BUSH DOING PERSONAL BAILOUT WITH OUR MONEY
Do you remember when you heard that loud scream a couple of weeks ago and were not sure what it was? Well, I'll tell you. It was me.
I was screaming at my radio. They were playing clips of President Bush's press conference where he was announcing HIS bailout for the American auto industry.
Yes. I did just put “HIS” in all caps. The reason is that this is really President Bush's personal bailout of the auto industry. He just happens to be using OUR money.
What is particularly frustrating about this whole situation is that Congress had just rejected a proposed bailout. There were just too many open details for a bailout to be approved. Congress may have come back after Christmas and negotiated some sort of bailout arrangement. However, Congress had not yet arrived at a compromise. So, President Bush did not have an approved funding source for a bailout.
President Bush is trying to use the bailout legislation that was approved in October. I am extremely upset with how this bailout legislation has been used.
When the bailout plan was sold to Congress, it was sold with the understanding that the billions of dollars would be used by the Secretary of the Treasury to buy up “troubled assets” (i.e., bad mortgages or pools of bad mortgages) so that financial institutions could improve their balance sheets. Instead, a “catch all” clause in the bailout legislation that allowed the Secretary of the Treasury to take other reasonable acts necessary to stabilize the financial markets has been used to invest in preferred stock in banks. Now, this “catch all” clause is being used by President Bush to bailout the auto industry.
I don't like the idea of any sort of bailout. However, I do appreciate the significance of the auto industry to America's economy. For one thing cars are one of the few things we still make in America. Also, it is not just the big auto companies that would be impacted by their failure. There are many companies that exist primarily to provide goods and services to the auto industry. So, I see how someone could disagree with the initial question of whether a bailout should be provided.
The point I adamantly disagree with is the way this auto industry bailout was handled. First, President Bush acted without the authority of Congress in a manner that was not contemplated by the October bailout legislation. Second, all the elected officials and experts have indicated that the players in the auto industry including the executives, the shareholders and the unions all have to reach certain compromises or else this temporary influx of cash will not save the auto industry. The negotiations in Congress failed because these compromises were not reached prior to the money being handed out. President Bush has agreed to hand out the money on a promise to reach a compromise in the future. This is just silly. Once the auto industry has the cash, the leverage on the various players to reach a compromise is lost. I suspect that no compromise will be reached until the current pot of money runs out. Then the auto industry will be back trying to get OUR tax dollars for their use.
I am sympathetic with the pressure being felt by the auto industry and the thousands of people employed, directly or indirectly, in the auto industry. Although the fat juicy pensions and other benefits that retirees are receiving is one of the major flaws in the business model of the auto companies, I still respect the contractual rights of these retirees and am sympathetic to their expectations that these benefits and pensions continue.
I also prefer to “Buy American.” In fact, of the 14 cars my wife and I have owned, 12 of them were American made. Notwithstanding this, I'm still “screaming mad” about the actions of President Bush.
(Scream with James via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
GOVERNMENT NOT THE ANSWER TO SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Liberals think that government is the way to fix social problems. They want to establish government run programs to try to improve people's lives. They mean well, but they are simply wrong. Government is not the answer.
Government has failed to improve peoples' lives. Lyndon Johnson launched a “War on Poverty” while he was President. He lost his war. The various social programs run by the government have not improved peoples' lives. In many cases they have made them worse.
A case in point is the number of out of wedlock births. In 2007 40% of babies were born to unwed mothers. Some experts report that the goal of too many teenage girls is to have a kid so they can start getting their own AFDC check, a check that is now available as a result of President Johnson's War on Poverty. Sadly, the vision of these girls is to reach only the first rung on the socio-economic ladder.
One of my favorite columnists, George Will, has a short list of things to enable people to avoid poverty and be part of the middle class. The first two things on his list are finish high school and don't have a kid before you are 25. Once a teenage girl decides to get pregnant, drop out of school and go on welfare, it is very difficult for her to climb higher than that first rung on the socio-economic ladder.
We should show “love for our neighbor” at all times. During the Christmas season we are especially reminded that we should be doing things for other people. But, many folks simply misinterpret the meaning of Matthew 25:34-46. God wants us to care for our fellow man. But I would argue that the Bible never talks about any government run program. The God pleasing care we are to provide for our neighbors should be individual or collective action that is voluntary and not some mandatory assessment paid to the government for it to redistribute to others.
That is what always irks me about liberals. They give little or nothing to charity, but they advocate for higher taxes to support social programs. For example, during the years 2000-2004, Obama gave less than 1% of his income to charity. Over a ten year period Biden has given an average of only $369 per year to charities. Liberals “talk the talk,” but they do not “walk the walk.” They don't personally support social programs. Instead, they want to raise the taxes of hard working people and “redistribute the wealth” of those hard working people to others.
If government run social programs are so important to these folks, then we should let them fund them. In fact, my new proposal is to simply add an extra line on the Form 1040 that reads “Extra money that I just want to let the government decide how to spend for me.”If the liberals want to pay more money to the government, go right ahead.
Don't get me wrong. I strongly believe that the fortunate have an obligation to care for their fellow man. In fact, I try very hard to live up to my confirmation verse 1st Peter 4:10. There is still a lot more that I want to do, but “sharing the wealth” is something that I am doing and I am teaching my children to do the same. However, caring for your fellow man needs to be a voluntary act that you do out of love for your fellow man and not some mandatory program. If the program is mandatory it is not really showing love for your fellow man. It is simply obeying the law.
Please do things to help others not only during the Christmas season, but all year long. However, when you do these things, do them out of “love for your neighbor” and not because the government makes you.
(You can even love James Thomas and your neighbor via email. Reach James at email@example.com)
REPUBLICANS GUILTY OF STUFFING BALLOT BOX
The Republicans have been caught stuffing the ballot box! That's right! It's true! The Republicans have been caught rigging an election!
