Analyze "The Pocatello Prison Siting Story: A Case of Politics."

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The story about the siting of Pocatello's womens prison reinforces the principles of pluralism and elitism. The author makes the point that politics, rather than rationality, is the main driver of public policy.

In the story, there are at least three political entities that are power players of the Pocatello project. First, we have the pro-development interest groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Association of Pocatello. Pocatello is located in Bannock County, Idaho. These powerful interest groups have extensive political connections to the State Board of Corrections, Bannock County's elected officials, and the governor's office.

The second power player is the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). It objects to the Philbin Road site because the site is what the EPA classifies as a non-attainment zone (a zone that does not meet minimum air quality standards). The third power player is the local chapter of the Sierra Club. It objects to an alternative site for the women's prison: the Cusick Creek area, a region that has been designated a federally-protected watershed.

All three power players have extensive connections to influential politicians. Additionally, both Democrat and Republican officials are primarily interested in protecting their political futures. When the pro-development groups realize that their project is in danger, they lobby Governor Andrus and Boise mayor Dirk Kempthorne. Kempthorne, who is supportive of the effort to move the women's prison site to Boise, submits to the wishes of the Pocatello legislative delegation.

In the end, plans are drawn up for the prison site to be located in the Cusick Creek region. The power players resort to political compromise to secure the project. They agree to move the site about 500 to 1,000 yards away from residential neighborhoods and to designate increased portions of the Cusick Creek region as non-development zones. 

This art of political compromise is part of pluralism or what is called interest group theory. The Pocatello prison site story illustrates interest group theory perfectly. The theory states that it is the task of the political establishment to utilize political compromise to manage conflicting interests between power players. The story also reinforces what is called the Elite theory, which states that the political and economic elites are one and the same. This elite group of individuals is considered the real power in any country; certainly the group exerts immense authority over the masses by reason of its powerful connections.