Tuesday, August 23, 2011

RINO Reality

It was May 2006 in Miami Florida. A citizens forum was concluding. The topic: Coping with excessively high property taxes.

Gloria Alvarez(not her real name)had finished the two-hour session with a painful confession: She had sold her engagement ring to help cover the $7100 property tax bill. When she explained that her middle class home had drawn an assessment of $301,500, gasps were plainly heard in the audience.

A minor government official exclaimed, "I feel your frustration." Then she added that if taxes were not collected, city and county officials would be forced to take wage and benefit cuts. Furthermore, basic services such as garbage collection would go unfunded.

Another voice pointed out that their neighbor's property tax tab was "less than one-third" of their own. The official gamely suggested that the neighbor had likely lived there longer and had better taken advantage of "Save Our Homes," the Florida property tax law which places a cap on increases year-to-year.

2006 became 2007. First, Governor Charlie Crist proposed a plan that doubled the basic homestead exemption(from $25,000 to $50,000) and extended "portability" to homeowners. This allowed homeowners to move, taking their "save our homes" credit with them. In other words, if you had originally purchased your home for $150,000 and it now was assessed at $250,000, you would still pay your property taxes based on the original purchase amount, less the exemption, plus 3% annual increase. It was complicated and drew notable criticism. Those opposed pointed out that it "perpetuated an inequitable system."

Then House Speaker, Marco Rubio proposed an alternative. "Let's raise the sales tax 2.5% on everything except food and medicine and eliminate the property tax for homesteaders," he proffered. In Rubio fashion, the plan was straight forward and easy to understand. His argument was simple: "20% of sales tax is paid by tourists, 5% is paid by undocumented workers."

Realtors and bankers got excited. So did Florida residents. True, the exemption would apply only to Florida residents. And, it would apply only to their actual residence. Second homes, investment property, commercial property would not be affected. Rubio's argument cut to the quick: "We cannot tax people out of their homes. If people want to buy a car or a flat screen TV, they will pay more sales tax. But we will not allow government to force people on fixed incomes to move."

Opponents were quick to say, "the money doesn't add up." Rubio defended his plan by admitting that "any shortfalls will be made up with cuts in salaries and benefits for government employees." Then he went down the list of lavish salaries, perks, expenses and benefits received by city and county employees. The public became outraged. He also identified a little known fact: ten cents of every dollar paid into the state coffers was used to hire lobbyists. The public became even more incensed.

Rubio's "tax swap" flew through the Florida House of Representitives. With a Senate also controlled by Republicans, a Republican Governor and 75% of the population in favor of the plan, passage looked imminent. Instead, the Senate submitted a different plan. This "alternative" was given full blessing by Senate President, Ken Pruitt. It offered nothing close to the relief that Rubio had proposed. In fact, the reduction amounted to practically nothing. At best it was "token" relief. It was as if the "pain" had fallen on deaf ears! What had happened?

Ken Pruitt and many of his Senate co-horts were R.I.N.O.S.- Republicans in Name Only. They had looked at Rubio's plan, considered it a consumption tax, a "regressive tax" and dismissed it. Never mind that three-fourths of Floridians favored it! Pruitt and his pals knew best. They were very comfortable working with Senate Democrats to conceive a "bi-partisan" plan. House members, typically 10-years younger than Senate members were mystified. Why were they so willing to scrap a plan that attacked the problem so decisively? Did they not feel the pain of the homeowners? Did they not understand that people were being taxed out of their homes unjustly?

Evidently they didn't. In their estimation, it was too much lost revenue for government. There was concern that schools would be underfunded. Basic services might need to be cut. Cost of living increases for city and county employees would not be met. There was a worry that pension benefits might be compromised. The idea of pay freezes for city and county workers was considered "draconian."

Rubio and supporters acknowledged that "these arguments they had expected; from Democrats!" But who were these Republicans? And were they real Republicans? Recognizing the stalemate, Governor Crist eased his plan through the House and Senate. It allowed homeowners to move without forfeiting their "save our homes" accrual. It offered only token help to most Floridians. It did not prevent the Florida housing meltdown.

In retrospect, we now know that had Rubio's plan been adopted, many homeowners would have averted foreclosure. At the time of proposal, the Governor called the Rubio plan "intriguing." During the Senate campaign he called it "wacky."

Rubio should be credited for drawing clear distinction between real Republicans and RINOS. Never calling Crist by name, he constantly referred to him as "the Arlen Specter wing of the Republican party." Yet when it came down to it, GOP national sent Charlie Crist five million dollars.

Mitch McConnell, Lamar Alexander and the brass suggested to now Senator Rubio that he "run for Attorney General." They were only interested in holding the seat. Making certain that their choice truly reflected conservative values was secondary. Charlie Crist looked more electable. Were they ever wrong! Perhaps both men had been inside the beltway too long. They were blindsided by a reality. Not the conventional "RINO Reality!" Voters want leaders who stand for something!

This reality is new and much more powerful. It is a wind that is blowing in America. It is saying, "we are on to you guys!" No more, "Republicrats and Democans." Take a position! We need no more "trimmers!"