Of course, this is the one time when rigging the election is not illegal or a bad thing. In fact, this is the one election where Republicans were encouraged to “vote early and often.” By now you know that I am talking about the food drive competition between the Platte Republicans and Platte Democrats to support Hillcrest Transitional Housing, an organization that assists the homeless by providing temporary housing and support to help people get back on their feet and budgeting and financial counseling to help people avoid problems in the future.
I would have to say our first attempt at a joint service project between the Democrats and Republicans was a huge success. We gathered over 500 pounds of food and raised over $1320 in cash. The report I have received is that this was a Republican landslide with Republicans donating over three-fourths of the food and nearly all the cash. Of course, I am hoping Russ and his Democrat friends pull a trick like they did in the Minnesota Senate race and start “finding” ballots (stacks of food and checks) to try to steal this victory away from the Republicans.
I have to plead guilty for my part in rigging this election. As soon as Russ Purvis and I agreed on the concept, I began work to assure a Republican victory. I began by setting my twofold level of a personal financial commitment -- a check of a certain amount and a certain dollar volume of a food contribution.
Of course, that is just my small part in the process. Any victory requires a team effort, a lot of volunteers and a broad base of support. Once I shared the idea, others ran with it and made it a success. There are many people to thank for this effort.
Republicans, Democrats and, I assume, Independents all gave generously to support the food drive for Hillcrest. I want to thank everyone who donated. I particularly want to thank all Republicans who participated in our ballot box stuffing effort to ensure a GOP victory.
There are a few people I need to thank specifically. I want to thank Jim Rooney, as chairman of the Platte County Republican Party, Mike Maasen, as president of the Platte County Pachyderm Club, and Barbara Milton, president-elect of the Platte County Federated Republican Women's Club, who all enthusiastically agreed to have their organizations join in this friendly competition.
I have to thank my daughters, Shannon and Anne, for the help in grocery shopping. Although I may have paid at the checkout counter, they are the ones who filled the cart with good healthy food choices. I also must thank my daughters for making all the collection boxes that were used in the food drive.
I want to thank Russ Purvis, chairman of the Platte County Democrat Party, who has long encouraged a joint service project between the Democrats and Republicans. Some sort of friendly competition was truly his idea. My contributions were merely to suggest Hillcrest Transitional Housing as the charitable beneficiary, get approval from the other Republican organizations and do a little personal “ballot box stuffing.”
I also want to thank all of our friends at Hillcrest Transitional Housing who were the beneficiaries of our little competition and who were good sports about the whole “red versus blue” effort.
Of course, all joking aside, the real winners are the families that are served by Hillcrest. Hillcrest does wonderful work to help people with a “hand up” and not just a “hand out.” Please keep in mind the wonderful work that Hillcrest does year round. You can learn more about them from their website www.hillcresttransitionalhousing.org.
(Reach James via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
BAILOUTS: JUST SAY NO
It seems that everyone from the so called “financial geniuses” on Wall Street to the fat cat auto executives in Detroit is looking for a handout from the federal government. President Bush and the Democrats (and some Republicans) in Congress seem all too willing to hand out money. What Congress and the President seem to forget is that it is OUR money.
The bailout approved in October added approximately 7% to the national debt and that does not include the billions of dollars in interest that will accrue on this amount. That percentage is hard to comprehend. Think of it this way. The October bailout was nearly equal to $2,500 for every man, woman and child in America.
If the goal is to stimulate the economy, how about sending a check to the taxpayers since it is OUR money that is being handed out. If that had been done in October on a per capita basis every family of four would have received about $10,000.That would certainly have given the economy a big boost!
Something similar to that is really a better answer to the automaker bailout issue. Instead of giving money to the automakers, give the taxpayers a refundable tax credit for buying a car. Then the taxpayers can decide which automakers they want to support with their money.
A great proposal to stimulate the economy was recently floated in Congress. Instead of giving money to particular industries, give employees and employers a payroll tax holiday for three months, sixth months or a year. For whatever time period is chosen this would put 7.65% back in the employees' pockets. Likewise the employers would avoid matching the 7.65% of withholdings. For a family with a household income of $60,000 this would make another $4,590 available in the family's annual budget.
Even people who don't need a bailout want to get in on the government's give-a-way of OUR money. A group of friends of mine own a small interest in a bank. We recently received a proxy request from the bank. Although the management of the bank claims they are not part of the subprime mess, they want the shareholders to vote in favor of a proposal to authorize preferred stock so our bank can get some of the money the government is handing out. My friends and I voted “No!” (We would have voted “HELL NO!” but that was not one of the choices.)
There is a hand out program I am in favor of supporting. In reality it is not a “hand out” program. Instead, it is a “hand up” program. By now you should know that program is Hillcrest Transitional Housing. You should also be aware by now of the friendly food drive competition between the Platte Democrats and Platte Republicans for the benefit of Hillcrest.
This past weekend, my daughters (ages 8 and 11) and I went shopping for the Hillcrest food drive. I told my girls that we had $100 to spend. So, we took a note pad and kept a running tally of each item we purchased and how much we had spent so far as we went up and down the aisles. My daughters kept the tally. They also made suggestions on things that people might need. They were especially helpful in suggesting things that kids like to eat, but sadly I told them we were not buying cookies, candy or junk food. My girls were pretty good at shopping. We ended up with six big bags of groceries.
It isn't too late. You can still participate in the competition by dropping off your food items or checks made payable to “Hillcrest Transitional Housing” at The Landmark office or the Hillcrest Thrift Store at 6520 Prairie View Road or even better bring your donations to The Landmark Christmas Party this Friday, Dec. 12 from 4-8 p.m. at the Comfort Inn in Platte City. Russ Purvis and I plan to be there to accept your donations.
