THINGS ARE DIFFERENT
NOW, THANKS TO THE
‘GARY WITT RULE’
Filing for state and local offices opened this week. There is always a great deal of anxiety among political officeholders, candidates and activists from the date of the opening of filing through the date of the close of filing in the last week of March. Politicians and political junkies are always wondering about what candidates will “come out of the woodwork.”
Some of this is a real concern. There have been candidates that have just showed up on the last day of filing unrecruited and unannounced who “throw their hat in the ring.” On a few occasions these surprise candidates build a team and go on to win the election. But, some of this is just silly. Most serious candidates – even those running for smaller offices such as county offices or state representative – started raising money and putting their infrastructure in place weeks ago. Their candidacy should be a surprise to no one.
Candidates running for bigger offices really need to start much earlier if possible. If a candidate is running for governor, they will need millions of dollars for TV and radio buys, printing and postage. A candidate just can't raise five or six million dollars in the period from the opening of filing until the November election date. The candidate has to start months or even years before filing opens. The new trend seems to be to start more than two years before the election date.
Even candidates for county offices or state representative could really use a few more weeks to raise money, put a team together and do the work to build a successful campaign. But a county or state representative race is still small enough from both a geographic and population standpoint to allow a last day filer to be successful.
Regardless, there are usually a few surprises as filing opens and even a few more surprises as filing closes. However, those surprises at the end of filing have become fewer since the adoption of the “Gary Witt Rule.” It used to be that a few incumbents would say they were running until the last day of filing, withdraw on the last day of filing and then have their preferred successor file at the same time. This left members of the opposing party no time to find a replacement.
After Gary Witt pulled this stunt to end his career as a state representative, the legislature adopted a new law (a statute that I like to call the “Gary Witt Rule) that extends filing for a few days if there are these last minute withdrawals. So, at least there are a few days to find another candidate if there are last minute withdrawals.
What looked like a quiet election cycle has developed at least a little excitement over the last few weeks. New presiding commissioner candidates have announced their candidacies. The fact that at least one of Platte County's state representatives is not running for re-election has gone from quiet backroom talk to public knowledge. I'm sure more interesting news will become public as the filing deadline approaches.
For now, if you want to make an incumbent sweat, ask them “Did you hear that 'such and so' is thinking about running against you?”
Well, don't really do that. It would be kind of mean.
(James Thomas is a local political veteran who can be reached via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
LOOKS LIKE GOP LEADERSHIP
HAS THROWN IN THE TOWEL
ON SLOWING SPENDING
Do you remember that old anti-littering commercial from the 70s with an Indian with a tear slowly rolling down his cheek as he looks out across a littered landscape? Well, America had a similar tearful moment last week as Congress passed an increase in the debt ceiling for the federal government.
For all practical purposes, the federal government had to increase the debt ceiling to keep pace with its out of control spending. The difference between this debt ceiling increase and some of the more recent debt ceiling increases is that the federal government's borrowing limit was raised without any conditions. Placing no conditions on the debt ceiling increase seems to indicate that Congress – at least the Democrats and the Republican leadership – have “thrown in the towel” on slowing the growth of the size of the federal government.
Some pundits have praised the raising of the debt ceiling to a level that should be sufficient to March of 2015 as a brilliant strategy to take away the negativity created for Republican Congressmen/women and Congressional candidates that arises from a potential shutdown of the federal government. The New York Times had this quote from Senator John McCain “It was not an easy exercise, but it keeps the focus on the issues we want to be on . . . We dodged a bullet here.” McCain argues that avoiding a pre-election fight over the debt ceiling robs Democrats of the opportunity to portray Republicans as reckless.
McCain's position leaves me scratching my head. What bigger issue should Republicans want to talk about than curbing the out of control spending by the federal government? What bigger issue should Republicans want to address?
Just look at who praised the Republicans' “courage” in passing a debt limit increase. The White House press secretary issued a statement saying raising the debt ceiling “is a positive step in moving away from political brinkmanship.” Democrat Senator Harry Reid said “We're happy to see the House is legislating the way they should have legislated for a long time.”
It would be nice if Congress operated in a cordial and professional manner with our representatives debating issues in an intelligent, well thought-out manner rather than merely engaging in a war of sound bites. Courtesy in the debate process is not only appropriate, but it should be heartily encouraged.
However, when those with complete opposite political ideologies start rolling out the platitudes for you, you really should re-think your strategy. Is giving your political opponents everything they want without a fight a good strategy?
I have wanted a balanced budget amendment since Reagan ran for president, but I am not totally naive. The debt ceiling was going to have to be increased. We can't stop the deficit spending overnight.
