The Stakes Are High for Smart Transpo Policy in These 6 Races for Governor

Today, voters go to the polls to exercise their constitutional right to self-government — if their state hasn’t disenfranchised them with onerous voter ID laws, that is, and if they can get motivated to turn out for a mid-term election. In 27 states, voters are choosing a governor. These elections are perhaps the most important in the country when it comes to transportation policy, because governors set the agenda for major infrastructure decisions and control the state DOTs that spend the lion’s share of U.S. transportation funding.

Here’s a look at six close contests that will have major implications for transportation and development.

Maryland

Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, and Republican challenger Larry Hogan, right.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, and Republican challenger Larry Hogan, right.

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown has served as number two in Governor Martin O’Malley’s pro-rail, smart-growth-minded administration for eight years. Republican challenger Larry Hogan runs a land brokerage and development firm that specializes in suburban greenfield strip malls and subdivisions. While Brown would continue O’Malley’s emphasis on transit expansion, including the planned 16-mile Purple Line linking key Maryland suburbs and the downtown Baltimore Red Line light rail, Hogan argues that the state should focus on its backlog of road projects instead of bothering with transit.

The state has allocated the money for the line, but according to Ben Ross of Maryland’s Action Committee for Transit, “there’s nothing to stop them from changing their mind.” Advocates worry that Hogan’s car-centric transportation priorities would redirect all that money toward highways.

“The governor of Maryland has virtually absolute power over the budget,” Ross said in an email. “All the legislature can do is cut. So if Hogan takes the Purple Line out of the budget, no one else can put it in.”

Brown started off the campaign with a commanding lead over Hogan, but that lead has dwindled to almost nothing. The race is now a nail-biting toss-up.

Illinois

Republican Bruce Rauner, left, is challenging Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, right.
Republican Bruce Rauner, left, is challenging Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, right.

Governor Pat Quinn has said all the right things about complete streets and investing in transportation options that don’t involve road widening, but his record is decidedly mixed, to put it charitably. Streetsblog Chicago wrote last week:

Yet under Quinn’s administration, the Illinois Department of Transportation has demonstrated that its priorities include widening existing roads, rather than bus rapid transit, congestion pricing, or the other options Active Trans outlined. IDOT has widened dozens of miles of roads throughout the suburbs, and even widened Harrison Street through the South Loop in 2012 — a move that the Chicago Department of Transportation partially reversed this year with a road diet and buffered bike lanes.

Quinn has also championed the expensive and unnecessary Illiana Tollway as his top priority for IDOT, thereby depriving all other priorities of crucial state funding.

Quinn has pledged to install 20 miles of protected bike lanes on state roads during his next term, which IDOT currently bans.

Despite Quinn’s imperfections, he’s a known quantity. The same can’t be said of Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist who “makes no apologies for his success.” Rauner is right there with Quinn on the Illiana, calling it “an important economic development engine.”

That’s about as specific as Rauner has gotten on any transportation issue, in a campaign that has remained deliberately vague while seeking to capitalize on anybody-but-Quinn voter sentiment.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, left, and Democratic challenger Mary Burke, right.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, left, and Democratic challenger Mary Burke, right.

Here’s a delicious one. Governor Scott Walker has spent the last four years expanding highways like I-94, even as Wisconsin residents drive less, and cutting needed social programs to pay for his road-building bonanza. Meanwhile, he’s been hostile to any transportation options that don’t involve driving. When he was first elected, he delighted his Tea Party supporters by rejecting high-speed rail money from the Obama administration.

Walker is being challenged by Mary Burke, a former executive at Trek Bicycle. Let that sink in for a moment.

Burke hasn’t been very forthcoming about her own thoughts about transportation. But she has cited WISPIRG reports criticizing Walker’s highway projects, and she’s said she would scrutinize how much is being spent on major road projects and has vowed to prioritize projects based on “economic development and safety.”

Massachusetts

Democrat Martha Coakley, left, and Republican Charlie Baker, right, are running for governor of Massachusetts.
Democrat Martha Coakley, left, and Republican Charlie Baker, right, are running for governor of Massachusetts.

Democrat Martha Coakley responded to a candidate questionnaire from Transportation for Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance with detailed answers, pledging concrete actions in support of MassDOT’s ambitious goals to increase transit ridership, biking, and walking. She wants to expand and improve transit, index the gas tax to inflation, build multi-modal transportation projects, and reform the state’s “outdated” zoning laws to encourage more smart growth and brownfield development. She named specific pieces of legislation she would support to achieve those goals, such as H1859, which would empower cities to build more affordable housing and make it harder to build sprawl.

Her opponent, Charlie Baker, was far more vague in his answers. Mostly he doesn’t want to spend money on transportation. He’s all for biking, walking, and transit, but “we cannot ignore that for many people, a car is the only way to get from an affordable place to live to their job,” he said.

Florida

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), left, and former Gov. Charlie Crist (D), right, are neck-and-neck in the polls.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), left, and former Gov. Charlie Crist (D), right, are neck-and-neck in the polls.

Here’s a weird one. And one of the closest races out there.

