Potomac Chronicle

The Gap Between What Voters Want and Who They Support

When the 2016 presidential campaign began, no one expected that the big collection of current and former governors would slide to the back of the pack. Governors once had an inside track to the White House. Is that a thing of the past? It’s hard to say for sure yet -- but the current governor-candidates have all had trouble. The ones with the most experience in governing have had the hardest time exciting citizens, while those with the least experience have created the most buzz.

Among Republicans with experience, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Texas' Rick Perry and Wisconsin's Scott Walker have dropped out. George Pataki (New York) hasn't escaped the second-string debate squad, while Chris Christie (New Jersey), Mike Huckabee (Arkansas) and John Kasich (Ohio) have also been mired in the bottom tier. The heir presumptive, Jeb Bush (Florida), found himself hemmed in from his first steps out of the gate. READ MORE

Plan B for Ending the Gun Epidemic

As a young man, I never thought twice about using guns. In my mid-teens, I got rifle training from the National Rifle Association in a highly organized, professional program that stressed safety above all else. In the military, the weaponry saved me from terminal boredom. I fired M-16 assault rifles, an M-60 machine gun, a .45 revolver and even a bazooka. It was fun. Later, on my first-ever day of hunting, I shot a deer as it ran by me in the West Virginia woods. I had to shoot it again as it lay writhing on the forest floor. It was then that I realized that I’m not a gun guy, and I never fired a gun again.

Now we face the perplexing question of what to do about the flood of firearms coursing through our society -- a question made more difficult by last month’s shooting at an Oregon community college. The simple and obvious remedy is to outlaw them, but the Second Amendment -- or its current interpretation -- makes that impossible. We could pass federal laws making it harder for people to get guns if they are not licensed and carefully screened, but that’s not going to happen either. READ MORE

When It Comes to Wildfires, Collaboration Causes Confusion

United States Forest Service fire captain David Ruhl loved tackling big wildfires. So there was little surprise when he volunteered to leave his wife and two children behind in South Dakota’s Black Hills to help California during its monstrous fire season. In late July, while he was strategizing on how to fight a particularly nasty one in the Modoc National Forest, a wall of flames suddenly trapped him. Search teams found his body the next day.

Ruhl’s death was a tragic reminder of the enormous toll that the wildfires raging across the West have taken. But it was also a reminder of the remarkable partnerships that have emerged to fight them. Joining Ruhl were other feds, including expert interagency “hotshot” teams. They worked closely with local firefighters and Air Force C-130 air tankers. Private contractors provided pilots and more aircraft, ranging from small helicopters to giant air tankers. Coordinating everyone was Cal Fire, the state’s premier wildfire agency. It was a genuine mosaic of federalism, with the intricate boundaries lost amid the smoke of the worst fire season on record. READ MORE

State and Local Governments' Ticking Debt Bomb

As uncomfortable as it has been to watch, the unfolding drama in Greece has had one clear benefit: It has forced many other countries, including our own, to take a closer look at debt, as well as revenues, costs, growth rates, demographics and so on.

Fortunately the United States, compared to most European countries, doesn’t look too bad. Our economy has bounced back from the Great Recession far faster than others. Still, our national debt as a share of gross domestic product has leveled out at a rate somewhat higher than most European countries’. Between that and the unnaturally low level of current interest rates, an aging population and a likely pickup in health-care costs, economists are betting that the overall federal debt will resume its historic rise, leaving only about 5 percent of GDP available for all discretionary federal programs, including defense. READ MORE

How Hurricane Katrina Made the Feds More Powerful

If you marathoned the most recent season of “House of Cards” on Netflix, you know that one major plot line hinges on a federal disaster-relief law -- the Stafford Act of 1988, which authorizes the use of federal money to respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters. In the show, President Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, battles his foes in Congress over implementation of the law and just what constitutes a “disaster.”

It’s a testament not only to the arcane machinations that drive “House of Cards,” but also to the increasing importance of federal emergency funding. This month marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Retrospectives on the storm instantly bring back the searing images of a drowned city, the tales of unimaginable chaos inside the Superdome shelter and the misuse of police power in trying to regain control. READ MORE