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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Politics and Policy in States and Communities (8th Edition) by John J. Harrigan, David C. Nice (Pearson Longman) An old curse says, "May you live in interesting times." The past few years have certainly been interesting for the United States, and much of what has made it interesting has af­fected state and local governments all over the country. The September 11, 2001, ter­rorist attacks posed an enormous challenge to state and local law enforcement, public health agencies, computer systems, and local airport authorities, among others. A slug­gish economy, made more sluggish by the attacks and continuing uncertainty regarding future terrorist attacks, not to mention two wars, has caused many states and localities to fall short of their expected revenues. As a result, state and local officials are scrambling to raise additional money and/or trim program spending.

State and local governments play a major role in all of the domestic policy issues facing the United States. States and localities have gained a more prominent role over the past two decades, in part because the federal government has provided less leader-ship in some areas of domestic policy and there was no other governmental arena to which to turn. But they are doing so also because of four vital threads that have woven through the fabric of American domestic politics in recent years:

  • The dramatic waves of reforms in state and local governments since World War II
  • The unprecedented role that state and community governments play today in the political economy and in promoting economic development
  • The never-ending ideological conflict over the public issues that dominate state and community politics
  • The emergence of explosive social conflicts over ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, and religion.

These four themes play important roles in Politics and Policy in States and Communities. Examples of the four themes abound.

Item: During the early and middle years of the twentieth century, many critics drew attention to the weaknesses of state and local governments. However, reformers have worked to modernize and upgrade state and local governments across the country and, in the process, strengthened their abilities to deal with complex policy problems. Today the talk is of rejuvenating government and, as we shall see, of "reinventing" govern­ment. Some of the most exciting political leaders around the nation are emerging from state politics. (President Bill Clinton, for example, came to prominence as governor of Arkansas, and President George W. Bush gained recognition as governor of Texas before being elected to the presidency).

Item: States and municipalities have gone into the economic development business in a big way in recent years. They seek to stimulate business activity to create more jobs, attract new industries, and keep existing ones. This has sparked an intense interstate and interregional competition for corporate investment dollars. When General Motors de­cided to build a factory to manufacture a new automobile called the Saturn, over half the states offered packages to GM in their competition to get the site of the new Saturn plant.

Item: In 1960, a prominent scholar published a book lamenting the end of ideology. Today ideology is alive and well in state and community politics (too alive, in some peo­ple's judgment). On virtually every major domestic issue area (education, social welfare, crime, infrastructure, regulation) political leaders divide themselves into a variety of ide­ological positions on the left-right spectrum, which we will examine shortly.

Rejuvenation of state and local government, the role of those governments in state political economies, and the influence of political ideology and values in state and community politics are the unifying themes of this book. Rejuvenation of state and local government is particularly the dominant theme for Chapters 2 through 11, which deal with the institutions and processes of state and local politics. Political ideology is most relevant in the material for Chapters 12 through 17, which deal with the major policy areas confronting state and local governments (finance, crime, education, social wel­fare, infrastructure, environmental protection, and economic development). The ob­ject of examining the ideological aspect of these issue areas is twofold: (1) to help the reader better understand his or her own value orientations toward these issues and (2) to provide conceptual tools that the reader can use to evaluate these issues as they arise in the reader's own community. The theme of political economy is relevant in several chapters of the book but nowhere more directly than in Chapter 17, which dis­cusses the role that state and local governments play in promoting economic develop­ment. Finally, today's great social conflicts over ethnicity and gender will surface in a great many chapters ranging from legislative representation in Chapter 8 to affirmative action in Chapter 10.

Important features of this edition of Politics and Policy in States and Communities:

  • A separate chapter (17) on economic development policy. Economic development politics has become so important that a special chapter is devoted specifically to it. Especially useful in this chapter is a set of analytical questions the reader can use to assess proposed economic development projects in his or her own state.
  • A unique appendix on career prospects in state and community government and politics. This appendix gives students a guide to numerous career possibilities in state and local politics as well as some sources that can provide more information. This is especially helpful given today's demand that the college curriculum be rele­vant to the workplace.
  • End-of-chapter glossaries. Important terms are defined in glossaries at the end of. each chapter, where they can easily be found by the reader.
  • Up-to-date coverage of recent developments in state and community politics. These include the aftershocks resulting from the September 11 attacks, the legislative term limitation movement, and recent changes in welfare policy, among others.
  • A series of exercises to introduce students to some major sources of information re­garding state and local governments and policies via the Internet.

Politics and Policy in States and Communities contains numerous pedagogical features that aid the instructor in teaching the course and help the student in learning the material:

  • "You Decide" exercises. These are boxed case studies that ask the reader to respond to lively issues that range from deciding welfare eligibility in a complicated case to applying comparable worth to a particular situation.
  • Chapter previews and summaries. Chapter previews give the reader a brief outline of the major issues in each chapter. The end-of-chapter summaries seek to wrap up the most important points.
  • "Highlight" boxes in each chapter. These are short, boxed case studies that seek to illustrate important points made in the body of the text.
  • A comprehensive Instructor's Manual/Test Bank. This manual provides: (1) chapter outlines, (2) twenty-five to thirty multiple-choice questions for each chapter, (3) suggested classroom exercises to promote discussion of key issues and topics, (4) proposed research projects designed to have the student investigate how well the chapter's assertions apply to his or her state or community, (5) a career exploration exercise tied to the book's Appendix, (6) a film guide, and (7) study guides that can be given to the student. The study guide for each chapter can be duplicated and distributed to the class as an aid for mastering the material of the course. Each con­tains (a) learning objectives for the chapter, (b) identification terms that the student should understand, and (c) mastery questions for which the student should be able to outline answers.
  • Detailed footnotes that the reader can use as a guide to basic literature on research topics.

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