(Say hi to James at Friday’s party or email him at email@example.com)
EARLY VOTING NOT GOOD FOR 'LITTLE' RACES
With the excitement generated by the 2008 elections there has been a lot of discussion of adopting early voting in Missouri. Early voting is a bad idea.
One problem with early voting is the increased risk of fraud. Early voting would cause the voting process to go on longer for more people and increase the opportunities for fraud.
My biggest objection to early voting comes from my experience with running campaigns.
In sports, athletes and their coaches build their training program around a goal of reaching their peak performance at a specific time such as a big race or the conference championship. Candidates and campaign managers take a similar approach to campaigns. During a campaign you are trying to build your campaign to a crescendo that is reached on Election Day. Campaigns ebb and flow throughout the long campaign season. The goal is to reach the high point of the campaign on Election Day.
For big campaigns like President early voting would not have as big of an impact. I really wonder how anyone could have possibly been undecided by 30 days before the election. There was just so much information out there, that if you wanted to pick your candidate for President, you should have been able to do that.
That is not the case for “little” campaigns. I have worked with a lot county-level or state legislature campaigns. With some of these campaigns, you only have enough money for a single mail piece. So, you will often time your one piece of mail to arrive during the last few days before Election Day. The problem is that if a lot of people have already voted, then you did not have a chance for your mail to help you reach those voters. This concern even applies to certain state-wide campaigns. Even a well funded down-ballot state-wide campaign may only have enough money for one week of TV and radio. If voters are voting more than one week before Election Day there is no opportunity to reach these voters with your message before they vote.
In some cases there are long lines to vote, but is a little of your time really a big sacrifice for the wonderful opportunity to have a say in your government? We are somewhat spoiled because the Platte County Election Board does a pretty good job of handling elections. I know when I went to vote in November I walked right up to the counter, gave them my photo ID and immediately went to vote. I was done in ten minutes.
The stories from St. Louis where it took folks five hours to vote are just crazy. How is that possible? Even if these stories are true, early voting is not the solution. The solution is to have the local election authorities do a better job of managing the voting process. Barry West used to be the biggest precinct in Platte County. It was getting too big so the local election authorities divided Barry West into Barry North and Barry South. In later years these precincts have been further divided to deal with the number of voters.
It is not fair to the down-ballot races to adopt a voting process which will make it difficult for them to get their message to the voters. Also, early voting is not the solution to a poorly run voting process. Consider who is running the election process. I am confident that Republicans were not responsible for those places where the process broke down.
There is one type of early voting I favor. In our Democrat vs. Republican food drive campaign for the benefit of Hillcrest Transitional Housing, you should vote early and often. You can drop your checks or food donations by The Landmark office or the Hillcrest Thrift Store at 6520 Prairie View Road.
(Always on the right, James Thomas is chair of the Sixth District Republican Committee. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING FORWARD
The 2008 elections were bad for Republicans, but they could have been so much worse. President Bush had dismal approval ratings. The war on terror had grown increasingly unpopular. The economy had been shaky for the last few months. And, the national media was in love with Barrack Obama and the “historic” implications of his race. Notwithstanding this adverse political environment, Republicans had many successes.
Congressman Sam Graves handily won re-election over Kay Barnes by over a 20 point margin. This was especially exciting for me. I received a call from a media outlet when Barnes announced her candidacy in 2007.They wanted a quote from me since I was chairman of the Sixth Congressional District Republican Committee. I said at the time that “Barnes would not likely win the Kansas City portion of the district, but even if she did, she would lose so badly in the rest of the district that her wins in the Kansas City area could not possibly make up for these losses. So, she simply could not win.”I am sure glad I was right. When the huge amounts of money came from outside the district to help Barnes I was a little worried that Sam could be in trouble, but his brilliantly designed and executed campaign plan soundly defeated her. Graves even dominated Barnes in the KC portions of the district.
Republicans also had great success in the State Senate races. The anticipated national Democrat wave raised concerns that Republicans might lose some State Senate seats. They didn't. In fact, Republicans went undefeated in the 13 State Senate races with a Republican candidate. The other four State Senate seats did not have Republican opposition. These seats have demographics that are so bad for the GOP that it would take divine intervention for a Republican to win.
Republicans also held on to a solid majority in the Missouri House. That is very exciting since many of the Democrats were talking about taking back control of the House this year.
There were some disappointments. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was our only state-wide winner other than McCain-Palin. Brad Lager was the next best performing state-wide candidate in his losing bid for State Treasurer. I was really disappointed since I served as the deputy treasurer for Lager's campaign for the past eight months. But, he has no regrets. He ran his campaign as best he could in the existing state-wide political environment. Jay Nixon crushed Kenny Hulshof in the Governor's race. This was disappointing, but we had seen this coming for several weeks. Another good man, Michael Gibbons, was unsuccessful in his bid to replace Jay Nixon as Attorney General. A sacrificial lamb, Mitch Hubbard, failed to oust Robin Carnahan.
Some good things happened locally. One Platte Pachy member is known to have had a Barnes sign in his yard, but he is the only Pachy known to have opposed Graves. Many Pachys came out and volunteered for Graves and other Republican candidates. Another exciting development is that the local Pachys organized a last minute golf tournament to raise money for the Platte Republican Party.
There are two important lessons learned from this election. First, all elections are local. The successes in the State House and State Senate races despite the struggles in the state-wide races emphasize this. Where local candidates effectively get their messages to voters they can win even in a bad national or state-wide environment. Second, there appear to be signs that all the Platte County Republicans may be willing to again “play nice together.” If they do, this spells big trouble for the Platte County Democrats in 2010.
DON'T FORGET: As you shop for groceries for Thanksgiving, pick up some food items to drop in the Republican box at the Hillcrest Thrift Store at 6520 Prairie View Road or at The Landmark Newspaper office.
