For a whole host of reasons, many of them historical, there aren’t very many Republican big city mayors. I’ve also argued that the current national Republican mindset leads to urban residents giving them the brush-off.
However, there are some interesting Republican mayors out there. And they are often blending traditional conservative government approaches with a focus on service delivery and quality of life improvements. One of them is Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. I saw him speak at the CEOs for Cities meeting in Boston, and he told an impressive story of what they’ve been doing in OKC.
To me the ultimate policy synthesis Cornett brought to the table is MAPS-3. That’s a $777M public works program with heavy quality of life investments in items like parks that Cornett convinced the voters to approve. The kicker is that in true fiscal conservative style, this is actually being paid for with cash, not debt.
Kasia Zabawa, Deputy Director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership, recently traveled to Oklahoma City to interview Cornett. The video is below. If it doesn’t display for you, click here. If you’d rather read (it’s faster), there’s a transcript posted at the Manhattan Institute’s Public Sector Inc. site. I’ll include a few excerpts below the video.
My two predecessors and I would certainly call ourselves “conservatives” and we do not believe in large government spending. But if you can create a city where people want to live and if you can create a strong economy, then you can develop a private sector that can afford a lot of the social spending that a large community needs. If you can be a partner in building a strong private sector, you’re going to be able to take care of a lot of the social needs that most people equate with tax-and-spend government.
When it gets down to city government, there aren’t a lot of traditional partisan issues, and that comment reflects the fact that what a citizen really wants is their pothole fixed, and they don’t care if a Republican fixes it or a Democrat fixes it; if it’s not fixed, it’s most likely not the result of partisan bickering, it’s an inability to run a government.
You wouldn’t necessarily think a string of Republican mayors would be pushing penny on the dollar sales taxes but indeed we have. In retrospect–it didn’t necessarily feel this way at the time–that first one was passed out of desperation. I mean, we were desperate for something better. We had created a city that couldn’t keep its young people, that was losing jobs, and that really didn’t have a quality of life that we were proud of.