January 2009

What Conservatives and the Republican Party Need to Do to Win Back the Majority.

By: Brian Sikma

January 30, 2009

A time in the wilderness forces individuals and movements to contemplate their existence, their purpose, and their direction.  All distractions are stripped away, all facts laid bare and all pretenses set aside when solitude and separation replace the swirling activities we have been accustomed too.  The conservative movement, and the Republican Party, find themselves in this situation today.  We are in the wilderness.

Whether or not we stay irrelevant during this time and muddle about never learning the lessons we should learn, or whether we mercilessly grade our past performance and prepare for future achievements is a decision all our own.  Republicans lost in 2006 and 2008 because they were irrelevant, uncompelling, and playing politics instead of living by principle.  Conservatism, by nature a movement not synonymous with the Republican Party, failed politically because it had little voice in the instrument that became its mouthpiece in the realm of elections and politics.  Make no mistake, though, conservatism did not lose the 2006 and 2008 elections because conservatism was not on the ballot as a candidate.

Those candidates that successfully articulated a conservative message, and were able to distinguish themselves from Republican errors and disasters, were the candidates that won inspite of unfavorable environments for the party brand.  Not every conservative won because not every conservative was successful at communicating the conservative message, and the problems of communication range from lack of financial support to candidate inexperience.  But these communication problems are easier to solve than any fundamental problems of having a party or series of candidates that may not espouse the conservative philosophy.

Republicans must understand that conservative are not to be taken for granted, and paying lip services to a series of conservative issue positions while not understanding the conservative philosophy as a whole, or its application to politics, will only lead to repeats of the disasters of the previous two election cycles.  Conservatives should, and in many cases already do, know that the Republican Party is not a synonym for conservative ideas.  Even after surveying the failures of the Republican Party over the past two cycles (failures that did not crop up overnight but began with Congressional majorities and a president that either ignored or forgot the principles of limited government and fiscal accountability and responsibility), conservatives should not seriously consider bolting the party.  Not yet.

Instead of bolting from the Republican Party and seeking to build anew from the ground up, a challenge not be underestimated, conservatives would be better served to lead a revolution within the GOP.  A revolt against the mediocrity of the past, a revolt against the unrestrained spending, the reckless expansion of government, and the idea that more left-leaning principles are required if the party is to be relevant in future elections.

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House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA)

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA)

By: Brian Sikma

Democrats don’t have a monopoly anymore on successful innovation that uses the power of the internet and social media to further a broad based agenda for the country.  A key member of the new House Republican leadership team has begun to reach out to the millions of Americans who are skeptical of some of the policies being proposed by the majority party in Congress.   Rep. Eric Cantor and his team launched a brand new website at the start of the 111th Congress and it looks more like a campaign website than your traditional, limited interaction official Congressional website.

For years the role of the Whip was to count noses within the Conference and, when and where necessary, convince party members to vote the party line on crucial votes.  While that traditional role is still very much front and center for Cantor, his deputy Rep. Kevin McCarthy, and their team, it has been expanded to include an effort that integrates the policy views of the base and the political activism of supporters with the overall whip process.  Whereas the past operation of the office was confined to the hallways of Capitol Hill and private meetings and phone calls, this new operation leverages the input and output of Americans who will never work on Capitol Hill and yet have valuable contributions to make to the policy process.

On the Whip’s website you will find the traditional “About”, “Newsroom” and “Contact Us” elements combined with links to Cantor’s Whip Twitter feed, the team’s YouTube page, a blog, and free e-mail subscriptions to such publications as “The Whipping Post”, a summary of expected floor activity detailing days votes are expected on various bills and resolutions.  Some of this information is new (Whips in the past never had a Twitter feed), and some of it has been available but just not easily accessible to the average person (the House schedule can be found online, but having it delivered an understandable format to your Inbox is quite a development).

A Republican Whip is limited to working within the bounds of his Conference.  He has little influence over members of the opposing party, especially if the Republican party is in the minority.  But with the American people allied behind the entire Conference’s effort to present serious, substantive, and positive alternatives, he can leverage grassroots activism that may one day generate a few Democrat votes for Republican proposals.

As Republicans prepare to do what they can while they are in the minority, their most powerful ally lies outside of Washington, D.C.  The American people, when presented with the correct information and a compelling argument, agree with the principles of less spending, lower taxes, an economy driven by the people and not managed by the government, and the whole host of other ideals that guide conservative political thinking.  To use this ally, however, Republicans must reach out and engage people where they are at.  The new Republican Whip Operation does just that.