(Email James Thomas at email@example.com)
LOCAL REPUBLICANS ARE UP TO THE CHALLENGE
My plan for this week was to write about the Republican successes from the 2008 election cycle. In fact, I already wrote that column. However, I am saving that column until later because of a challenge the Platte County Republicans have received from Russ Purvis and the Platte County Democrats.
Russ and I have discussed for quite some time that we should have some sort of joint service project undertaken by the Platte Democrat Party and Platte Republican Party. We talked about jointly building a house for Habitat for Humanity. We have talked about some type of athletic competition that would serve as a fund raiser for a charity. All of these ideas would require a lot of organization. However, Russ has come up with a suggestion that is easy: a food drive for a charitable organization.
The charity we have chosen is Hillcrest Transitional Housing. This organization provides temporary housing and food to the homeless; however, it is a tough love program. Participants have to be working or actively looking for work. Participants also have to go through financial management and budget counseling that will give them the skills to help them avoid financial difficulties in the future.
I am a huge fan of the mission of Hillcrest. No one should be homeless or go without food. However, just “giving a man a fish” only feeds him for today. Instead, Hillcrest “gives a man a fish” today AND “teaches him to fish” for himself tomorrow. By giving people a “hand up” and not just a “hand out,” Hillcrest helps people help themselves.
Another reason I am a big fan of Hillcrest's mission is that it is a privately run organization and not a government agency. We all have a God given duty to care for our fellow man. Conservative Republicans just do not feel the government is the best way to do that. Instead, we believe in people helping people. Besides, helping your fellow man because the government makes you is not the same as voluntarily giving your time and treasure to help others.
I ran Russ' proposal by the leaders of the local Republican Party. Jim Rooney, chairman of the Platte Republican Party, Mike Maasen, president of the Platte Pachyderm Club and Barbara Milton, president elect of the Platte Federated Republican Women's Club, all enthusiastically agreed to join in this friendly competition.
The Republican Party and Democrat Party will be collecting food and checks between now and Friday, Dec. 12, the night of The Landmark Christmas Party. All sorts of items are needed canned goods, boxed meals, paper products, laundry detergent, etc. Also cash can be donated to enable Hillcrest to purchase perishable items. Please make your checks payable to “Hillcrest Transition Housing.”
There will also be collection boxes at Hillcrest's Thrift Store, 6520 NW Prairie View Road. We have not worked out the precise details on how to count the various food items in our competition. However, that is not the point. The point is to do something good for someone else.
During the Pendergast era and some say even much more recently, Democrats frequently voted more than once in the same election. Well this is a chance for Republicans to get even. This is the one time when Republicans are permitted to vote early and often.
I certainly want the Republicans to win this competition just as much as I want them to win every election. However, regardless of which Party collects the most food and cash, the real winner will be Hillcrest and the people they serve. And that is why I hope this event will be a success and that it won't be our last effort to remember that we are all Platte Countians who just want what is best for our community even if our Democrat friends are confused about the best way to do that.
(James Thomas is head of the Sixth District Republicans. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
WE NEED SOMEONE LIKE PALIN TO LEAD THE GOP
My eight and eleven-year-old daughters were very upset when they woke up on the morning of Nov. 5. They wanted to know if McCain and Palin had won the election. They were distraught when they learned that they had not.
These two youngsters understand the bad things about an Obama win better than most adults. First and foremost they understand that the huge tax increases that will be imposed on our family will mean that our household will have less money to save for college and spend on family vacations or other things for our children. We will still have a roof over our heads and food to eat, but our household will have substantially less after tax resources available.
They also have a general understanding that the policies of Obama will be liberal policies that are contrary to the values of our family. They have seen the mailers that have come to our house warning of Obama's desire to restrict gun ownership by law abiding citizens and other liberal policies. However, these policies have a lot less direct impact on them than Dad saying we are not eating out more than once every two weeks.
One of the reasons my girls were so disappointed is that they loved Sarah Palin. This was in part because she was a woman and they were excited about “girl power.”However,they also understand the differences between conservative women and liberal women. They were not excited by Hillary Clinton. Over dinner one night after the Palin nomination was announced my 11 year old expressed her enthusiasm for Palin. She also said it was great that there was finally a woman who she could be excited about and noted that Hillary Clinton “did not have our kind of values.” That is one smart kid.
My girls were also disappointed because they had worked so hard on several campaigns. When I asked if they wanted to help with the door to door effort, they both jumped at the opportunity. We spent several weekends knocking on doors. Both my girls enjoyed the effort. (I think they also liked the huge drinks and snacks I bought them at Quik Trip to take on our walks.) My older daughter would read the provided script at the doors. My younger daughter did not want to read the script. Instead, she wanted to ask her own questions: “Do you have any pets?” and “What are their names?” She was always excited when we went to a house with dogs she could pet.
I told my girls not to be completely discouraged. Our job was to help McCain-Palin and Sam Graves win Platte County. We did that. We cannot control what happens everywhere else in the state and the country. I wish we could have more of an impact, but we just can't. We just have to do our little part and hope that everyone else is doing their part.
Republicans did have many successes. Graves crushed Kay Barnes by over a 20 point margin. Republicans increased their majority in the State Senate and preserved their majority in the State House. I'll talk further about those successes over the next couple of weeks. The bottom line is that despite the national and state-wide losses, there were several victories.
My girls were already disappointed, but they were even more upset when they watched part of Obama's victory speech on the news on Wednesday morning. Obama thanked his daughters for their efforts and said they had earned the right to get a new dog to take to the White House. My daughters have wanted to get a dog for months.Now Obama's daughters are getting one and they aren't! That really upset them. Hey, with the new taxes I am going to be paying, I am not sure I can afford dog food.
