A Publication of WTVP

We think so.

Look at Peoria's history. We have been, essentially, a blue-collar working class community. Not in every way, but the working class tradition runs deep here. We would suggest, as has the Mayor, that most Council members have their roots somewhere (some buried more than others) in that tradition. His exact words: "The culture that used to exist in Peoria–a strong, working-class community–is mirrored in our City Council members." Note the Mayor said, "used to exist." Peoria's culture has shifted–from a labor-oriented background to a knowledge-based one. It was inevitable–the computer's influence (changing workplaces, the Internet, a reliance on brain vs. brawn) is being felt in Peoria just as it's being felt everywhere else.

Maybe that's why everything the Council seems to touch these days turns to controversy. Almost every major project Council members consider has passed or failed only after a major, prolonged debate, and usually with a divided vote. Council members' opposition takes a variety of forms–but its roots are based in what Peoria once was–traditional and conservative. That's not intended to denigrate the Council members who vote a project up or down because it represents a change they would rather not make. After all, many of their constituents feel the same way–no mater what the long-term value to the community. Pick the project development along the Riverfront or in Southtown, the Promenade, the housing complex at Knoxville-Ravinswood-Allen Road, WeaverRidge senior complex–all proposals with potential long-term benefits for the City. But each becomes mired in controversy because "that's not the way things have been done here."

How is this like the U.S. Congress? Look at normalized trade with China (PNTR). Opposition has come primarily from labor unions. Even though normalizing trade with China makes long term sense for all of us; union leaders (I think) use it as a ploy to maintain their leadership. They play upon the insecurities of their members, threatening that thousands of jobs could be lost if this passes. Their arguments ignore the realities, but their membership, and to a certain extent some key members of Congress, don't want to deal in reality. Emotions run high on these issues, and sometimes they rule–not logic or common sense.

Consider the realities of normalized trade with China. Incredibly, the U.S. Trade Representative has hammered out a deal in which the U.S. has to give up almost nothing except voting in favor of China's admission to the World Trade Organization, which will likely happen whether the U.S. favors it or not. In return, China is required to do a lot–specifically, lowering its hefty trade restrictions so that American goods (those made in this country by members of unions) can flow more freely into their country. What a deal! To thumb our noses at it would send absolutely the wrong signal at the wrong time.

The situation is similar for free trade. Unions and others oppose it. But what they fail to recognize is that freer trade means two things: 1) they don't have to spend as much to buy products when they shop, and 2) U.S. exports (which thrive as trade becomes freer) currently supports more than 12 million U.S. jobs that pay generally well above the average compensation. Caterpillar group president Gerry Shaheen said it well in a speech at Bradley a couple of months ago: "I can testify that companies which export effectively are more likely to survive–more likely to be around to employ workers, their neighbors and their children."

So, that's what we face both nationally and locally. A traditional mindset in a knowledge-based culture. And, frankly, that new culture has left the "old-fashioned" mindset in the dust. But it relies on emotional appeals to succeed, and because many of us don't like change and still have ties to that old culture, it has plenty of support.

That's not all bad. It helps to be reminded of the way we used to do things–to temper our rush-to-progress. Maybe it's a good thing to slow down occasionally to make sure of the direction we're going.

But it's wrong to be controlled by that old culture. We need to start fresh–in both Peoria and Washington. Whenever it happens, we want to be on the leading edge, not the following edge. IBI