Today, you hear John Huntsman talking about appealing to a broader base of people through more moderate views. Is he talking about moderation? Or is he doing a Ken Pruitt? As in attempting to "out Democrat the Democrats."

"Broadening the tent" has been on the lips of Republican leaders for years. But how do you "broaden the tent?" To a John Huntsman type, it means that you "find middle ground with moderate Democrats in route to bi-partisanship." But is this the only way?

Many low income independents and "blue collar" Democrats see a different path toward "increasing the size of the tent." It's called "reducing the size and cost of government." To a family of four with a household income of $40,000, Rubio's plan would have meant a savings of roughly $4000 per year. This was based on the assumption that they owned a modest home in a lower middle class neighborhood. Could they have lived without some services? Probably. Were they concerned about pension and benefit cuts for city and county employees? Absolutely not! In the eyes of these voters, city and county employees were earning 50% more than they were; while enjoying superior benefits.

Many members of the party hierarchy stress that the party must not "lean to far to the right." But what is "too far to the right." Does that translate to "lean too far from the norm?"When we discuss "reducing the size and cost of government," we are talking change. To pigeonhole this change as "right wing" may be a distortion. Low income independents coming from households that earn $30,000 per year, do not consider eliminating the EPA "far right" if it results in a $22 per hour job on a gas well. A family farmer aspiring to start a cannery does not consider restricting FDA "right wing" if it means that he can proceed without government interference.

Allowing Americans to keep their own money has been demonized. It is, as if, government has a divine right to live better, control more and ultimately oversee the lives of the American people. It goes back to a culture of "government knowing best." To counter this, Republicans must identify the "wolves in sheep skin." If they are counter to the philosophy of"reducing the size and scope of government," they are not our friend. It makes little sense to waste time, and money on them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Rove Rankle-What's truly at stake

Karl Rove is a smart guy. He has proven beyond question to be one of the premiere political minds in America. Yet, somehow, there are "winds of a cross directional nature" blowing. Perhaps it merits a closer look.

I am not referring to "American Crossroads, the 527 organization that the Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff served as an advisor to. This is deeper. We're talking about a battle for the soul of the Republican party.

Such confrontation was predictable. It has been brewing for the past 35 years. In 1976 Ronald Reagan challenged seated President, Gerald Ford on several questions. Ford's brand of Republicanism was decidedly more centrist. Reagan opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, advocated Supply Side Economics, took a "hawkish" world view and proposed the largest tax cut in American history. Ford won narrowly. But the seed had been planted. Especially the thought that "Keynesian" economic theory might not be the only way.

George Herbert Walker Bush was Reagan's 1980 opponent. It was in the New Hampshire primary that the term "Trilateral Commission" entered the dialogue. Bush had won the Iowa primary. In New Hampshire, Reagan handed out literature revealing Bush's membership in this secretive, globalist organization. He won the primary handily and went on to gain the nomination.

Did the thought of a "Trilaterial Commission" gain much traction with the American public? Probably not! When Reagan asked Bush to be his running mate, the entire episode was buried along with Bush's claim that Reagan's "Plan for Economic Recovery" was "voodoo economics." They served eight years together in complementary fashion. When Reagan left office. Bush was the ready successor.

After Bush's 1992 defeat, the Republican Congressional takeover in 1994 and the 2000 election, the party appeared as united as ever. George W. Bush was clearly to the "right" of John McCain. Karl Rove was seen as the mastermind of Republican strategy.

Things soured in 2006. Two wars, an unfunded Medicare bill and mounting debt created concern. The financial meltdown killed any chance that John McCain had to win the 2008 election. Not that Republicans were enthusiastic with his candidacy! It was "his turn" to be the nominee. Reagan Republicans likened him to "a conservative Democrat." The appropriate label, "Republican in name only(R.I.N.O.)" was year or so away from conception.

Barack Obama swept into office amidst hopeful rhetoric and a 1970's style spending and regulation agenda. The Tea Party emerged and with it an Optometrist from Kentucky with a fitting description of conservatives.

George W. Bush, who ran under a banner of "compassinate conservative" was labeled a "Neo Conservative." The Kentucky Optometrist, now Senator Rand Paul described himself as a "Constititional Conservative." Suddenly, this long subdued split in the Republican Party had names!

Paul's book, "The Tea Party Goes to Washington" described "Neo Conservatives" as favoring a large central Washington based government to facilitate conservative principles. The "Constitutional Conservatives" aspired to take a more "strict constructionist" view of the constitution in general. This translated to smaller Washington based government and less spending, coupled with more fiscal responsibility.

The media readily engaged in the discussion. They referred to the "Neo Cons" as the "Republican Establishment." Paul's "Tea Party Republicans" were positioned as "extreme" and "out of the mainstream." But they made their presence felt! In Kentucky, Paul hammered Establishment preference, Trey Grayson in the primary. His 56-44% finish against Democrat, Jack Conway in the general election showed that much of his support had come from Democrats. In Florida Marco Rubio routed Establishment choice, Charlie Crist, despite Crist's receipt of five million dollars from Republican National!