(James Thomas is chair of the Sixth District Republican Committee. Email him at email@example.com)
WE NEED SOMEONE LIKE PALIN TO LEAD THE GOP
It is FINALLY over! I have a great interest in political ideology and political campaigns. However, even I have grown weary from the 2008 presidential election cycle.
It seems like this presidential election started before the 2006 mid-term elections were over. Heck, it seemed like people were already talking about running for president in 2008 before the 2004 election was over. However, in checking back at some websites, I see that Obama and Clinton did not officially form their exploratory committees until January 2007. So maybe it was just talk and not real action towards running for president before the 2006 elections were over, but it sure seemed that way.
In any case, the elections beginning in January 2007 made for a long stretch until November 2008. The presidential campaigns began earlier than ever in part because the presidential primaries and caucuses were pushed earlier than ever. This year the two big kick off events for presidential campaigns, the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary, were held on January 3 and January 8, respectively. Before 2000, these were held in mid to late February or mid to late March.
This is a historic election for a number of reasons. First, it is the first time since 1928 that neither a sitting or former president nor vice president entered the presidential primaries. (Harry Truman was on the ballot for re-election until he withdrew after losing in the New Hampshire primary in 1952.) Second, the two leading contenders for the Democrat Party nomination were a woman and a black man. Third, the Republican Party made history by nominating a woman for vice president for the second time in history and the first time as a Republican.
This election has had a number of twists. Senator Obama, who had been a U.S. Senator for less than two years at the time he announced his plans to run for president, surprised many by winning the Iowa Caucus. Hillary Clinton made a comeback in New Hampshire. Then the two duked it out until the last primary was held.
On the Republican side, many thought McCain's campaign was dead by late 2007. He performed poorly at the Iowa Caucus. However, McCain began a comeback by winning in New Hampshire and eventually won the nomination.
Another bizarre twist is that McCain was considered “not conservative enough” during the early primaries. However, he later became the only hope for conservatives. Of course, that was helped by the Democrats nominating the ultra-liberal Obama, who openly says he wants to “spread the wealth around,” which is code for take the money from people who work hard for a living and give it to those who don't work for a living.
The implications of this election will be far reaching. After Bill Clinton won in 1992 with a plurality of the vote, he abandoned his proposed middle class tax cut between the date of his election and the date of his inauguration and replaced it with a massive retroactive tax increase. This and Hillary Clinton's attempt to take over our health care system and Bill's failure to deliver on his promise on a two year limit on welfare were key factors in energizing conservatives in 1994 and new leaders emerging for the Republican Party. Something similar to the Republican Revolution of 1994 must be in our future or the Republican Party may struggle for years to come.
I did see a “sign” of hope already. I attended a luncheon of political consultants and political pundits on the day before the election that may be a sign of that revolution.Someone brought “Palin * Steelman” signs to the luncheon. I know they were just kidding around, but I hope someone with the values of Sarah Palin does emerge to lead the Republican Party or we may “wander in the wilderness” for years to come.
(You won’t find him wandering in the wilderness but you will find him each week in The Landmark. Email James at firstname.lastname@example.org)
UNINFORMED VOTERS CAN BE DOWNRIGHT SCARY
Democracy is a wonderful thing and a scary thing at the same time. Allowing citizens to choose their leaders is one of those “inalienable rights” that Thomas Jefferson implied with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The scary part is when leaders are chosen by an uninformed electorate like so many people who are foolishly planning to vote for Barrack Obama.
I appreciate differences in political philosophy. I enjoy engaging in political discussions with people who disagree with me when they can present real arguments in support of their positions. What I cannot stand is when people can present no basis for their positions.
For example, many Obama supporters have been interviewed about why they are supporting Obama. The typical answer is “He is for change.” Okay. That might be a reason to vote for Obama if there is a specific change they want. So the next question is “What change does Obama offer that they are for?” Typically the person interviewed can offer no specific examples of what “change” they are supporting.
I recently received an e-mail that included excerpts from Howard Stern's radio show. Stern has a reputation of being irreverent and sometimes down right crude. He is known to “push the envelope.” His broadcast of interviews of Obama supporters is an example of his doing something that no one else could do -- exposing how uninformed the Obama supporters are.
Stern had an interviewer identify people as Obama supporters and then ask them “Are you supporting Obama because he is pro life or because he is committed to keeping our troops in Iraq until the war is won?
Interviewees typically answered “Both.” The interviewer then asks “Are you comfortable with Obama's selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee?” One again interviewees answered “Yes” or said things like “She would be great!”
This just shows how uninformed many Obama supporters are. My eight and eleven year old daughters can tell you Obama does not oppose abortion, but rather supports it. My daughters can tell you that Obama wants to appease the terrorists and pull out of Iraq even if it allows the terrorists to take over the country and the entire region. My daughters also know that Sarah Palin is NOT Obama's running mate.
Obama supporters are no better informed when it comes to why someone would not support their guy. The most outrageous feedback I have heard when I say there is no way that I would ever vote for Obama is that I am a racist. Huh? That's crazy! I would never vote for Obama because he is an “off the deep end” liberal. He wants to raise taxes, destroy capitalism and “redistribute the wealth.” Obama wants to appease the terrorists and expose America to risk. He supports abortion as a method of birth control and would take guns away from law abiding citizens.
No, my opposition to Obama has nothing to do with the color of his skin. It is entirely due to his extremely liberal positions. In fact, I am a big fan of J.C. Watts, the former Congressman from Oklahoma, who just happens to be black. Of course, my being a fan of Watts is driven by the fact that he is a solid conservative and not by his race. That is why I have two pictures of him displayed in my office -- one with Congressman Graves, Watts, Sandra and me and the other with Senator Talent, Watts and me. (Of course, I only recently heard a Democrat operative claim that “socialist” is supposedly a “code word” for “black trouble maker.” I have called Obama a socialist so maybe I am a racist and just didn't know it.)
