An Answer for the GOP: Jack Kemp’s Philosophy

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

About now, the California Republican Party – surely licking the deep wounds it suffered during the mid-term election of 2018 – must be asking itself “What now?” Here’s an answer: How about an injection of some Jack Kemp?

Kemp, now deceased, was an 18-term Member of Congress and Bush (41) cabinet secretary – and an unabashed conservative. On economics, he was a genuine supply-sider. He was a long-time disciple of USC professor Arthur Laffer as well as philosopher/journalist Jude Wanniski. Socially, he was a little more liberal. While staying true to his near-evangelical anti-abortion advocacy Kemp was fundamentally sympathetic to immigrants seeking a better life in America.

Kemp’s advocacy for supply-side economics was matched by his enthusiasm for free markets and low taxes. In supply-side economics he saw the economic and fiscal benefits of the policy but the social benefit, as well. To Kemp, giving the individual and not government the freedom to spend more of what he or she earned was liberating and would ultimately evoke more productive behavior. Turns out he was right. In the Reagan era, he led the way for tax cuts (Kemp-Roth) and the nation experienced an extraordinary period of economic activity and productivity. And, contrary to popular belief and seemingly endless punditry, government revenues grew – they didn’t falter – during the same period.

Kemp was a man of principle, not party, and a lover of the freedom in America to improve one’s stock. While in Congress, he often voted outside Republican orthodoxy, frustrating his leadership and Party regulars. But, as he used to say: “Pro football gave me a good perspective. When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy.”

Speaking of quotes, Kemp always found the right time to quote authors of the many books he read or other notable people he met. When discussing the difficulty of certain politics he would fall back on what Soviet dissident Yelena Bonner, wife of exiled writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, told the press in New York, upon her arrival in the United States for the first time, why she did what she did:

“The people of the world do not want war, they want to own a house. They want to own a home. They want the decency and dignity that goes along with their own home.”

It was Kemp’s passion for free markets and low taxes as well as his continuous advocacy for civil rights that drew him to the inner city and some of the toughest neighborhoods in the country. It was from that platform Kemp championed inner-city policies like enterprise zones, tenant management and the belief that occupants of public housing were capable of homeownership if given the chance. Regarding the concept of enterprise zones, he saw them as an investment in blighted, often forgotten parts of the inner city. In that regard, they weren’t too far from the now-vanquished redevelopment areas (which need to be restored).

Someone belongs in today’s California inner cities. Those areas – and their problems – are lacking political leadership right now. They suffer from not only the distress of their socio-economic condition but from being whipsawed by special interests – particularly environmentalists – and failing politicians.

So, why can’t California Republicans deliver the message? Be the ones to stir a business-oriented revival in the state’s inner cities? It’s no accident that President Trump’s economic policies are doing well there – with rising wages and lower unemployment. But, the agenda must be broader than just the tax cuts and increases in military spending. And, advocacy for the third prong of Trump’s economic policy – deregulation – is an entire agenda in and of itself.

Indeed, California Republicans should take a page out of the Trump playbook and double-down on the removal of regulations that are strangling inner-city businesses. For more jobs and higher wages, businesses there – all businesses in California, for that matter – need to break away from the excesses of the government regulation. Such an action is profoundly Kempian. He believed government didn’t have all the answers and, from time to time, overstepped its bounds. You see, Kemp didn’t just want more income for the baker. He wanted more bakeries.

Kemp believed ridding businesses of excessive regulations was a critical element of a successful economic growth policy. Impressed with a document that his predecessor at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) penned, called the Joint Venture for Affordable Housing, then-HUD Secretary Kemp moved forward on a policy of deregulating new home construction. In 1990, he launched the “Commission on Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing” – dubbed the Kemp Commission – which a year later produced a definitive guide to what laws, regulations and policies were impeding affordable housing development nationwide. The report, called Not in My Back Yard: Removing Barriers to Affordable Housing, ignited a debate that continues today – especially in states like California that are besieged by excessive regulations.

What better place than the state’s urban areas – where most businesses dwell – to showcase a platform of reducing state regulations? The California GOP shouldn’t expect results overnight but “slow and steady wins the race.” In any event, something has to be done soon and we need someone to do it.

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