publisher's note
October 28 , 2005


DLC road show hits KC
by Bruce Rodgers

Here’s a quick question to all you regular yet-interested-in-politics citizens out there:

What job did Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack take over in July from Indiana U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh? (HINT: The letters DLC figure into the answer.)

The answer is Chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, the “moderate” group of Democrats that continue to lay claim to being responsible for the election, and reelection, of Bill Clinton, himself a former chair of the DLC. Never mind that Clinton will be remembered more for his attempted impeachment and for a stain on a certain intern’s dress than for being the first Democrat elected president for two terms since FDR.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know the answer. Outreach to the public isn’t really the DLC’s thing.

But let’s face it, while Clinton had a thing for women, President Bush has a thing for screwing things up and missing opportunities to unite this country. Which is worse?

Vilsack came to Kansas City last week for a discussion about economic development matters with area politicos and business and labor people at Penn Valley Community College. Community leaders, as in neighborhood, front-line folk, weren’t part of the roundtable and seemed absent when it came to the audience — made up of a couple of other Democratic state representatives, Penn Valley bureaucrats and a few quickly bored students.

Moderated by Independence Democrat and Assistant Minority Leader Paul Le Vota, representatives from KCP&L, the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, Sprint, the Business and Technology College, Missouri Economic Development Council, Kansas City Development Council, a small business owner of a IT company and Missouri House Minority Leader Jeff Harris of Columbia and Kansas City state Sen. Charles Wheeler sat on the panel.

KCP&L and Sprint sent substitutes for the executives originally invited. One could speculate that either the meeting wasn’t that important to the corporations to send their relevant executives or that both corporations are in such good economic shape there wasn’t that much of a pressing need to send top-level people. Besides, corporations do their influencing behind closed doors not at a roundtable that seemed more of a media event for introducing Vilsack as the new DLC leader.

Opening remarks by Harris touted Vilsack’s success in Iowa and his popularity there. The words “forward thinking governor” and someone who understands the “new economy” in the world marketplace were tossed out. Unspoken was Vilsack’s dark horse possibility as a presidential candidate in 2008. And there’s something to say about Vilsack; he projects a believable presidential profile. He talked easily without notes, was confident in what he was saying and personable.

Vilsack, in opening remarks, talked about the disaffected youth who “don’t believe in the American Dream” and 66% of Americans not believing the country is headed in the right direction. He talked about his state being a leading producer of renewable fuel (presumably ethanol, which is taxpayer subsidized — something Vilsack didn’t mention).

“Anxiety” about the future, said Vilsack, was prevalent in issues of job security, health care insurance and pension plans. Getting rid of the anxiety was the task, and, Vilsack concluded, “At the end of the day, it’s those in business and labor who have to work with us in government to make it happen.”

Vilsack played to the panel; what he said wasn’t new and it was pure mainstream tilted right.

Wheeler, who seemed to recognize the slight air of pretentiousness that hung over the group, suggested that they “hear from the civic leaders” assembled about what they think.

The KCP&L spokesman, in what could be termed as a congratulatory signal to Missouri’s pro-business Gov. Blunt, gushed about the utility “partnering with regulators” and how the corporation was “pleased with the moderation of regulation.” Apparently well satisfied, he said the utility wouldn’t be looking for additional legislation in the upcoming legislative session but that there was concern with the eminent domain issue as it pertained to transmission lines.

Eminent domain, an issue that has aroused homeowners and small business people, appears to have been claimed by the conservatives despite its populist groundings. It will be interesting to see if Democratic legislators holding to the DLC philosophy come out on the side of Big Utility. Needless to say, the KCP&L spokesman never uttered the words “public interest.”

The coin flipped when Bridgette Williams, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, quickly made note that “We are losing our middle class” and that the gap between rich and poor is widening. She called health care, Medicare and trade core issues, and that mass transit “needs to be addressed for economic development.”

Gary Sage, from the Business and Technology College, made it more real. He remarked on the obvious that energy was a fundamental base to build the economy, and that a national energy policy built on fossil fuels was “wrong.”

“Oil doesn’t give the economy an adaptability,” said Sage. Then he added something that may have made the business representatives uncomfortable concerning a national energy policy — “There are times when the private economy can’t do it.” It was almost FDR like.

The small business owner let loose his lament, also. “We’re paying the taxes in this country,” he said of small businesses like his. “The corporations and ultra-wealthy are not paying their fair share.”

He also complained about not finding skilled IT workers, the cost of health care for his employees and the anti-life science (stem cell) legislation — “bans that hurt my business.”

“No offense,” he concluded, “but it can’t be all about Sprint.”

The Sprint guy let it slide. Sprint needs to be allowed to compete, he said. “Let the marketplace dictate the regulatory side.”

Vilsack seemed to agree. The marketplace can regulate prices, he said. Utilities need predictability in recouping investment, he added. Trade issues need to be addressed and job investment is important. And, “We need to change the thought process (on health care) from treatment to prevention.”

Such a thought process apparently doesn’t take into account a single payer, universal system or the acknowledgement that the whole profit-making system of health care is based on treatment, not prevention.

Gov. Vilsack appears to be a nice guy, and a DLC template that’s hungry for political victories, more so than solving people’s real problems.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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