A New Roadmap for PFA

This is a map of the 435 US House Congressional Districts, you may need to zoom in a bit to see them. Over the course of the next seven months we are going to be spending a lot of time with this map but almost no time at all talking about the races going on in these districts. Beginning next week we are going to return the mission of Project to Find America to its literal roots, from covering the issues behind political races to why they matter in the first place. Why this change in focus?

First, politics writ large has seldom seemed less important. The enemy we face today doesn’t care whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Federalist, Whig or anything else. At the same time, policy making has never seemed more critical. It is not hyperbole to say that the decisions made in Congress over the next few months and years may make a difference between life and death for many people. Politics, of the partisan and divisive flavor we’ve become used to over the last several elections in this country, must end in 2020. We must elect representatives in every House and Senate race and the White House who are willing and able to work together to help us collectively recover from the global crisis of COVID-19.

I’m guessing you agree with this, it’s hard to rationally argue otherwise. But even as you agree you may well be getting ready, if you haven’t already, to click this page closed. There is simply too much coming at us right now – it is all just too real. Even the head of the World Health Organization has suggested about five minutes of news a day should be enough for most of us to stay abreast of what we need to know about the spread of the Coronavirus – and if you are going to limit yourself to five minutes of pandemic news a day, this surely isn’t the place to get it. For that I’d suggest the excellent New York Times twice-daily free briefings.

Instead, we hope to use this space and the 435 Voices podcast to provide something fun, something to remind us of better days and give us things to look forward to when we collectively emerge from our confinement and try to rebuild our daily lives. I also hope it will highlight the amazing building blocks of natural beauty, history, creativity and can-do spirit found in literally every part of this country. The U.S. House congressional districts offer a perfect canvas for this and also underscore the point that, this fall, it will be up to all of us to elect representatives that can help us prepare for the future.

Beginning next Wednesday, April 15, we will virtually visit at least two congressional districts every day through November 3rd or at least as long as I can. These two “stops” each day will follow two different tour routes, each of them built to cover as much of the country as possible at different times over the course of the year.

Whenever we can the 435 Voices podcast will include an interview with someone who can speak to what we might find there, often the heads of local and state tourism offices. We will highlight places where we can get virtual tours of sights like these, even while we wait to see them in person. They might even be a fun way to help your kids keep learning about the country as many of us navigate schooling at home.

The Craib’s Virtual Office & Classroom

Finally, I am very hopeful that we can highlight local efforts to help sustain people in the service and hospitality industries, which are such an important part of many local economies across the country.

PFA Lewis Trail – Week One

This is an approximation of what the first of the two tours will look like in the first week, it’s a winding route but, of course, as ever it’s about the journey not the destination.

  • Wed. 4/15 NH-1
  • Thu. 4/16 MA-6
  • Fri. 4/17 MA-3
  • Sat. 4/18 MA-2
  • Sun. 4/19 RI-1
  • Mon. 4/20 CT-2
  • Tue. 4/21 CT-3

PFA Clark Trail – Week One

The second tour begins deep in the heart of Texas and will make a beginning loop of seven of the state’s 36 districts.

  • Wed. 4/15 TX-11
  • Thu. 4/16 TX-25
  • Fri. 4/17 TX-21
  • Sat. 4/18 TX-20
  • Sun. 4/19 TX-28
  • Mon. 4/20 TX-23
  • Tue. 4/21 TX-16

More details will be coming within the next few days, I hope you will follow along and as always please offer comments, make suggestions and spread the word about this site. For now, here’s wishing you and yours health and hope in the days ahead.

What you Write when you don’t know what to Write

My WordPress account sends me an e-mail when I haven’t posted lately saying something like, “your friends at Project to Find America” haven’t heard from you in awhile – try posting something today.” As I read one such note this morning my wife and son were each working on their own Coronavirus journals about life in our strange new normal at home.

So here I am watching the cursor blink while I try to come up with what to say. It’s been just a little more than two weeks since I last posted on Super Tuesday but in that time it feels to me, as I’m sure it does to many others, that my whole world has changed. I’ve not posted anything in those two weeks not only because I haven’t known what to say, but because in a time when most of us are taking a much harder look at our mortality than we usually do, I wasn’t sure that if COVID-19 came for me that I would want the last thing I wrote about to be on the subject of politics.

Yet here I am, realizing for myself what I have been saying about this site since I launched it eight months ago – it is not about politics, it is about policy and while I am very hopeful and confident that, although I have a cold, this will not be the last thing I write; if somehow it were I can’t think of a better time to write it.

Neither Donald Trump nor any individual members of Congress are responsible for the spread of the Coronavirus. Even as news comes today that members on both sides of the political aisle have contracted the disease, it has become increasingly clear that, at last, we’ve found a topic that doesn’t lend itself to a political spin.

But by most accounts I’ve read, the United States has suffered from a lack of coherent national policy in responding to COVID-19 and in this, I’m afraid, we are all complicit. Our elected President has been using us vs them language since before he was in office and other politicians have willingly taken his lead calling members of the other party all kinds of names you would never call a co-worker (to their face anyway.) In the general public we have zealously bought in, firing snarky social media zingers at people that profess different views and hanging labels on them that include many different words but all end in ist. Ist bad, me good.