U.S. Capitol at Dusk

U.S. Capitol at Dusk

By: Brian Sikma

We are only a few weeks into a new session of Congress and just barely over one week into the presidency of Barack Obama and already the vague promises of hope and change are materializing in ways that do not bode well for the state of our economy. Last year Americans saw banks, investment institutions, and automakers receive billions of taxpayer dollars in a massive effort to bailout sectors of the economy deemed too important to fail. Now Washington is considering a bigger, but hardly better, bailout bill that would dramatically change the way the federal government interacts with Americans on a daily basis.

The current price tag of this new bailout is $825 billion. To put that in perspective, that is equal to roughly $10,520 for every American family. But as was the case with previous bailouts, you won’t be seeing that money in your pocket. The advocates of Hope are hoping that this spending will create new demand in the economy and thereby create jobs and put Americans to work. The money will be spent on infrastructure projects and other economically stimulating activities. In typical Washington fashion, however, $200 million in new sod for the National Mall, $50 million in funding for artistic projects, and $400 million for climate change research all count as economically stimulating even though the majority of Americans would probably not view these projects as absolutely essential to the health of the economy.

What our country needs right now economically is not new spending funded by taxpayers but rather policies that allow American workers, families, and companies to keep more of their hard earned money. The tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are set to expire in 2011 and our nation has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Instead of increasing the national debt by 10% in one year ($1 trillion) Congress and the new president should focus on unleashing the ingenuity of the American people. Our government should not bailout every business it thinks is too big to fail, our government should not take money from responsible taxpayers to pay for the irresponsibility of others.

Because the stimulus bill is moving quickly through the House of Representatives, you need to contact your member of Congress today and urge them to oppose wasteful spending, massive increases in debt, and government interference with the private sector and vote NO on the proposed $825 billion bailout. Your Representative is coming under a lot of pressure from special interest groups and those who want a slice of your money, and they need to hear from you. You may not have voted for your Representative, you may not agree with them on many issues, but by putting pressure on them you can let them know that you are going to hold them accountable for what they are doing. Click here to find your Representative.

What is at stake here is not only the immediate future of the economy but also the survival of freedom: economic freedom and individual liberty. If the government can tell some companies they are too big to fail and other companies they are small enough to fail while bailing out the big companies with your money, they can tell you want to do and how to do it. The difference between a bailout for large companies and the immediate redistribution of wealth between individuals is one of scale, not principle. You and I must not let this assault on freedom go unnoticed or unopposed. Economic freedom, religious freedom, personal freedom and the liberties that we enjoy all go together. One is not assaulted without the others being threatened.

As our nation faces four years of abiding by the consequences of an electoral decision, we must not falter and we must not waiver in our principled defense of what is true and right and honest and just.

By: Brian Sikma

What happens when you put a group of interested and engaged citizens in a room with a panel of property tax experts?  A lively discussion ensues with both sides walking away a little more informed than when the event started.  That was the case on Saturday morning when the St. Joseph County GOP headquarters was turned into a sort of local think-tank with a large crowd of interested citizens asking tough questions and offering intriguing insights into one side of the property tax debate while a panel of experts offered up their perspective of the situation.

The diverse panel was made up of Mayor Jeff Rea of Mishawaka, economist Josh Barro of the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., state Senator Joe Zakas of Granger, and Juan Manigault representing the South Bend Integrity PAC.  Chris Riley, the St. Joseph County GOP Chairman, served as the able moderator who provided thought provoking questions to start off the morning and kept the discussion on track as the panelists and audience interacted with each other.

Senator Zakas pointed out that property taxes went down by an average of 30% across the state after the passage of HB 1001 in 2008, the bill that included the so-called 1,2,3 plan.  This plan caps residential property taxes at 1% of assessed value, rental property and agricultural property at 2% of assessed value, and commercial and business property at 3% of assessed value.  Debate in the General Assembly this year is expected to include a discussion about placing the tax caps in the state Constitution as a way of protecting taxpayers and landowners against future increases.

All of the panelists agreed that the reforms included in HB 1001 were necessary in light of what Mayor Rea termed “administrative chaos” in the property tax system.  However, views differed according to whether or not the existing caps should be put in the Constitution.  Sen. Zakas appeared to support the idea, but Juan Manigault and Mayor Rea urged caution because the reforms have not had time to generate sufficient data to really consider enshrining them in the state’s highest law.

Josh Barro did not take a strong position either way.  Instead he focused his time on presenting the various pros and cons of the 1,2,3 plan and the placement of those caps in the Constitution.  He noted that with the caps now in place, Indiana’s property tax rate is now more in line with what other states are doing, but the diversity of the caps-essentially three tiers of taxes-was considered to be an unfortunate compromise required by political considerations.  Barro did say that if it is found that the 1,2,3 plan is sound, then placing it the Constitution would not be unusual in light of what other states have done.  However, moving towards that goal too quickly may be regretted if the reforms do not operate as well as intended.