Choosing our elected leaders is a wonderful right. However, when people do not do their homework before exercising that right, it is downright scary.
(The Landamrk’s James Thomas always does his homework. Email him at email@example.com)
OBAMA COULD SPELL END OF AMERICA'S GREATNESS
There are innumerable things wrong with Obama's policies. Many of these could lead to great harm to America and its citizens.
Obama's approach to foreign policy is frightening. He wants to be an appeaser in dealing with the terrorists and nation states that hate us. This could have horrible consequences for America. This could harm America's economic interest or even worse could cause dramatic loss of life -- both civilians and military personnel.
Obama is wrong in his opposition to the right of law abiding citizens to own firearms and use them to protect their families. Obama is wrong on taking the position that abortion should be used as a method of birth control instead of being a medical procedure that should only be used sparingly to save the life of the mother. Obama is wrong in his desire to appoint liberal judges who will create new laws from the bench.
Obama is wrong on these and so many other things. However, the thing that Obama is wrong on that could cause the greatest harm to America is his plan to openly promote wealth redistribution. This is nothing new. Democrats have been promoting wealth redistribution for decades. However, no presidential candidate except maybe a Communist Party candidate has ever before so openly stated that his plan for America is wealth redistribution.
We should not be surprised. The church that Obama attended for so many years did not have as its mission statement to bring people to eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. No. Obama's [only recently] former church stated on its website that its mission is to correct “America's economic mal-distribution.”
America has a lot of great things going for it. One of those great things is our world changing form of government that has three branches designed to serve as checks and balances on the other branches. Another great thing is that certain personal liberties freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc. are given constitutional protection. Most importantly but something that liberals tend to forget is that our form of government is based on the principle that government arises from the consent of the governed.
All of these things are great, but what truly has allowed America to be successful is our economic structure that allows individuals to work hard, raise their standard of living and move up the socio-economic ladder. It is truly an American principle that you can make a better life for your family and in turn your children and your children's children can have a better life than you have. This is different from other societies especially socialist and communist societies -- where you are born in to a certain socio-economic position and there you and generations after you will stay.
There is a downside to America's economic freedom. You can move up, but you can also move down the socio-economic ladder. Sometimes this is from no fault of your own e.g., illness or injury. But, more often than not you have quite a bit to do with your economic position.
What Obama openly says he wants to do is redistribute America's wealth. He says he only wants to take money from those who make more than $250,000 per year, but there is no way he can have all the government giveaways he wants by only taking money from these people. Besides, the median annual household income in Platte County is around $65,000. The natural progression of Obama's plan to redistribute America's wealth is to eventually say that any households making more than $65,000 have to give the excess to those making less than that.
What has made America great is that it is the “land of opportunity.” Obama wants to take away the opportunity to have more by working hard and taking risks. If Obama has his way, this could be the end of America's greatness.
(Reach the Right Stuff at firstname.lastname@example.org)
KC LEADERS WANT TO KEEP UP WITH THE JONESES
You have heard the expression “Keeping up with the Joneses.” This can be a problem for households. Instead of basing a household's spending plan on its own income and needs, the household's spending is based upon what the neighbors are doing. This can lead to over spending and eventual credit problems.
Well “Keeping up with the Joneses” is not just a problem for households. It is also a problem for cities. In fact, it is a problem for Kansas City right now. Certain civic leaders in Kansas City have “mass transit envy.” They go to Washington, D.C. and ride on The Metro or another city and ride on its mass transit system. Then they come back and want the same thing for Kansas City.
I agree it would be cool for Kansas City to have a light rail system if we had all the money in the world. However, cities, just like households, need to buy things based upon their available income and not based upon “I want one because my neighbor has one.” Kansas City doesn't need a light rail system. It is not practical for Kansas City. Furthermore, Kansas City can't afford a light rail system.
The light rail advocates ignore the most basic necessity for an economical fixed rail transit system: density. Kansas City and the surrounding metropolitan area are not dense. Unlike Chicago or New York where people live on top of each other, we have yards and space between houses. (That is actually one of the things I like about Kansas City.) We do not have the density to make a good mass transit system work.
Light rail is the worst possible mass transit system for a city like Kansas City. Light rail is a fixed rail system. It connects only points A and B. But, a city like Kansas City is spread out. People are not just trying to get from A to B. They are trying to go in all different sorts of directions. A good bus system with the flexibility to reach these different points might work, but a light rail system will not.
We just can not afford the cost of this system. Quotes on cost range any where from $500 million to $1 billion for a starter system that is nothing more than a spine. The cost per rider for the construction cost would be enormous. However, that would not begin to cover the operating cost per rider. A national average of cost per mile in excess of the fares collected is $2 million per mile. Yes. Not only would Kansas City have to go deeper into debt to fund the starter system, it would then need $30 to $40 million per year more to cover operating shortfalls. Ouch!
The current light rail proposal is particularly offensive. The civic leaders want you to approve a new tax even though it will not by itself generate enough money to build the project. Kansas City will need substantial federal funds to build the system. What if the federal funds do not come? Councilman Russ Johnson says the plan is for the city to keep the money even though the city can not build the promised system.
Furthermore, the city cannot afford the increased debt. After the massive debt incurred during the Barnes era with the developer giveaways and other crazy spending, the city cannot afford to take on any more debt.
I always like to ask the question “If this is the last X dollars the city has to spend, is this how it should spend them?” My answer is “No!” It might be cool to be like the Joneses and have light rail, but we have bigger priorities like streets, sewers, police protection, fire protection, trash pick up and snow removal.
(James Thomas is head of the Sixth District Republicans. Keep up with him by email to email@example.com)
MCCAIN MISSED A CHANCE TO BE THE ANTI-BUSH
They say there are two things you don't want to watch being made: sausage and law. The latter of those was very true last week as the bailout legislation was developed.