However, to allow the deficit spending to go on with no attempt to reign in the magnitude of that spending is simply irresponsible.
Some pundits think the Republican Congressional leadership has made a brilliant move that will free Republicans of the debt ceiling/potential government shutdown debate and make it more likely that Republicans can hold the House and win back the Senate. I don't share the opinion of the pundits. I think the Republican leadership just told their fiscal conservative base that we don't care about you so don't bother working to get us elected/re-elected because we'll only disappoint you. And that is why this debt ceiling vote leaves me with a tear slowly running down my cheek.
(James Thomas has long been active in local Republican politics. Email him at email@example.com)
A power struggle started unfolding in Jefferson City last week. Missouri government has a lot of boards and commissions and department heads that are appointed by the governor. However, these appointments frequently require the consent of the state senate. Last week a key appointment was blocked and new legislation proposed.
Typically if the governor wants to appoint someone to a position, the governor's office will clear the appointment with that person's state senator. The person's state senator will then sponsor that person through the approval process. If the state senator doesn't approve of the proposed appointment, the governor will typically withdraw the proposed appointment, but most appointments go through without a lot of controversy.
That was not the case this week. Gov. Jay Nixon had nominated Tim Dollar to be added to the Conservation Commission. Some of the state senators balked at this appointment because the governor had supposedly made a commitment that the next appointment to the Conservation Commission would be from northern Missouri. Typically when an appointment is not going to be approved by the state senate, the governor will withdraw the nomination. However, in this case, the state senate held up action on the appointment until the governor's right to withdraw the nomination expired. The blocked appointment leaves Dollar banned for life from serving on the Conservation Commission.
After blocking Dollar's appointment, the state senate adopted new legislation that would limit the amount of time temporary leaders can head state agencies and that would force the governor to call special elections to fill vacant seats in the legislature within 30 days. Both of these issues have been a real problem.
Some departments are often headed by “acting directors” for a substantial period of time. Under the proposed legislation, an acting director could lead an agency for no more than 120 days. This time limit could be a little bit complicated because the state senate is only in session from January through May. However, the state senate proposes to fix this problem by implementing a constitutional amendment that would allow the lieutenant governor to fill vacancies in state boards and departments if the governor doesn't fill the vacancies within 90 days.
The long delay in calling special elections to fill vacancies in the legislature is a trick that has been used for a long time. A governor will “pick off” a legislator from the opposing party by appointing that legislator to a cushy state appointment. Then, the governor will take a long time to call the special election to fill that vacancy so that the opposing party has one less person on its team. This has been particularly important for Gov. Nixon because his team is dramatically outnumbered in the state legislature. Nixon has manipulated this process well by waiting until earlier this month to call a special election for August 2014 for a House seat that has been vacant since June of 2013. Nixon also set August 2014 as the election date of two other long-vacant House seats. Conveniently (for Nixon), this date is months after the end of the session.
The state senate's “muscle flexing” is just that at this point. The proposed legislation and constitutional amendment have to go to the state house for approval before they can progress further towards becoming law, but it appears that the state senate is “ready to rumble.”
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
WORDS ARE STILL
February 6 is a great day for America – Ronald Reagan's birthday.
Reagan gave many great speeches in his day. One of those great speeches was given at the CPAC Convention in 1977 and typically referred to as “The New Republican Party.” In that speech, Reagan talked about how conservative ideals were held by a large majority of Americans with only 18% of American identifying themselves as liberals. He also called for a merger of the “social conservatives” and “economic conservatives” into “one politically effective whole.”
Another memorable Reagan speech called “A Time for Choosing” was a televised speech given by him in 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. Reagan talked about how the choice was not about choosing “left or right,” but instead about choosing “up or down” as in “Up to man's age-old dream--the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order--or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”
His speech pointed out many flawed policies such as the misconception that government can do more good than the private sector or the flaw of a radically progressive tax structure. He implored Americans to study the issues and choose wisely. He pleaded:
“Are you willing to spend time studying the issues, making yourself aware, and then conveying that information to family and friends? Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community? Realize that the doctor's fight against socialized medicine is your fight. We can't socialize the doctors without socializing the patients. Recognize that government invasion of public power is eventually an assault upon your own business. If some among you fear taking a stand because you are afraid of reprisals from customers, clients, or even government, recognize that you are just feeding the crocodile hoping he'll eat you last.”