Although it took a little while for the panelists to finally make the point clearly, the bottom line in the property tax debate is not about maximum levies, whether debt is counted towards the allowable levy, the switch from cost-based assessment to market-based assessment, or caps on the tax rate as a percentage of assessed value; instead it is about government spending.  If local governments would cut their budget and chose to allocate resources more efficiently, tax rates could be lowered.

When the discussion turned to the size and scope of local government, Mayor Jeff Rea ably made the case for why citizens need to know what they expect from their government before they seek to lobby for substantial changes in the tax system.  Although he has done an excellent job of growing the city of Mishawaka while controlling the growth of city government, he has had to manage cases of where the public demanded that a particular service or amenity be provided even though it resulted in substantial costs with only limited corresponding benefit to the community.

After nearly two hours of discussion the panel came to a close with interesting ideas being presented and exchanged on all sides.  With events like this the St. Joseph County Republican Party is showing that even though Republicans may be out of power locally, they can certainly develop meaningful policy ideas and shape the direction of public debate.  To Chris Riley, Lindsey Mustard, and the staff, officers and volunteers of the St. Joseph County Republican Party: Carry on, because your example is setting the bar for what must take place to renew our party at the local level all across America.

WPA Poster

WPA Poster

By: Brian Sikma

Over the weekend Larry Summers, President-elect Obama’s director of the National Economic Council, made the claim that the national unemployment rate will not climb above 10% thanks to the stimulus bill that is being negotiated in Congress right now.   Not only will unemployment not climb above 10% according to Summers, but the relief provided by the $825 billion spending bill will be felt immediately as “people see more income in their paychecks.”  These predictions come a little while after it was announced that an early version of the stimulus bill would entail the hiring of 600,000 new government employees.

Congressman Mike Pence pointed out in an interview with the Howey Political Report that he believes government spending will not bring our country out of this economic downturn.  To back up his point Pence cited Amity Shlaes work analyzing the Great Depression, “The Forgotten Man“, where Shlaes makes the case that the Great Depression was prolonged by inconsistent government attempts to lift the economy out of its depressed state.  Government spending that threw money at various problems in an attempt to create employment did not work then and it will not work today.

The greatest legacy of the New Deal programs that were supposed to end the Great Depression is that they outlived their original need and played a major role in inserting the federal government into areas that were formally the realm of states or the private sector.  While many of the alphabet soup agencies and measures have become paragraphs in history books (arguably the programs and their outcomes should be studied on more than a paragraph level), some of them remain with us today.  Social Security is a prime example of a program that was designed for a specific purpose but ended up outliving that purpose and morphing into a general government-run retirement guaranty program.  Suddenly eliminating Social Security is not the point here, the point is that we need to be careful during this extensive economic downturn that we do not create programs that over the long term are unsustainable and very vulnerable to political exploitation.

Back to the present proposal to spend $825 billion of your money and the contention that it will put money in your pocket and save existing jobs and create new ones.   The Government does not have any money of its own.  Yes it has printing presses, but ultimately money comes from one place and has two routes of getting to the government.  First, the government takes it from you by taxation.  Second, the government takes it from you by inflation.  With taxation the money transfer is direct: from your pocket to the government’s pocket.  With inflation the transfer is indirect, but just as effective.  The government prints (or the electronic equivalent thereof) more money and increases the amount of money moving around the economy.  Since this money is not backed up by new productivity or the creation of work, it means that its value must come from something else.  That something else is money in your pocket that got there because of your hard work.  By printing more money the government makes the money you earned as a result of your work literally worth less than it was when you earned it.

Assuming that government spending will jolt the economy out of a downturn fails to consider where the government gets the money from in the first place and what the costs of pursing this course are as compared to a more freedom embracing mode of economic recovery.  If Congress does pass the $825 billion proposal being bantered around right now, it will have effectively doubled the amount of discretionary spending it deals with on a yearly basis.  This is no small thing.  Additionally, it will be spending money it does not have to produce results that cannot be obtained by this activity.

The jobs that are created as a result of this injection of money into the economy will not be more than the jobs that could be created by giving permanency to the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, reducing the corporate tax rate to 25%, and allowing the American people to keep more of their hard-earned money.

Related Reading:

Atlas Shrugged:  From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

Beware of the Big-Government Tipping Point

Indiana State House

Indiana State House

By: Brian Sikma

Partisanship is sometimes inevitable, and when it comes it isn’t always a bad thing.  Often we are admonished by various pundits, and even some in government, that we should seek bipartisan solutions to the problems that we face.  If a bipartisan solution can be found without sacrificing key principles and tenets, then that is an example of good bipartisanship.  Too often, however, bipartisan is a term used by moderates and liberals when they want conservatives to sacrifice principle for the sake of finding a solution.  It’s not that conservatives don’t have a solution, it is that there is a wide chasm between a solution premised on conservative principles and a solution based on liberal concepts of what is right and what is wrong.  True bipartisanship should be based on a common principle, not a compromise of principle.