The key element of the bailout bill is a $700 billion blank check from the taxpayers that has been given to the Secretary of the Treasury to buy up “troubled assets.” (To be more precise, the total bailout plan is anticipated to be $700 billion; however, only $250 billion is allocated up front with another $100 billion available upon the request of the President and another $350 billion after a second vote by Congress.) The primary “troubled assets” are mortgages or securities backed by mortgages. However, the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury is not limited to these assets. The bottom line is the Secretary of the Treasury has been granted a whole lot of the taxpayers' money to buy what he considers to be “troubled assets” from whomever he wants at whatever price that he wants.
There was a legitimate crisis. Some aspects of the credit market were freezing up. However, the bailout is just a temporary band-aid and not a real fix. Giving lenders cash in exchange for mortgages or mortgage-backed securities they hold will help these lenders improve their liquidity in the short run. However, none of the financing experts have indicated that the bailout provides a real fix to the problems in how the financial system has been operating.
The most disappointing thing was to watch several Congressmen reverse themselves on this legislation. On Monday they voted “no.” However, on Friday after the bailout legislation had been loaded up like a Christmas tree with $150 billion of special tax breaks for rum makers, the motion picture industry and others, these Congressmen decided the legislation was now better than it was on Monday so they voted “yes.” Huh?
I realize that the stock market experienced a huge drop on the day the initial bailout legislation failed. This was described to me as a “temper tantrum” by the stock market. By the next day 70% of this decline was erased. Did the bailout help the stock market? No. On the first full day of trading after the bailout bill was passed, the stock market went down even more. So what did $700 billion buy us? Nothing.
The problem is real. It needs to be addressed. However, the problem is not as dramatic as the cry baby investment bankers want to make it out to be. The mortgage-backed securities that the so called geniuses on Wall Street packaged together are not worth zero as some of them try to claim. Even if these mortgages are hard to value in this uncertain real estate and credit market, they still have substantial value. The two most disappointing things about this legislation are (1) it gives $700 billion of the taxpayers' money to fat cats on Wall Street even though they were the ones that created this mess and (2) it does not include any reforms to prevent this from happening again.
One other aspect of this legislation is that McCain may have lost the election with his vote for this give away of the taxpayers' money. He had the chance to be the “anti-Bush” and really distinguish himself from Obama as the kind of change America needs. He had the chance to fight for real reforms to the system. Instead he caved to the pressure from both sides of the aisle to “just do something” even if it is not a real fix.
If I went to a sausage making plant, I am pretty sure I would still like sausage. However, after watching this bailout legislation developed this past week, I know I don't like it.
(Reach our right hand man at firstname.lastname@example.org)
SOUND ECONOMIC POLICY--NOT POLITICS--NEEDED NOW
I was reluctant to write about America's financial crisis in my column because the proposed response to the issue has been changing so quickly that what I write and turn in to Ivan might be out of date by the time my column goes to print. A case in point is that I read an article on the internet that said there was a deal and then a few hours later a new article said there was no deal. But, since this crisis is probably a bigger problem for America than 9-11, I just could not ignore the issue.
The bailout plan began as a proposal made by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. The U.S. House and U.S. Senate then each developed their own proposal. The proposals differed in some respects, but these were consolidated into a piece of proposed legislation that was about 100 pages long. A 100 page document sounds like a lot, but when you are talking about action by the U.S. Congress, the 100 pages was actually very short on details. A lot of the details were left to be filled in by regulations adopted by the Treasury Department.
The initial proposal was to give the U.S. Treasury Secretary a blank check to the tune of $700 billion. The compromise legislation would have spread this out in to three installments. There would be $250 billion initially with another $100 billion upon the request of the President and another $350 billion after a second vote by Congress.
Conservatives had concerns with the whole bailout concept. The plan basically gave the Treasury Secretary a huge pot of money to buy up mortgages and mortgage backed securities. Conservatives wonder “Why should the taxpayers be paying for the mistakes that some lenders made when making loans?”
One reason the government may feel a little guilty about these bad loans is that the government was apparently applying pressure to lending institutions to relax their lending standards so that the percentage of Americans that are homeowners would increase. This practice has apparently been going on under both Democrat and Republican Administrations. Of course, just because the government officials feel guilty does not mean that the taxpayers should bail out the lenders.
The real reason that the taxpayers may need to bail out these lenders is that if the government does not step in the entire financial system may collapse. This is not like one individual bank going under. This is far worse. Apparently so many in the banking and investment world were so tied in to these bad mortgages that the ripple effect could so undermine public confidence that the whole financial system collapses. That sounds a little ridiculous when you consider the modest percentage of all loans that are made up by these bad loans. However, that is what certain “experts” are saying.
The most disappointing thing is how this bailout has been handled politically. McCain wanted to sit down with Obama, President Bush, Secretary Paulson and Congressional leaders to discuss the proposed bailout in more detail and arrive at an appropriate solution that was in the best interests of the country. However, Obama refused to take a day off the campaign trail. The Democrat leaders in Congress also claimed that a deal had been reached before McCain was back in Washington.
The legislation was also most likely defeated due to a speech made by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which changed the “let's work together” tone to an “us versus them” fight. Immediately after the defeat of the legislation, Pelosi tried to blame the Republicans for its defeat. Of course, she seems to forget that 40% of her own party members did not vote for the legislation.
This is a big deal. A solution needs to be found. Unfortunately, Obama and the Democrats in Congress have chosen to make finding a solution more about politics than sound economic policy.
(James Thomas can be reached at email@example.com)
IF REAGAN COULDN'T DO IT, CAN ANY PRESIDENT?
In 1980 I was still in high school and was not yet eligible to vote. However, I already had a great interest in the conservative principles advanced by Ronald Reagan.
