Choose your Legislature Carefully

By MARK RIFFEY for the Flathead Beacon

During some extended time away from my office, my thoughts tend to wander to bigger picture items that involve business while reaching beyond it. This time around was no different and was provoked by transportation drama introduced into the family’s recent trip to Oregon.

As I waited for family members to arrive at Portland’s Union Station via the four hour late Empire Builder (which would be six hours late making the scheduled 15 hour return journey), I found myself thinking about politics and infrastructure decisions made decades ago.

Infrastructure helps make civilizations possible, when running late.

Funding infrastructure

When Amtrak funding is discussed in Washington, the talk banters back and forth between Amtrak’s critical support for rural communities, its quality problems and the fact that it doesn’t turn a profit. These three issues make it an easy target for funding cuts (or shutdown), particularly by officials who don’t hail from towns whose economy rides the rails with Amtrak.

The obvious Amtrak problem is that you can’t depend on its on-time performance, as covered in the Beacon herehere and here over the last six months. If these problems intensify, ridership declines are likely even on the Seattle / Portland – Chicago route that carried 536k+ riders in 2013, making it easier to defund.

Stir into that mixture the political machinations in Washington, where Amtrak can become a bargaining chip rather than a project with focused effort to a specific outcome.

Surprised young man

Buy and Close

Those negotiations somehow reminded me about a collusion case involving General Motors, Firestone, Standard Oil and others that took place over 50 years ago. The story goes that these companies bought up a number of local people mover rail systems in order to close them down, forcing Americans to drive in areas previously served by rail.

I’m not sure how much this mattered in the long run, as many local streetcar systems were already struggling due to market and regulatory forces. Regardless, the damage was done and these local rail systems never returned to most cities.

Imagine the outrage we’d hear today if a national fast food chain quietly bought all the locally owned restaurants in the North valley and then closed each of them.

Would we expect our representatives to legislate against such acquisitions? Would we want to legislatively control their aftermath as we pretend to do in telecom, for example?

What do we expect of them?

What are your legislative expectations?

While I was in Oregon, the biggest legislative news was not that they’d found a balance between timber and green interests, that they’d found a less-burdensome way to fund schools, or that they’d eliminated legislative tensions between the representatives of Portland and those of the state’s rural areas.

No, the big news was that the legislature and the Governor had agreed to make the jumping jack Oregon’s official state exercise.

Meanwhile, South Carolina’s legislators were doing the people’s work lately by focusing on the latest infrastructure issue: naming an official state fossil.

It’s difficult not to wonder if this is the only thing they can agree on without resorting to party-line votes, so it’s the only thing they do – but I have higher expectations and I hope you do too.

Legislation enables

When Helena developed the need for “big city” internet services (speed/bandwidth-wise), it didn’t come from the legislative initiatives or established cable/telephone firms granted limited local market protection by Federal regulations.

Instead, it took a small business like Treasure State Internet to bring “big city” internet speeds at reasonable prices to the town of 30k people. Legislation allowed it to happen rather than preventing it (or attempting to do it).

My point? Primary season is upon us. It’s time to pick someone to serve the people’s needs, collectively and individually.

What does “serve the people” really mean?

    • Does it mean creating an environment to encourage business creation?
    • Does it mean building pyramids?
    • Does it mean serving the entire constituency of a district or serving only those whose views match what the representative believes?
    • Does it mean setting aside personal agendas to serve a constituency?
    • Does it mean pursuing the representative’s personal agenda to the exclusion of their district’s needs?
    • Who will they place first? Their party or their district?

Food for thought.

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s sitecontact him on Twitter, or email him at


Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s sitecontact him on Twitter, or email him  Check out the Flathead Beacon archive of all of Mark’s blogs.