10 Things I've Learned from Covering State Politics

A little over 10 years ago, I began writing a column on state politics. It wasn’t a new pursuit; I’d covered state politics here and there as a reporter for National Journal and for political analyst Charlie Cook. But starting a regular column -- initially weekly, then every other week -- was still a leap for me. Now that I’ve been writing the column for a while, though, I've learned a few things.

Indulge me, but I've pulled together a list of 10 things I've discovered while doing it. In time for the New Year, here they are: READ MORE

The Common Threads that Underlie Our Infrastructure Debate

There's no shortage of discussion about the principal infrastructure issues facing communities across the country. Concerns such as aging roads, bridges, water system and other public works, constrained local and state government budgets, and diminishing federal funding generally make it to the top of most lists on the subject. Regional and local differences -- ranging from age of infrastructure to financial resources to regulations, environmental conditions and leadership -- produce large variations in how these subjects manifest themselves in any given place.

Over the past year Governing conducted a series of five editorial roundtables around the country to better understand these regional differences and solicit perceptions and opinions of government leaders engaged in with these issues. Public-sector participants included elected, appointed and career leaders in Cincinnati, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia and San Diego. READ MORE

The Feds Introduce a Program for Disconnected Youth

When it comes to involvement in human services, the federal government usually gets dinged more for its straight-jacket rules and regulations around spending than it gets praise for being a creative partner in innovation. But for the past few years, there's been a faction of folks at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) who have been interested in leveraging the cash and the coordinating capacity of the feds with the creativity of all those on the front line -- states, localities, providers and advocates.

The manifestation of this interest is a performance partnership pilot aimed at tackling the problem of disconnected youth, defined as young adults who are neither working nor in school. OMB officials are looking for up to 10 pilot sites that will be allowed to blend existing federal funds in order to experiment with new approaches to helping these kids get an education and a job. Winning pilots are also eligible for up to $700,000 in additional funding. READ MORE

Delaware Revamps Family Services

Delaware is headed into year three of a major push to overhaul how it delivers children and family services, an initiative strongly supported by Gov. Jack Markell and ably directed by Vicky Kelly, the director of the Delaware Division of Family Services. The theme of the overall reform is family engagement, including a strong push on structured decision-making.

It's an overhaul that was long overdue. Even long-time, top-level Division of Family Services (DFS) staff admit that a whole lot of what is considered state-of-the-art practices in children and family services had passed Delaware by. That combined with a classic, very cautious approach to dealing with families in crisis -- the system was inclined to pull kids first and worry about whether removal was actually justified later -- meant that way too many kids were being hauled into state custody unnecessarily. READ MORE

Remembering Mayor Menino

Newly elected mayors like to be judged, and generally are judged, on the breadth of their vision. They march into office following campaigns in which they promise to produce world-class schools, dramatic new efficiencies in management and spectacular economic development. They deliver inaugural speeches proclaiming that, given enough energy and creativity, no goal is unreachable.

When they leave office, however, it is a different story. By then, the public and most of the pundits have lost track of what the original promises were, and judge mayors on how well they handled the details -- clearing away snow, repairing the streets, keeping municipal employees on the job and a myriad of other administrative challenges far beneath the lofty rhetoric of Inauguration Day. READ MORE