End hold on Bob Groves’s nomination

An anonymous Republican senator has placed a hold on the nomination of Bob Groves to head the Census Bureau. This furtive opposition is ill-advised and overlooks the fact that there is a strong Republican case for be made for the nomination.

But before getting to those substantive arguments, let me remind the secret senator that we Republicans lost the election and must suffer consequences. We once were elected to lead and then made a mess of things, so the people took the reins of power from our hands. To use parliamentary trickery now to thwart the electorate is just too evocative of post-election Iran for my Republican tastes.

This “hold” ploy might also one day deny us the moral high ground when our next Republican president makes appointments. Recall that when President George W. Bush appointed my former Texas Aggie colleague Steve Murdoch to be the most recent Census director, the Democrats assented unanimously. Cannot we now be as civil? If not, I hope the obstructionist sticks around for the next Republican administration to reap the harvest he or she is sowing. The tit-for-tat rule will be in effect, and Census doesn’t need that sort of partisan context.

On merit, Bob Groves is an exemplary social scientist. No one is more qualified than he to lead data collection that has such vital implications for commerce and industry, not just political parties. Doesn’t Groves’s curriculum vitae exude the excellence that Republicans want to bring to governance, especially when the results so profoundly affect entrepreneurship, marketing and business planning? As commercial broker Howard Carr once told the Albany Business Review, “The raw, dry, detailed facts and figures about people that the U.S. government collects every 10 years are the stuff real estate developers live by [and are used by businesses] for everything from determining how many health-conscious products to stock on supermarket shelves to deciding on which side of the street a day-care center should be built.”

Groves also has the judgment to handle the job. I once had the good fortune of being a co-consultant with him on a project for the University of Utah. We spent several days there advising that institution’s nascent survey research and polling unit. It provided us the opportunity to exchange views about the challenges of polling in a university context. How does the university poll on public policies, topical issues and state elections without interjecting corrosive partisan politics? Bob’s counsel was wise and reflected a value-free perspective that will serve him well as Census director. You can be certain that Bob will serve science and the data, not political partisanship. His wholly controversy-free tenure at the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center attests to this conclusion.

Bob is an open-minded listener, too, reflecting his objective researcher’s temperament. While in Salt Lake City we did a tour of the Tabernacle on Temple Square. There was an informational session on the Latter Day Saints church. I was impatient and ready to move on. Groves, ever the curious one, listened to the whole pitch. We didn’t sign up, but Bob paid attention. Isn’t that what Congress needs, someone who’ll listen open-mindedly to its concerns?

As for the sampling controversy that dogs the bureau, Groves has said that methodology won’t be used in 2010. But what about sampling in the years beyond? Here’s one idea. Win control of at least one chamber of Congress in 2010 and then insist on Republican-sponsored policies that won’t allow bureau misuse of sampling. If the election strategy doesn’t work out, have someone running Census whose own published research documents the troublesome impacts of non-response in sampling. Bob Groves’s own written words would be an ideal foil for inappropriate reliance on sampling. What more could we possibly ask or hope for?

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.