I don't have the word count flexibility to give you the whole speech, but you can find it here:
http://reagan2020.us/speeches/A_Time_for_Choosing.asp. Let me just share his closing:
“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”
I only met the man in person once and that was actually in a room at the White House with 103 other high school seniors, their military chaperones and members of the Hearst family. But the man has inspired me with his writings and televised speeches since he first ran for president in 1976.
So far, we have failed in the mission to re-direct America away from its downward path into “a thousand years of darkness.” America is worse off today than it was 40 years ago. But, there is still at least a glimmer of hope. Maybe. Just maybe. Enough people can be inspired by this great man so that “. . . with God's help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eyes of all people upon us.”
I sure hope so.
Until then, let me just say “Happy birthday, Ronald Reagan.” Even a decade after your death, your words are still inspiring.
(James Thomas is an attorney who is a veteran of local Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
WE ALL NEED TO HOLD THE POLITICIANS' FEET TO THE FIRE
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful one hundred percent.”
This chorus from Horton Hatches the Egg has always been one of my favorite lines from Dr. Seuss. Despite a substantial amount of adversity, Horton the elephant stands firm in his commitment to protect the egg of Mayzie, a lazy bird who convinces Horton to sit on her egg while she takes a “short break,” which turns into a permanent vacation in Palm Beach.
Unfortunately so many politicians just don't understand the very simplistic concept of meaning what they say. Just last week the newly-elected Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring, who just took office less than two weeks ago, came out and said that despite the fact that he campaigned on and previously voted against gay marriage, he was not going to uphold Virginia's ban on gay marriage.
I feel differently than Mr. Herring on this issue. However, that isn't the point. This column isn't about the appropriateness of gay marriage. No. This column is about politicians saying one thing on the campaign trail and then doing exactly the opposite of what they said once in office.
Mr. Herring isn't the first politician backtrack on a campaign commitment. One such instance that I remember well is Bill Clinton's campaign for the presidency in 1992. Many of the things Clinton talked about on the campaign trail almost made him sound like a conservative Republican. For example, a key element of his campaign platform was a “middle class tax cut.” Unfortunately, between the day he was elected President and the day he took the Oath of Office, his middle class tax cut disappeared and was replaced by one of the largest tax increases in history. Of course, Clinton is well known for being loose with the truth – even when he is under oath. So, I guess we shouldn't be surprised.
Democrats aren't the only ones to go back on their stated positions. For example, President George H.W. Bush pledged “Read my lips. No new taxes” in his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention. But, early in his term he was pressured by the Democrats in Congress to agree to some significant tax increases in order to keep funding for the Gulf War in place. Sometimes you have to give a little to get what you want, but in this case Bush's giving on this issue severely undermined his credibility and probably cost him his re-election bid.
Frustration with politicians who aren't true to their word is enough to make people want to completely “wash their hands” of the political process. But when you feel that way, try to remember another line from Dr. Seuss. At the end of The Lorax, the Once-Ler tells a young boy “Now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
So the next time a politician goes back on his word, it is up to you to “hold the politician's feet to the fire.” If a politician tells you one thing, but does the opposite, encourage that politician to remain true to his or her word. If they refuse, make it your mission to throw that person out of office because “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
BEING GOOD AT CAMPAIGNS IS DIFFERENT THAN BEING GOOD AT PUBLIC SERVICE
Why? Why? Why?
Why do officeholders' staff and sometimes the officeholders themselves do stupid things?
The latest fiasco involves New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in what the media is calling “Bridgegate.” (A name that is a throwback to one of the all-time stupid decisions: the Watergate break in followed by the Watergate cover up.) The facts are still being gathered, but essentially what is believed to have happened is that Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff, sent an e-mail to David Wildstein, a political appointee of Christie at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that included the phrase “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein responded “Got it.”
Then, apparently as a “we'll show you gesture” to the Mayor of Fort Lee who had refused to endorse Christie's re-election campaign for governor, a previously unscheduled traffic study was commenced on a very busy bridge during the first week of school. This study closed lanes of traffic and caused massive traffic jams.
Three problems here: First, like Nixon back in 1972, Christie was wildly popular and almost certain to win re-election in a landslide. So, why do something stupid? Second, how does this really hurt the mayor of Fort Lee? Sure it means phone calls to his office from angry citizens, but at the end of the day, the mayor can deflect these phone calls to the Port Authority. So, why do it? All it does is create a hacked off citizenry who wouldn't necessarily even be hacked off at your target. Third--and this is a biggie–why do you ever put your vindictive political attacks in an e-mail that can easily be traced back to you? The actions of Ms. Kelly were clearly wrong and she should not have done them, but at least if you are going to do something wrong (and incredibly stupid), don't leave a clear trail back to yourself.
