Making a better future for the next generation in Michigan.

Old Dog Theory of State Progress

Oct 24, 2022 | Featured, Future, Michigan, Politics | 0 comments

I once had a Lab mix named Buddy. When Buddy was old, he ignored a lot of things. Doors opened and closed, people came and went, he kept sleeping. If Buddy heard something that met his needs — like kibble hitting his dinner bowl — he still reacted like a young pup. And, he would jump up with a sense of urgency if he sensed a threat like a new dog in his territory. Yet, when the threat seemed real, he would do his best to back away from it.

Most public officials in our states follow the Old Dog Theory. They are confronted with many more demands than they can handle, so they don’t react to most of them. Like Buddy, they do react to things that meet their needs. They wake up for campaign contributions, promises of support, or a rival on their turf. Usually, they want to win the next election, so they back away from politically dangerous issues.

Can the ‘old dogs’ of state government make a better future for the next generation?

Recently, I researched seventy years of forward-looking environmental legislation in Congress. The bills that passed felt urgent to legislators, and were politically safe for a large majority of them. Once a bill had urgency and political safety, almost all passed with large bipartisan majorities! My study found a sense of urgency could be created by many things:

  • A large citizen movement,
  • intense media coverage,
  • a court decision,
  • demands from industry,
  • political rivalry,
  • a natural or human-caused disaster,
  • an expiring law, and
  • even a well-researched book laying out a major problem.

Once a majority of political leaders felt a sense of urgency about an issue, they made room for it on their legislative agenda. Urgency was the start of action, but it often took years for legislators to pass a law. That time was taken up with persuasion, committee hearings, and negotiation. Most of this work was done by legislators themselves. Most of the work focused on making a proposal politically safe so no one would lose their next election by voting for it.

What must we do?

If our states need some changes to make the future great for the next generation, what does the Old Dog Theory suggest we must we do?

  • Figure out what issues might limit opportunities for today’s children when they become adults in the 2040s.
  • Find ways to make their issues urgent so they will get attention on the political agenda.
  • Elect allies who can negotiate bills that are politically safe for legislators when it comes time to vote.

I intend Michigan 2040 to focus on this list — and do it on a nonpartisan basis. Please join me and help the old dogs of Michigan make some real progress for the next generation.




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