High-profile high-speed rail rejecter Rick Scott is running for re-election against Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Christ, who served as governor from 2007 to 2011.

Though Scott was no fan of the Obama adminstration’s rail plan, he has “cautiously” supported the (mostly) all-privately owned and operated All Aboard Florida plan — a 125-mph train between Miami and Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

In a complete reversal of typical party positions, Crist opposes it. He hasn’t exactly said he’d can the project as governor, according to Next City’s Rachel Dovey, but he’s expressed “serious concerns” about it. Crist would have preferred Obama’s rail project and has indicated that as governor, he’d look to get back the money that Scott sent back four years ago.

Not only could this gubernatorial election affect the outcome of the rail project, the rail project could affect the outcome of the election. In a race that’s down to a fraction of a point — Real Clear Politics currently shows Crist ahead by 0.4 points — public sentiment about the rail line could swing the election.

A group calling itself Florida Not All Aboard has been opposing the project. Made up mostly of representatives from communities the line would pass through but not serve, the group hasn’t called for Scott’s ouster in so many words, but its outspoken protest of the project could be a factor.

Connecticut

Republican Tom Foley, left, is challenging Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, right.
Republican Tom Foley, left, is challenging Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, right.

As governor, Democrat Dan Malloy has supported the Hartford-New Britain busway and upgrades to the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line. His proposal for a five-year transportation capital program, however, includes a big-ticket widening project for I-84 in Waterbury.

His Republican opponent, businessman Tom Foley, doesn’t think Malloy has done enough to expand roads. At a recent transportation forum where the incumbent defended his record of transit investment, Foley attacked. “Any purposeful strategy to push people out of their cars and onto mass transit, I really don’t think is going to work,” he said.

One area where they seem to agree is their distaste for tolling roads. Foley goes so far as to say said he would consider tolls only as a means to reduce traffic congestion and not as a source of new revenue. So if tolling were implemented, he’d insist that gas taxes be lowered. “I do not support additional sources of revenue for the state of Connecticut,” he said — somewhat astoundingly, when motorists drive 5.3 million automobiles over bridges known to be structurally deficient in his state every day [PDF].

What other races will you be watching tonight? We’ll be live-tweeting results from these races and the ballot initiatives we’re following @streetsblogusa.

  • JerichoWhiskey

    “Her opponent, Charlie Baker, was far more vague in his answers. Mostly
    he doesn’t want to spend money on transportation. He’s all for biking,
    walking, and transit, but “we cannot ignore that for many people, a car
    is the only way to get from an affordable place to live to their job,”
    he said.”

    Circular logic at its best!

  • Mark

    People that care about transportation also need to care about computerized election fraud. The Republicans have been systematically stealing about 5% of the vote (so they win even if they are really down 46%-54%) in many major elections across the country. Nearly all the computerize voting and vote counting machines are controlled by a network of corrupt right wing Republicans with close ties to Karl Rove. Please see this nice summary by Victoria Collier that appeared in Harpers: http://harpers.org/archive/2012/11/how-to-rig-an-election/

    Martha Coakley had a U.S. Senate seat stolen from her by Scott Brown in the 2010 special election: http://electiondefensealliance.org/files/BelieveIt_OrNot_100904_2011rev_.pdf

    Rick Scott stole the Florida statehouse in 2010 thanks to computerized vote rigging: –
    http://rickscottwatch.blogspot.com/2012/03/dominion-voting-accepts-blame-for.html

    And Scott Walker used computerized vote counting fraud and a host of other techniques to steal the Wisconsin recall election, and since then he has worked hard to destroy democracy in Wisconsin. http://www.bradblog.com/?cat=523

    The Koch Brothers/Rove/Bush agenda is not popular in America, but as long as they control the counting of the votes good policy arguments don’t count for much.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    I am an ardent liberal but this scheme would easily be found out with polling being wrong nearly always. This doesn’t happen almost always, and certainly not in a systematic way.

    Has there been one election stolen by hacked electronic voting, maybe. Is it systematic and biased in one direction? Absolutely not. The polling agencies are too good at predicting results for that to be the case.

  • Mark

    The voting fraud has been found out time and time again. But most people are in denial about the depth of corruption of our political system. The official tally consistently is bias toward the Republicans from the pre-election polls and the exit polls. The effect is so common that a popular myth has been spread that Republicans are reluctant to respond to exit polls; however, statistical analysis of the polling data shows that Republicans respond at a higher rate than Democrats.

    RFK Jr. says that the 2004 election was stolen, but very few people want to listen: http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0601-34.htm

    The same Republican machine that is systematically working to prevent Democrats from voting is also working to corrupt the counting. Take the time to read and research yourself.

  • J

    Sadly, it seems that most politicians (including Democrats) above the city level of government don’t seem to get it, in terms of transit and smart development. In my opinion, the best scenario is to decentralize spending and decision-making power to metropolitan and local governments, which would help avoid a lot of expensive boondoggles that propagate sprawl and car dependence, such as the Illiana expressway and the Tappan Zee Bridge.

  • Jack Jackson

    1 for 5. Good job Street Blog

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