Orlando Sentinel: Set common-sense agenda, provide answers —and fix things: An agenda for Democrats

March 30, 2018

A lot of people believe that our nation’s two-party system has failed us. Republican elected officials, led by the president, have turned sharply right wing and seem to have no interest in finding consensus and common ground with Democrats or independents. The tax bill was a typical example. With no public hearings or opportunity for members of Congress even to read the bill, it passed without one Democratic vote.

Democrats, on the other hand, in both Washington and Tallahassee are doing what minority parties do — seeking to identify a common unifying set of ideas that they can put forward in the next election to address voters’ concerns about their jobs, their kids’ future, family health care and retirement, as well as their daily anxiety about our state’s and country’s leadership and future.

Justified or not, today’s voters, particularly young voters, are not convinced that either political party is offering solutions to problems that they see in our state and country. Democrats’ challenge is to return to their roots and present answers to issues that most Americans care about.

Democrats care about education that gives our children not only the traditional crucial skills of reading, writing and communicating, but also the computer and other technical skills necessary for most jobs today. Other training, starting in middle school and high school, can provide the skills for excellent jobs in construction work and mechanical trades. Training must extend to adults as well. We need to help them develop the skills to hold a job whose requirements have changed or find a new job when theirs have been eliminated.

Democrats care about health care. Throughout the years, we have presented multiple ideas and solutions, from single-payer systems and Medicare for all to the Obamacare health plan, to ensure that every American is covered. Unfortunately 2.6 million Floridians lack insurance, in part due to the governor and Legislature’s mean-spirited and politically partisan refusal to accept Obamacare funds to expand Medicaid and failure to truly address the institutional insurance problems in Florida.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Florida ranks 34th in health care quality and a pitiful 48th for health care access. The public needs to rally behind Democratic efforts on health care and tell Republicans in Tallahassee and Washington to stop obstructing serious conversations about how to fix our health-care system.

Americans understand that infrastructure improvements — including to streets, bridges, airports, public transportation systems and information superhighways — are long overdue, will make their lives easier and safer, our economy more efficient, and will create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs.

Republicans say, “Let the states pay for most of it.” Not a good answer when our state is billions behind in funding of its own list of projects. Enough lip service. Democrats are prepared to make the tough decisions on priorities for development and funding. Hire the people, purchase the materials, and let’s build what we need to build.

Floridians have suffered two decades of one-party Republican control of our government, with Floridians continuing to live in a state whose wages are low compared with our cost of living. That means large numbers of people have difficulty affording rent, food or health-care costs. They work two or three jobs just to make ends meet, with nothing left for savings. The state’s levels of poverty and food insecurity are much worse than the national average. That is not an economy that is working for all.

As we saw last week, our youngest Floridians, most of whom can’t vote yet, made a very clear case to our leaders in Tallahassee that doing nothing is unacceptable. On common-sense reform of our gun laws and other issues, our next generation made a powerful political statement that the old way of doing things is going to be challenged at the voting station. Democrats embrace this new energy, recognizing that it means re-evaluating some of our own policy positions to see what changes we can make in this new dynamic environment. But make no mistake about it, whether it is education, health care or jobs, our citizens wants things fixed.

That’s what voters expect of their politicians, both in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. Democrats have the opportunity this November to ride a wave of backlash to the current presidential administration. We can’t cede to factionalism or ideological purism but need to focus on common-sense solutions that connect with the voters. We will succeed in November if we offer Floridians and Americans a mature and results-oriented alternative to the chaos and ideological excess coming from the president and the Republican Party.

Ron Klein, a former congressman from South Florida, is chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA).