GOP Rejects High-Speed Rail, Voters Reject GOP


How are the GOP governors who rejected high-speed rail projects doing? Buyer’s remorse has set in spectacularly swiftly – from Wisconsin to Florida, their approval ratings have a trajectory like locomotive plunging off a trestle.

The Republican’s anti-rail ideology is part and parcel of the GOP philosophy of  cutting government and slashing spending, saying it will magically create jobs when in reality it’ll just screw the public and transfer even more money to the wealthy. Voters in all four states are rejecting that approach and telling pollsters the GOP plan is “unfair to people like them.”

The bad news: Those states handed the GOP the car keys and said “YOU drive for the next four years”. Now they’re stuck with the results.

Florida – The headline in yesterday’s Miami Herald says it all: “Rick Scott among the least-liked governors in the nation“.

  • Scott took a plan that had bi-partisan support and full business backing and and derailed it, even fighting off a lawsuit from his own party-members in the Legislature.
  • Why? Probably because it was a showpiece for what high-speed rail could do and would have been the first in the nation to be up and running. Anti-rail and anti-government ideologues couldn’t let that happen.
  • Now Scott is at a dismal 29-57 percent approve/disapprove rating.
  • The bad news for Florida: They’re stuck with this guy for another three and a half years.

See: Florida’s High-speed rail money redirected to states that aren’t run by idiots

Wisconsin – Rejecting rail money was the first salvo in Governor Scott Walker‘s multi-front war against anything supported by Democrats, including collective bargaining, teachers/education, and science.

  • Walker’s approval isn’t as subterranean as Scott’s or Kasich’s, but 43-54 percent approve/disapprove isn’t anything to be proud of (and among key independent voters, he’s at 40-56).
  • The good news for Wisconsin: There’s a recall petition moving forward to pull the plug on Walker; four GOP State Senators are already facing recall elections in July.
  • Public Policy Polling (PPP) has Walker losing to former Senator Russ Feingold 52-42 if the recall election goes ahead – and with half the populace ready for recall, you can bet the Democrats will be motivated to get the petitions signed… at high speed.
  • The bad news: Even if Walker takes a hike, it’s probably too late to get any rail money back to Wisconsin, especially with the GOP Congress in Washington slashing spending. We’ll just have to see what happens next year, and whether rail-friendly Democrats take back the House.

See: Expensive Fallout Continues from GOP Train Rejection

Ohio – John Kasich is tanking, too. Like Walker, Kasich told the Feds Ohio didn’t want their high-speed rail money; like Walker, Kasich is also trying to trash collective bargaining rights for public employees, and faces a ballot measure in November that would derail his plans.

  • PPP has him at an anemic 33-56 approve/disapprove
  • If there was a do-over election with Democrat Ted Strickland, who Kasich beat in November, Kasich would lose in a rout, 59 to 34.
  • The bad news for Ohio: No do-overs. They’re stuck with Kasich. Maybe President Obama could appoint him ambassador to Kazakhstan?

See: Off the Rails: GOP Opens Reign By Killing Jobs

NJ's rejected transit tunnel

New Jersey – Some Republicans continue to talk up Governor Chris Christie as Presidential timber – although he hasn’t expressed an interest in actually running, he’s in second place in the latest Zogby poll, hot on the heels of African-American pizza executive Herman Cain, with Romney and the rest riding in the caboose (can you imagine an Obama vs Cain matchup in 2012?). But that may be a function of distance – among the people who actually KNOW something about him – New Jersey voters –  the rail-spitting governor is heading toward the ash-heap.

  • Last year Christie cancelled the largest mass transit project in the US – a tunnel under the Hudson Riverinto Manhattan that would double the region’s commuter rail capacity; rejecting billions in federal funds, killing thousands of jobs and wasting 10 years of planning.
  • Fairleigh Dickinson has him in negative territory for the first time, at 40-45 favorable/unfavorable and 44-44 approve/dissaprove (and 32% give him a “poor” rating).
  • 55% of voters say the state is “on the wrong track”.
  • Christie isn’t on the ballot in November, but members of the New Jersey State Legislature are – and FD’s poll shows New Jersey voters intend to vote Democrats back into control, by a 42-32 margin (that’s a lot of undecideds, but in the past couple of elections the “disgusted undecided” vote has tended to stay home…)

See: NJ Gov Cancels Mass Transit Project. Is America Going Off the Rails?

Hang on to your hats. It’s going to be a bumpy year.

More on High Speed Rail:

(Trainwreck photo via mpurcell under a creative commons license; Mickey Mouse train c Disney Animation)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue.
  • Jeremy,

    You should be careful where you pull data from. Some polling places are dishonest about who they are questioning. Luckily, Public Policy Polling is very upfront about their liberal leanings. On the data sheet for the poll on the Wisconsin recall election, they admit that they polled 15% more democrats than republicans (32% R, 39% D, 31% other -> 32% x 1.15 = 36.8%). That can make for some interesting results. According to another media watchdog,;

    “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership in Wisconsin is approximately 355,000. With a workforce of around 2.5 million, union membership constitutes about 14.2% of the workforce. The poll that Public Policy Polling conducted shows that 32% of the households polled had a union member. This is a gross overrepresentation of union households.”

    With that out of the way, you should do some reading on what the Wisconsin high speed rail system was trying to do. (Since I live in WI, I will only comment on that one). The main part of the plan was to connect Milwaukee to Madison. Milwaukee has existing passenger rail connection to Chicago and they wanted to eventually continue through Madison to Minneapolis.

    Milwaukee and Madison are both very non-centralized cities with relatively small populations. Madison is also on an isthmus with no more room in between the lakes. Any train station would need to be outside of town. It takes about 1.5 hours to drive between the two cities during off-peak times. The high speed rail plan included stops in smaller municipalities along the way. The more stops you put on a high speed rail line, the lower the overall speed of the train trip. If I were to drive my car to downtown Milwaukee to get on a train that would take me to an outlying area of Madison, I would then need to take a cab to wherever I needed to go in town. The same goes for the other direction. The bottom line is that people would not find this convenient and we would have a high speed train that would never get up to speed that carries a handful of people back and forth. Since cutting down emissions is on top of everybodys’ lists right now, that plan did not make any sense to anybody. Also, the previous administration decided to outsource the trains from a Spanish company rather than have them built from an existing company local to Milwaukee. Granted, the Spanish company was planning on opening leasing a building in Wisconsin for the project, but they had issues with mostly wanting employees from Spain to work there.

    As far as “rejecting” high speed rail, Governor Walker was pushing to have the existing infrastructure from Milwaukee towards Chicago updated since there are actually people in Chicago. Unfortunately, a certain opposing political party blocked that federal funding so that it is easier to portray Wisconsin as anti-high speed rail.

    • You forgot to mention, that the downtown madison station is right next to a very, very large university. You also forgot to mention, that milwaukee also has a station in the middle of town, that people have to commute to, yet over 3/4ths of a million people took that milwaukee to chicago route last year. You also forgot the governor turned down 850Million, which included $150 million to upgrade the line between chicago and milwaukee, because we might (and he didn’t try to negotiate at all) have to pay UP TO $7 million a year in maintenance, which is leaps and bounds cheaper than roads. Then, this year, asked for $150 Million to upgrade the same line he had the funding to do, but gave it all back..

      Also, just like everyone else that seems to be against the rail project to Madison, you all seem to see it as a way to get between two cities. You kind of forget Chicago is there (and Minneapolis is planned). ALong with St. Louis, Ohio (well, they were) etc. And that 70 percent of all of the people in Wisconsin would have been within 30 miles of a station.

  • JM

    Wow. I thought I would check back to see what is happening on gas2.0. The site has even become more political. Almost as fanatical as soccer hooligans in Europe. Jeremy Bloom’s article’s headline states it all by telling us to reject one political party. That simply tells us what tack the article will take. As Jason points out much of the data and facts are incorrect. This used to be a decent site to read up on interesting and cool things.

    • @ JM

      I think that is an unfair accusation. Yes, we run the odd politics piece, simply because politics have a huge impact on the future of alternative fuels. Jeremy is entitled to his own opinion, not his own facts, but the thing with any study is that depending on how you word it and who you ask, the answers will be dramatically different (for example, changing “government” to “public” always governs more support.)

      Jeremy doesn’t tell anyone to reject one party or another; the GOP has made it clear that they are against high speed rail. There’s no room for debate on that. And I imagine quite a few citizens are upset at the prospect of not getting HSR in their state (especially the people who might otherwise have been employed by these projects.) The GOP has taken a hard line against HSR, as they feel that is what their constituency wants. We, obviously, are on the other side of the fence, and I don’t think you can fault us for that. I welcome all opinions on this site, including Jeremy’s (which is also why I approve pretty much every comment, even the anti-alt-fuel rants we regularly get.) We try not to write about politics too often, but it is also a subject that is sometimes unavoidable.

  • ziv

    Well, at least the headline warned me that it would be a polemic from the start.
    HSR backers are fervent, and I respect the concept, and I support subsidizing Amtrak to the tune of $1.5Bn a year or slightly more because that investment gives us an entire MODE of transportation, but trying to build HSR in the US has one huge problem. Our population density is less than half that of nations where it is successful. There are around 5 corridors in the US where HSR makes sense. What the US should be doing is getting our antiquated Amtrak routes up from 79 mph to 115 mph in areas where it is safe to do so, and then double track or even triple track the areas where congestion causes frequent delays.
    Once we have relatively quick regional rail there will be a lot more people using the train and the constituency will build itself as energy prices make rail increasingly popular.
    But to fault the Republican governors for turning down a short term jobs program that could cost the states big time down the road when the Florida Road to Nowhere doesn’t attract sufficient riders? Lame in the extreme.

  • I don’t agree with the assumption that unpopular governors are unpopular because of their opposition to high speed rail.

    Rail would be great if America had density. But neither Orlando or Tampa have density for walking once you get to a location or easy secondary modes of transportation once you get to one end of the rail line. Used to live down there and can say I would never have used it. Only takes slightly more than an hour to drive between those cities anyway and guess what? When I got to my location I wasn’t stranded at the terminal without a car.

    Rail is great, but get real. The environment around it has to be dense enough to support it.

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