, know my ten-digit zip code, but the site refused to recognize it as a valid US address.   (Funny, the postal service in Seward seems to like it just fine.)   Finally, after a few google searchers, I was able to look up the ten digit zip code for my parent’s address in West Virginia, which I entered, and finally was able to gain access to the heavily defended internet fortification that is Senator Shelley’s online comment form.    Considering that a senator is, at least theoretically, supposed to at least appear to care what her constituents think, she is making it pretty difficult for constituents to even register an opinion.   Unless you’re a business owner – you guys have a whole website set up to solicit your opinions.

            The following is a slightly edited version of the comment I (finally) submitted to Senator Capito through her online form.

            Dear Senator Shelley, I just received your newsletter, inviting business owners to share, and I quote, 'how government regulations are holding them back'.  

            If your idea is to actually get information from business owners on what’s preventing them from hiring new employees- why not actually ask them, instead if blatantly implying that government regulations is responsible for what's happened to our economy in the past three years?    

            For example, I work seasonally as a guide for a private lodge in Alaska.   I don’t own the lodge by any means, but I have worked at the company for long enough that I have a layman’s understanding of how our business model works.   The lodge’s small private acreage is completely surrounded by a huge parcel of land that is federally-owned, and completely off-limits to any sort of commercial development.   Clients patronizing our lodge often do so specifically because it is a base from which to explore this onerously regulated parcel of federal land, which is otherwise known as Kenai Fjords National Park.   Without the government regulations limiting exploitative use of this natural area - as well as the increased visibility and visitation the lodge gets due to our proximity to a national park - we likely would not have a large enough client base to make this lodge a viable business.  

            Because we operate in and near a national park, the lodge I work for must also comply with KFNP’s rules and regulations.     Doing so isn’t, as far as I know, any sort of logistical or financial hindrance, and helps to ensure that all of the various commercial enterprises that operate in the park are all basically following the same rules.   For example, we are only allowed to take a maximum number of twelve clients at a time into certain areas of the park. Some days, keeping our tours within this limit can be a real hassle, but in turn, it helps to assure that all of the other commercial guides are following the same limits.   Basically, it means that my clients and I aren’t going to hike up to our lunch spot one day and find the place overrun with fifty teenagers from an Outward Bound course.   It’s in everybody’s best interests to follow the regulations that KFNP (i.e, the government) has set up, that helps to preserve the wilderness environment that my clients have come to Alaska to see.   

            In addition, KFNP (i.e., the government) has rangers based near the lodge, who keep a periodic eye on what the various private operators in the park are actually doing.   If I decide to take twenty-seven people out to the glacier overlook, instead of the twelve that my permit allows, they are the folks who will be issuing a citation.   Also, as a guide, if I am handing my group in a way that is patently unsafe (walking my clients under an unstable ice ledge, for example) the rangers are the folks who will dropping by to have a word with my boss.   I don’t pretend to claim that my clients have a clear awareness of the park ranger’s role in monitoring what us guides are doing – but I am very sure that every client I have worked with would be happy with the idea that someone in authority is intermittently monitoring the decisions that I make while in the field. 

            So, in our business model, government regulations are an indispensable part of why my employer is able to turn a profit, and continue issuing me a paycheck.   I am sure that many West Virginia tourism companies near the New River National Scenic Area, and around the Monongahela National Forest, have a similar reliance on the fact that the government does, in fact, have regulations on the books that preserves the natural areas from which the state’s tourism companies derive their income.

            Also, if you are really so interested in improving the job situation for West Virginians, why the heck haven't you worked to pass any of the jobs legislation that's come before Congress in the past couple of weeks?   Do firefighters and teachers and police officers not matter as much because they aren't business owners?   Is it because those occupations work within government regulations, (in the case, of police officers, enforcing government regulations in some cases) instead of (apparently) seeing these regulations as some sort of onerous burden, as your email implies of business owners in West Virginia?     

            So, as a constituent, the next time you want my opinion on government regulations, Senator, you can ask for it - instead of implying you've already decided what that opinion ought to be.

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