One case in which it appears that bipartisanship should be very possible is the recent news that Planned Parenthood of Indiana violated, on at least two occasions, Indiana state law requiring that suspected cases of statutory rape be reported to authorities for investigation.  In choosing to put an abortion agenda ahead of a law abiding agenda, Planned Parenthood’s clinics in Bloomington and Indianapolis failed to serve the woman who came to them for help.  The incidents, which occurred as part of an undercover investigative journalism project conducted by an organization named Live Action, certainly raise questions about Planned Parenthood’s dedication to helping women and their dedication to operating within the bounds of applicable laws.

Sensing that the revelations about the Bloomington and Indianapolis clinics may be indicators of a more widespread malfeasance throughout the Planned Parenthood of Indiana network of clinics, State Representative Jackie Walorski (R-Jimtown) called on the Attorney General and local prosecutors to investigate these two incidents.  Walorski also called on the Family and Social Services Administration, as well as any other state agency that transfers funds to Planned Parenthood, to suspend payments while the outcomes of the investigations are pending.

Rep. Walorski’s goal was to make sure that no organization that breaks state law and jeopardizes the safety of women is allowed to continue unchecked or receive taxpayer dollars unhindered.  One would think that there would perhaps be a common desire among the political parties in Indiana to achieve these relatively basic goals that focus on protecting taxpayers and, more importantly, protecting vulnerable Hoosier women.

This goal must not be bipartisan, unfortunately, because on Friday Dan Parker, the chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, responded to Walorski’s efforts by calling for a House Ethics Committee investigation into her fundraising activities.  At the heart of Parker’s spurious allegations is a blog post written by Rep. Walorski in December asking supporters to contribute to her campaign fund so she can continue to lead the battle against Planned Parenthood’s wrong and inappropriate actions.  In the highly partisan view of Dan Parker, Walorski violated House Ethics Rules-something that she emphatically did not do.

Instead of fabricating and manufacturing charges that have no merit, and recklessly calling for investigations of public officials who are striving to uphold the law and act in accordance to the rules that govern their activities, Dan Parker and the Indiana Democratic Party should take this opportunity to exhibit bipartisanship by joining Rep. Walorski in urging for the suspension of funding to Planned Parenthood and calling for a full investigation of the organization’s activities.  The goals of protecting women and taxpayers flow from the principles that we should protect all citizens, and especially those most vulnerable, from crime and we should make sure that those who receive state funds are acting in a law-abiding manner.

The wrong focus is to use this opportunity for blind partisan gain, the right focus is to stand up for principles and values that make Indiana a better, more prosperous and more moral state.

By: Brian Sikma

Today the Indiana Democratic Party inserted itself into the ongoing battle over holding Planned Parenthood of Indiana accountable for its misconduct. Dan Parker, Democrat State Party Chairman, issued a press release in which he tossed out baseless charges against Representative Jackie Walorski (R-Jimtown) in an apparent attempt to discredit the messenger since the message is hard to argue with. If a legal investigation into Planned Parenthood of Indiana continues to move forward, the organization stands in serious jeopardy of incurring legal sanctions as a result of violations of state law uncovered late last year. Regardless of the full course of the legal investigation, however, Planned Parenthood has violated the public’s trust and may lose the funding that it receives from the state.

Parker called for the House Ethics Committee to look into the fundraising activities of Rep. Walorski because, according to Parker, a post on Walorski’s blog dated December 26th referred to her efforts to bring to account the actions of Planned Parenthood and requested that supporters contribute to her campaign fund. State law says that legislators may not actively raise money during the session, and House Ethics Rules say that legislators may not hold fundraising events between Organization Day and the close of session. According to Parker:

“This is the most blatant attempt to raise money during the prohibited period since the rules were adopted many years ago.”

Most blatant attempt to raise money during the prohibited period? First, the state law mandated prohibition on soliciting funds was not in effect on December 26th, that was the day the blog post went up. Second, the House Ethics Rule only applies to “events” not solicitations.

Instead of attacking Rep. Walorski for imagined violations of misinterpreted rules, Dan Parker and state Democrats would do better by calling for a full investigation of Planned Parenthood of Indiana as a result of the inappropriate and illegal misconduct on the part of Planned Parenthood. Standing up against actual violations of state law, and procedures that ultimately harm the women they are intended to protect, is a better way to use your political influence. Knee-jerk reactions and personal attacks do not serve anyone well.

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