Professional to the end, Rove stayed low keyed on both races. But his frustration came out with GOP nomination of Christine O'Donnell in Delaware's primary. Rove, surprisingly became unglued. He make it clear the night of O'Donnell's victory that national support would be withdrawn and focused on winnable races. Was he correct? Probably! But, the mere fact that he was unwilling to spend any more time and energy on Delaware raised eyebrows of previously solid "Karl Rove advocates!"

Did Rove not recognize that Congressman Mike Castle was soundly beaten? Did it not occur to him why? Chances are he was only focused on retaking the Senate. Maybe he categorized O'Donnell as a "Plebeian." Rove had to reason, based on the election outcome, that a "R.I.N.O." simply wasn't good enough for Delaware Republicans! Castle had voted for T.A.R.P. and "Cap and Trade." Constitutionalists reminded everyone of these votes! In the end, the verdict read "what's the point of beating the Democrat if your candidate is only marginally different?" Republicans in Delaware wanted more than "a win on paper." Unlike Rove, they were doing more than counting Senate seats!

Rove's support of Kaye Baily Hutchinson in the 2010 Texas Governatorial race was a clear indication of his preference for Establishment candidates. And yet, his association with Governor Rick Perry goes back further than 2010. As most are learning, it was Rove who advised Perry to switch parties in 1988. Perry, a two-term Democrat in the Texas House of Representitives had been chairman of Al Gore's 1988 Presidential election bid. He switched to the Republican Party and defeated incumbant, Jim Hightower in a tight race. After Perry's successful two-term stint as Texas' Commissioner of Agriculture, some differences evidently arose regarding Perry's campaign strategy in the 1998 Lt. Governor's race.

A famous quote taken in Iowa in 2008 may have provided an additional spark. Regarding the explosion in Washington spending, Perry told Hawkeye Republicans, that "George(President Bush)isn't a fiscal conservative, never was." This didn't go over well with any of the Bush Camp. It was surprising to see Dick Cheney, James Baker and even Bush the Elder go public with their endorsement of Hutchinson in the 2010 Texas governors race. Equally emazing was the drubbing Hutchinson took from Perry. The broad differences between "Constitutional Conservatives" and "Neo Cons" were manifested. And where did Rove fit in? He was right there with Karen Hughes, Margaret Spellings and the rest of the gang! It demonstrated that the mantle had been passed, albeit not intentionally!

Can the "rankle" not be repaired? The Republican opponent in November 2012 will be Barack Obama. There is growing belief that Rick Perry is not "Rove's type of Republican." After all, the Texas Governor did not attend an Ivy League School. While he may have attended a CFR convention or two, he is not currently a member of one of the globalist secret societies such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bush the Elder, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. In fact, if he were elected President, he would be the first non-Ivy Leaguer to serve in the White House since Ronald Reagan.

Perhaps this is part of the "rankle." While Perry has enjoyed success in Texas, he may not be what elites consider "Americas ruling class." Unlike Mitt Romney, Al Gore,or George W. Bush, Perry's father was not a President, Senator or Governor.(Remember Clinton and Obama grew up in fatherless households, making them victims) Nor, did he attend Harvard or Yale like Gore, Romney, the Bushes, the Clintons and Obama.

It's refreshing to view Perry's college transcript from Texas A & M. He might not have made "all A's!" But it showed that he took serious courses like "Organic Chemistry" and went through the same impersonal woes expected in a large public institution. Some might consider this inferior to the high profile polish and pedigree offered by expensive Ivy League institutions. But he did gain priceless exposure to mainstream people! In essence, he attended college with the poor as well as the privileged. He might actually be able to relate to issues that "average Joe's" deal with daily!

It could come down to Rove's instinct for picking winning Republican candidates. He knows the game! But, the game may be changing. The sun is setting on the traditional Dewey-Rockefeller Republican. It took a Tea Party Senator to put a name on it but now, the "cat is out of the bag." Nobody wants to talk about a "safe" candidate who will attract Independents and moderate Democrats. Not if it means compromising the new standard in favor of the old!

Karl Rove and countless Establishment Republicans may gravitate to the "old school." With all his flaws, Mitt Romney still looks like a "safe bet." But, what is "safe?" If it translates to "giving in" to the old guard one more time, there may be few takers!

These "new" Republicans threaten the standard. When the 10th amendment enters any discussion, the ideological difference between "Constitutionalists" and "Neo Cons" is never more apparent. It started with Education. George W. Bush sponsored "No Child Left Behind." It was a noble effort to improve educational performance and accountability nationwide. The intentions were honorable. Democrats embraced the legislation. The spirit of "bi-partisanship" glowed. But, the "constitutionalists" were quick to say, "this is federal overreach."

A renowned political strategist such as Karl Rove might suggest that "the country is not ready for that kind of thinking. It might ultimately prove to be detrimental to the Republican party." But is he certain? Is anyone certain?