Do I think Governor Christie was personally involved in the decision to create traffic jams on this bridge? Absolutely not! I can't believe he would be that stupid.
Do I think Governor Christie should be responsible for the actions of his staff? Yes, to some extent. But, a governor runs a huge operation. That size of an organization is bound to have a few folks who “get off the reservation.” A governor needs to react responsibly to dumb things people under his control do, but the governor's political career should not be ended by such staff errors.
Governor Christie's real failure here is in who he has chosen to put around him in important positions. I don't know for sure that Ms. Kelly was a campaign staffer prior to being on the official staff, but my guess is that she was. This happens all the time. A candidate wins and his or her political campaign staff becomes his or her governing staff. However, what so many politicians seem to miss is that folks that are good at “political campaigns” are not necessarily good with “public service.” The necessary skill sets and appropriate temperaments for getting the job are very different than those for doing the job.
Will this end Christie's bid for president in 2016? Maybe. Regardless, I'm sure Hillary Clinton isn't shedding any tears over the stupidity of Christie's staff.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local GOP politics who can be reached at email@example.com)
IT’S NOT THAT THEY’RE
MILLIONAIRES, BUT RATHER
HOW THEY BECAME MILLIONAIRES
Rasmussen Reports did a poll to gauge reaction to a new report that says for the first time ever, more than half the members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are millionaires. Seventy percent of those polled thought it was bad for the country that most members of Congress were millionaires. Only four percent thought having millionaires make up a majority of Congress was a good thing. Another twenty-one percent did not see that a majority of Congress being millionaires had any impact on the country. My reaction to this report is driven more by how did so many in Congress become millionaires rather than the fact that they are millionaires.
As a starting point, someone being wealthy isn't necessarily a bad thing. Isn't being financially independent a goal of most people? Also, while one can have a career where success does not equate with a decent income, a lot of success, especially in business, is still measured in dollars. Bear with me here. I am not espousing wealth accumulation as this amazing virtue. It is still true that the worth of a man is often best measured not by what he has, but by what he gives away. But, the critical point is that wealth accumulation is not evil, but is often a measure of success in a chosen field.
Truthfully, wise and patient wealth accumulation through savings is a virtue. The point of the Dave Ramsey model is to pay off your debts and accumulate assets so that you are independent and so that you can do good things for other people.
Another benefit of having elected leaders with their own wealth should also dramatically reduce the risk of corruption. I have long been of the belief that what led Rod Jetton astray was that fact that he rose from being on welfare to being the Speaker of the House, the second most powerful office in Missouri government. He skyrocketed from nothing to a position of power and influence and hanging out with some well off and influential folks. That has to create a lot of temptation to try to continue to enjoy the so called “good life.” Someone would be best equipped to avoid the temptation of corruption by being BOTH well grounded in their moral values AND financially secure on their own.
Being financially secure is also a key element of being able to pursue public service. I have often discouraged potential candidates from running for office because of concerns over whether they can adequately provide for their families on the potential public servant pay check. It is virtuous to perform public service, but one does need to make sure they take care of their own family first.
So, I guess, my concern with this report on the wealth of those in Congress is not the fact that they have money, but instead is based upon where did they get their money? Was it from hard work, success in their business or profession, responsible saving or even inheritance? Or was it money from corrupt activities? Corruption is a huge concern. Wealth by itself doesn't bother me. In fact, it is probably the first defense against corruption. Having Congressfolks who got their wealth from corrupt activities DOES concern me. In fact, it should concern us all.
(James Thomas is a veteran of local Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
LOOKING INTO THE
POLITICAL CRYSTAL BALL
FOR THE YEAR 2014
The start of a new year offers political columnists an opportunity to look into their “crystal balls” and predict the future. What do I see in my crystal ball? Nothing.
Huh? Why nothing?
Well 2014 will be a truly unique year. This will be the first time since 1990 that the only state-wide office on the ballot is the state auditor's office. And, I can tell you from active personal involvement in the state auditor's race in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 that it is almost impossible to get anyone excited about that race.
Don't get me wrong. I personally think the state auditor's office is the second most important state-wide office in state government. However, it is just hard to get folks excited about that office. Also, the current Republican occupant of the office has been raising money for his re-election and the Democrats are supposedly having trouble finding a quality candidate to run against him. So, that race has the potential to be a real snoozer.
