“He who troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.” –Proverbs 11:29
“A House divided against itself cannot stand.” –Abraham Lincoln
In recent days, some members of the Assembly Republican caucus have faced withering criticism because they said they would consider tax increases if coupled with a hard spending cap and permanent spending cuts, along with concessions relaxing some labor and environmental laws to act as a stimulus for the beleaguered economy. Mind you, they said they would consider increases and have not actually voted on any.
Radio talk show hosts are calling for the Republicans’ heads on spikes and feeding their listeners red meat flavored with the names of these members. They are threatened with bullying tactics and cries of ending their careers.
Others have proposed resolutions to change the party’s by-laws to censure and even campaign against Republicans who vote for any tax increase. These resolutions would be brought before the delegates to the California Republican Party at the convention at the end of the month in Sacramento.
Let’s get one thing straight. I am not a fan of higher taxes and I think California has become Taxifornia. And like many of my fellow Californians, I am in no mood to continue funding wasteful spending and unnecessary government programs. I am also tired of budgets that take months to craft, are full of accounting gimmicks and are out of balance even before the ink on the Governor’s signature is dry after he signs them.
But I have also worked inside government at both the federal and state levels. I know how hard it is to cut spending and eliminate programs. One of the reasons it is so difficult is that, over the years, politicians have successfully granted entitlements to every strata of society. From welfare for the poorest to college loans for the middle class and tax breaks for business, when the budget knife is unsheathed, their advocates and lobbyists descend upon the Capitol and scream, “Cut somewhere else!”
This is not as simple as Republicans refusing to raise taxes and the Democrats refusing to cut spending. I wish it was that simple. This is about California finally beginning the long overdue process of reforming how the state takes money in and how it spends it. That is what Republicans are fighting for, while Democrats are merely trying to maintain the status quo.
We will never have a better opportunity to do that than right now. And while the delay in finding a solution is decried by some in the media and Democratic special interests and might cause some temporary pain, it will be worth it if we can at last bring some sanity to this ridiculous annual budget dance and bring some change we all can believe in.
In the past at budget time, Democrats, who have been in the majority for years, and Governors of both parties, have always hoped that in the end they could get the necessary Republican votes to cobble together the two thirds majority needed to pass a budget. They would go after termed out legislators, sometimes offering cushy jobs or seats on unnecessary commissions and boards in exchange for their aye vote.
But this year has been different.
Under the tenacious and principled leadership of Republican leaders, Mike Villines in the Assembly and Dave Cogdill in the Senate, Republicans have stood their ground against the Spendocrats at this fiscal Thermopylae. They have bought time so the voters could see the absolute financial mess the majority has foisted on California, and they are also trying to wring concessions from the majority like a spending cap, permanent spending cuts and reasonable changes to environmental and labor laws so that we can begin the arduous process of rebuilding our long neglected infrastructure. They are demonstrating how to be an effective opposition party.
They seem to be on the verge of getting some meaningful concessions from the Democrats and should be commended for their efforts. If they can get these concessions, it will be a victory that can be built upon in the coming years. This is the very tactic that Democrats have used effectively for years, and one Ronald Reagan himself believed in.
The days of the Democrats using their Soviet style negotiating tactics of “what’s ours is ours, what’s yours, we’ll negotiate” are over.
That is why it is so troubling that some Republicans feel the need to punish legislators like freshman Assemblyman Anthony Adams.
I don’t know Anthony, but from what I have heard he is a bright, earnest, energetic young man who has chosen a career in politics and government. He has worked at the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in various capacities so he knows the difficult choices that local governments must make during these tough times.
He will soon be asked to make one of those difficult choices himself. If some have their way, he will be signing his own political suicide note.
But by threatening to excommunicate him from the Republican Party, we are eating our seed corn. Sacrificing a new member with a bright future for making a tough and lonely decision is self-defeating.
Is this the purpose of the California Republican Party–to be the arbiters of ideological purity and the Inquisition responsible for the purging of members for perceived heretical acts?
If that is the case, we will see the continuing decline in our membership, and instead of meeting under Ronald Reagan’s “big tent” we will be meeting in a pup tent. Politics is about addition, not subtraction.
Political parties exist to win elections. Period. That is what we should be focusing on.
Rather than pushing punitive measures against our Republican legislators who have the heavy responsibility of making tough choices, how about spending our time at convention with planning for the 2010 election cycle? Things like voter registration, strengthening our grassroots, raising money, upgrading our technology, reaching out to new voters and positioning ourselves for victory.
How about discussing 2012? How we will compete when we will have new districts not drawn by the Legislature but by a new process that the voters passed in 2008?
How about spending our time putting together a Contract with California that outlines a new direction for our state with new ideas on how it is governed?
How about examining how we can bring new voters into our tent and not finding ways to keep them out?
These things and more are what we should be talking about at the Convention later this month, rather than cannibalizing ourselves to the delight of the Democrats.
If these kind of rules were in effect in 1967, Ronald Reagan would have been censured.
Why, you ask?
Early in 1967, newly elected Governor Ronald Reagan, who in 1966 had campaigned against new taxes to put California’s fiscal house in order, reached the conclusion that he could not close the budget gap without new taxes. Upon assuming office, he saw that the problems he had inherited were just too great and he had to change his position.
That April, he traveled to the Lafayette Hotel in Long Beach and addressed the conservative California Republican Assembly, California’s oldest Republican volunteer organization. They had been very supportive in his successful campaign and were angry that he had changed his mind on taxes.
Reagan gave an eloquent and detailed explanation of what he was going to do and why he felt he had to do so. He also told them of the Creative Society that he had campaigned on that would unleash the power of the people and their entrepreneurial spirit.
In the second part of the speech, he talked politics. It is here that he talks about his vision of the Republican Party as a “big tent”.
Read these words of Reagan, and they could have been written yesterday. It is exactly how we need to think today as we rebuild our party and open it to attract new members.
“We must keep the door open – offering our party as the only practical answer for those who, overall, are individualists. And because this is the great common denominator – this dedication to the belief in man’s aspirations as an individual – we cannot offer them a narrow sectarian party in which all must swear allegiance to prescribed commandments.
Such a party can be highly disciplined, but it does not win elections. This kind of party soon disappears in a blaze of glorious defeat, and it never puts into practice its basic tenets, no matter how noble they may be.
The Republican Party, both in this state and nationally, is a broad party. There is room in our tent for many views; indeed, the divergence of views is one of our strengths. Let no one, however, interpret this to mean compromise of basic philosophy or that we will be all things to all people for political expediency.”
Read the whole speech here.
For me, this speech is what it means to be a Republican.
And I encourage every Republican to read this speech before we rush to judgment, punish our own members and give succor to our opponents.