But that was before. By definition policy has to come from people agreeing to do something… together. Amid all the rancor, the President and Congress have begun to take action. Together, many of us are doing what we can to stop the spread of the virus. If there is a silver lining to this crisis, which has already brought heartbreak to many people and will continue to bring it to so many more around the world, it is that you see phrases like we’re all in this together written out much more frequently than we would have two weeks ago.

It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic and I don’t know what’s coming in the news tomorrow, let alone next month. Tomorrow’s shoe that drops may be even worse than today’s and shoes seem likely to be dropping for many days to come. But I am hopeful (this by the way is a word my family might us to describe me in a not-always-complimentary way.) I am hopeful that when we emerge from this crisis we will emerge reunited toward the common purpose of progress, of making our country and our world safer, happier and healthier with a better understanding of how all of our best interests as global citizens are inextricably entwined. I also hope we are reunited in this country in understanding the fundamental role our federal government has to play in enabling progress and the character attributes our representatives will need to have in order to play that role.

Amid this new reality there are some changes coming in the days ahead to this site. 435 Voices will be restarting in early April with a new focus toward progress we’ve achieved and progress we need to drive. Stay tuned!

OKRs for PFA

At a time when the world is changing faster than ever before, the United States needs a government that can create policy that is more responsive and more flexible than ever before. But instead of that, our prime legislative body – the US Congress, is less responsive and more inflexible than it has been in at least the last hundred years.

If you recall, that is the problem statement presented here in the first part of a look at the concept of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results.) All good goal-setting exercises have to begin with an understanding of what the context of the goal is. But this is the problem, not the goal.

In essence the goal is for voters to be able to choose candidates for Congress the way they would hire a financial adviser. Who would hire someone who spent the entire interview telling you what they are not going to do or criticizing every financial adviser you’ve ever worked with before? Presumably all the applicants would start off with a pitch about how they are going to make you wealthy and your retirement years golden but those who didn’t get into the specifics about how they are going to do that and the tradeoffs that will be required probably wouldn’t get a call back. Why should we expect anything less from the people that are making the most important decisions about our nation’s future?

That has to begin with getting candidates to answer two simple but elegant questions:

  1. What, specifically, are the three most important things you propose to do in Washington in 2020 and 2021?
  2. What measure could we be looking at to see if your efforts, independent of other (external) factors, are successful?

Seriously, …I’m not kidding. Why shouldn’t we expect politicians to be able to answer these questions? In fact, given the recently difficulty that members of Congress have had in being able to collaborate to produce progress for the country I think it would be reasonable to expect an answer to a third question too:

How and Why do you think you will be able to work more successfully with your colleagues in Congress that have different ideas than yours than other recent members have?

But getting answers to these questions requires that someone asks them and then disseminates the answers and pretty obviously the most likely group to do that are the reporters that cover the candidates on a daily basis.

3 Objectives (through April 2020)

  1. Research and report on the answers (or lack thereof) that have been given to the first two questions from each candidate for the first 125 seats in Congress to be decided this year (of the 436 in the House of Representatives and 35 in the Senate) in advance of their party’s primary if applicable, or the general election if not.
  2. Research and report on the answers (or lack thereof) to the third question in advance of their party’s primary if applicable, or the general election if not.
  3. Get the answers (or lack thereof) to all three questions reported on in local media at least once before the primary and again before the general election in each of those 125 races

3 Key Results: (through April 2020)

Objective 1: Research and Report on the Answers to the Two Key Questions

  • Produce a Ten Links in Ten Minutes video showing the coverage that is available to answer these questions in advance of the primary or general election for each of the 125 House or Senate seats
  • Follow up the video one week later with an episode of the 435 Voices podcast with members of the local media or others following the race to fill in the gaps on the questions
  • Send in a note to the campaign website for each candidate with the first two questions and report on any answers in the 435 Voices podcast.

Objective 2: Research and Report on the Answers to the Third question

  • Highlight any of the rare answers that have been given or comments about this question by any of the candidates in the Ten Links to Ten Minutes video above.
  • Ask local journalists, even if they are not on the podcast, if they have heard an answer to this question and report on these answers on the 435 Voices podcast above
  • Send in a note to the campaign website for each candidate with the third question and report on any answers in the 435 Voices podcast.

Objective 3: Get the answers to all three questions reported on in local media

  • Follow up on the episode of the 435 Voices podcast with a note to each of the journalists covering that race with a link to the podcast and ask them to report on the answers or ask the questions themselves and report on the answers they get
  • Distribute the podcast and video links to local community-based organizations (chambers, community hubs, etc) after each podcast runs
  • Build awareness of the PFA mission by doubling subscriptions to the 435 Voices Podcast and PFA YouTube Channel each month

So these are the first quarter OKRs for the Project to Find America. They look daunting written out this way but I can at least imagine what these outcomes look like. What is more difficult to guess at is what, if any, impact they will have on how people actually vote. I can’t answer that. For reasons covered extensively here we are all hardwired to throw rational thought out the window just before we step into the voting booth. But if we (and I mean you gentle reader) can get the word out about these answers, if you will help by subscribing to the podcast and video channel and passing it along to just a couple of other people a week we might end up with a 117th Congress that is more ready to take on the challenges of the 2020s.