I have heard one rumor that could make the race interesting. Supposedly, Democrats are trying to convince State Treasurer Clint Zweifel to run for State Auditor. Zweifel could run without jeopardizing his remaining two years as state treasurer and, if he wins, he could move from an office that he will be term limited out of in 2016 to an office without term limits. Gov. Jay Nixon could then appoint Zweifel's replacement, who could run for re-election in 2016 as an incumbent. Interesting, but I'm not sure Zweifel will do it.
The rumor is that 2014 will be the “Year of the Ballot Initiative.” These ballot initiatives could come from the General Assembly putting issues before the voters or from petition drives that get an issue on a state-wide ballot. A couple of issues that are being widely talked about as potential ballot issues are “Right to Work” and tax reform. A transportation tax might also make the ballot.
Our Congressional race won't be interesting. Congressman Sam Graves will crush all opponents. So far, no quality candidate has come forward to challenge our incumbent State Senator Rob Schaaf. There could be one interesting state representative race. We'll just have to wait and see who files and who doesn't file.
Platte County offices up in 2014 include presiding commissioner, prosecutor, county clerk, collector, recorder and auditor. Republican incumbents hold all of these offices. Given the ineptness of the Democrat Party to recruit quality candidates for open seats, I would not anticipate much of a challenge to any of these incumbents by the Democrats. Of course, the new trend seems to be a greater risk of an incumbent being knocked off by a Republican or “quasi-Republican.” I have not heard any big rumors, but those kinds of challengers often don't show up until filing opens or is about to close. But, absent any internal broo-ha-ha in the local Republican Party, I would not anticipate any county races that will be all that exciting.
So, that brings me back to my original prediction. Other than a potentially big year for ballot initiatives, it may be a relatively quiet year for politics in Platte County. Maybe one or two local races heat up, but otherwise not much excitement. Of course, a lot could happen between now and the close of filing at the end of March.
(James Thomas is an attorney who has long been active in local Republican politics. Email him at email@example.com)
DISAPPROVAL OF LIFESTYLE
DOESN’T MEAN YOU’RE
As discussed last week, Phil Robertson was suspended from the TV show Duck Dynasty for paraphrasing a passage found in The Bible. There needs to be great caution when one starts paraphrasing The Bible. There also needs to be great caution when quoting a passage from The Bible out of context. But what this is really about is an effort of the gay-promoting, Christian-hating crowd to shove their agenda down our throats (no pun intended).
The media reports have twisted the words of Phil Robertson. You really have to read all of each of the articles to see what Phil said. But, the headlines of most of the articles say things like “'Duck Dynasty' Star Bashes Gays.” No he didn't. He said that gays “won't inherit the kingdom of God.” Those aren't his words. They come straight out of The Bible.
In that same interview, Phil went on to say “We never, ever judge someone on who's going to heaven, hell. That's the Almighty's job . . . . Of course, we just love 'em, give 'em the Good News about Jesus – whether they're homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort 'em out later, you see what I'm saying?”
Phil clearly does not approve of the homosexual lifestyle. But, he never advocated chaining gays to the back of a pickup truck and dragging them down the road. (Phil is from Louisiana, not Texas.) But, as usual, the media and the advocates for the gay lifestyle interpret disapproval of their lifestyle choices as “bashing.”
A gay-promoting group, GLAAD, has come out and attacked Phil. GLAAD's spokesman said “Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.” Huh? I know some “Christian” denominations have “gone soft” (no pun intended) on being gay being a sin, but has GLAAD or these so-called “Christian” denominations actually read The Bible? The statements in The Bible are pretty clear on this subject. That's not me talking or Phil talking. Just read it for yourself.
We are all sinners. We have all fallen short of the standard God sets for us by what we have done and by what we have left undone. In his book Happy, Happy, Happy, Phil even describes his own sin filled days before he “found Jesus.” The difference here is that the gay-promoting groups want to deny that conduct The Bible clearly describes as sinful is in fact sinful. They obviously just don't like hearing what The Bible has to say.
This story has been evolving over the last week. A&E executives announced the suspension of Phil from the show. The Robertson family responded with a statement of its own. From the statement it is pretty clear that the Robertson family is supporting Phil. The statement says “While some of Phil's unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of The Bible.” If push comes to shove, it looks like the family would give up the show on A&E before it would not back Phil. As the statement says “We have a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.”
Gay-promoting groups have been beating the drum to try to drive Duck Dynasty from the airwaves. Their success in getting Phil suspended from the show seems to be a small victory. However, their efforts may have backfired on them. The vice president of communications for GLAAD said that “I've never received so many violently angry phone calls and social media posts attacking GLAAD for us speaking out against these comments.” Good! Maybe there is still hope for America.
(James Thomas is an attorney who has long been active in local Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
For earlier columns, click here