Earlier this week I received a call from a polling firm asking for my opinion on New York State’s next attorney general. The woman on the phone read off a list of names and I felt a bit ashamed when I couldn’t identify a single candidate. But then again, I doubt I am alone here.

I think that part of the reason why so many young people are ignorant about politics is because we have trouble seeing its relevance to our everyday lives. The high stakes races that get major television coverage always seem so distant from the steady rhythm of college life. This year, however, things are a little bit different. The collective outcome of high stakes congressional races across the country will have a noticeable effect on both the city of Rochester and UR. Let me explain.

President Bush’s low approval rating, along with corruption by top Republicans, has given Democrats a golden opportunity to take back both the House and Senate. One important consequence of a congressional shake up will be a major realignment of pork barrel spending in this country.

This is spending that gets funneled into very specific projects that overwhelmingly benefit a few key constituents. Politicians perform this legislative sleight of hand by inserting a seemingly innocuous line-item directly into a federal appropriations bill. The budget watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste estimates that in 2005 alone, federal pork cost taxpayers nearly $27.3 billion. Congressional committee heads, who get to set the committee’s agenda, are typically the worst abusers.

The city of Rochester sits on the eastern edge of New York State’s 28th congressional district and is represented by House Democrat Louise Slaughter. According to estimates from CAGW, Slaughter has helped to secure more than $115 million in appropriations spending for the city of Rochester over the past decade. Of that amount, nearly $42 million went directly to UR (all dollar amounts are inflation adjusted to 2005 levels).

Congresswoman Slaughter is a powerful voice within the Democratic Party. However, the Democrat’s ability to influence discretionary spending over the past decade has been largely curtailed by Republican ascendancy in both the House and Senate. As the ranking member of the powerful House Rules Committee, Congresswoman Slaughter is in an excellent position to move into the political limelight. A Democratic victory in November would assure her the chairman’s seat and much greater status in Washington.

Of course, none of this will happen if Slaughter fails to hold onto her seat in this year’s election. But an experienced incumbent like Slaughter probably isn’t losing much sleep over this race. After all, in her 2004 seat race against Republican Michael Labe, Slaughter enjoyed a three to one margin of victory. This year’s race against newcomer John Donnelly will probably end in a similar routing.

A good politician never forgets the voters who put them into office. Based on Congresswoman Slaughter’s past generosity, both Rochester and UR can expect a lot more federal goodies if the Democrats take back the house this fall. This year make a concerted effort to know what is going on the world of politics, because even if it isn’t always obvious, all politics are local.

Miller can be reached at emiller@campustimes.org.



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