I was a fan of Reagan for his conservative message. Over eight years he accomplished much of his agenda. He lowered taxes, strengthened the military, won the Cold War (or at least put it close to an end) and advanced economic policies that made America a better place for all Americans.
Although Reagan had many successes, he did have one goal that he failed to accomplish. He was unable to get Congress to eliminate deficit spending and reduce the national debt. This failure really disappointed me.
As a kid I ran calculations on how much the federal government could save in interest if the national debt were eliminated. At the time we had double digit interest rates. So the thought of a 10% rate of interest on the federal debt was not too far fetched. And, at the time the national debt was about $1 trillion dollars.
If Reagan had been successful in getting Congress to balance the budget and commit $100 billion per year as principal payments on the national debt, the national debt could have been eliminated in 10 years. And, most importantly, each year the actual commitment of new resources to the principal amount of the debt would be reduced because of the annual interest savings. In the early years, the interest savings would only be $10 billion assuming a 10 percent interest rate. However, by year five, more than half of the principal payments could have been offset by savings on interest.
Now that I know much more about economics, I realize that a complete elimination of the national debt is probably a bad idea. It is important that individuals and the government not spend more than they make. However, it is important that individuals and the government have credit resources available to them for important purchases.
From time to time it may be appropriate for individuals or government to have more money going out than they have coming in from earnings or taxes in a given year. For example, it is not unreasonable for an individual to purchase a house on credit assuming that the individual can afford to make the payments. Similarly, it is not unreasonable for a government to borrow money for a major project, like a new jail or a new park, if the government has a well defined payment plan for repaying this borrowed money.
What is flawed is for government (or individuals for that matter) to borrow money to spend without a well defined plan for repaying the borrowed money. That is how the federal government has been operating for decades. And now the $1 trillion national debt has grown to a multi-trillion dollar debt. Ouch!
There was a renewed hope that we would get control over government spending when the Republicans took over Congress in the 1994 elections. As promised, the Republican-controlled House even passed a balanced budget amendment. However, the balanced budget amendment never passed in the Senate.
When Bush was elected and the Republicans retained control of Congress, there was hope that excessive spending would be cut. In a few cases Bush has opposed unrelated pork barrel spending tacked on to the funding of our troops and fought against transportation bills that had too much spending. However, Bush also added new spending with the Medicare drug benefit, No Child Left Behind and the recent bailouts related to the financial crisis. Of course, Obama as president would be even worse since he has promised mountains of new spending.
Without a balanced budget amendment, we may never get the federal government to stop spending more than it brings in. My fear is that if Reagan could not accomplish it, no other president may be able to either.
(Email James Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE PERFECT TEAM FOR CHANGING WASHINGTON
Boing! Boing! Boing! That is the sound of McCain's post-convention bounce. Obama got an early bounce following his convention, but this was quickly offset by McCain announcing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate on the morning after Obama's acceptance speech and the Republican Convention beginning the following Monday.
Since the close of the Republican Convention, McCain has held a small lead in the national polls. (Rasmussen had it at 49% to 47 % as of September 15.) And, most importantly, McCain leads in the Electoral College 270 to 268.
A big factor in McCain's bounce has been the selection of Palin. She has excited the base and left the media and Obama campaign confused.
An example of the Obama campaign's confusion over how to deal with Sarah Palin is Obama's “lipstick on a pig” comment. In her convention speech, Palin joked that the difference between a pit bull and a hockey mom is “lipstick.” A few days later Obama said “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.” Some took this as an attack on Palin. Instead of letting it go and focusing on his message, Obama wasted a second news cycle trying to explain his “lipstick” comment.
The media is also confused about how to deal with Palin. They started out by following an unsubstantiated allegation of a left wing blogger that led them to attacking Palin's daughter and family. This only hurt their credibility further. (A Rasmussen poll found that 69% of those polled believe the media is trying to help their preferred candidate win and that the preferred candidate of the media is believed to be Obama by a nearly five to one margin.) The media went on to attack Palin's experience as governor of our largest state (geographically) and as mayor of a small city. This drew more attention to Obama's lack of experience. (A recent Rasmussen poll found that more people--45% to 44%--believe Obama is not ready to be president. Only 35% of unaffiliated voters believe Obama is ready to be president.)
One local so-called media outlet also focused on Palin's looks as being her only appealing quality. This is just another example of how clueless the media both near and far are about the appeal of Palin. The day the announcement was made I came home and joked with my wife that “I think I'm in love.” My wife understood what I meant. The Republican base gets it. Only the clueless media doesn't get it.
The appeal of Palin is not her physical appearance, but her fiscal appearance. She has cut spending, cut taxes and balanced a multi-billion dollar budget. She also has stood up to her own party and defeated the incumbent Republican governor on a good government platform. When she did this she did not come from a strong political family or have the support of political insiders. She did this as an outsider. I know how hard it is to stand up to your own Party. I have had to do it a couple of times. It was not fun even though it was the right thing to do. Palin's appeal is not her looks. It is her fiscal discipline and her willingness to stand up for good government.
With just over 45 days until the election, there is a lot of time left, but the McCain team has to be excited that the “change” message of the “two mavericks” has put McCain in front. Obama continues to raise wheel barrel loads of money, which will allow him to compete in more states. And, although McCain has pulled within one to three points in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Michigan, his lead over Obama is only two points in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, Nevada and New Mexico. So, an “October Surprise” or a stumbling in the debates will likely determine the outcome.
(James Thomas gives you the right stuff every week. Email him at email@example.com)
THE PERFECT TEAM FOR CHANGING WASHINGTON
Recent media coverage of the political party conventions prompted me to recall the first convention I watched. In 1976 I was only in the sixth grade, but I watched the Republican National Convention with my mom.
We watched intently as the roll call vote to nominate the presidential candidate was taken. We kept hoping that Ronald Reagan would be able to find the votes needed to become the nominee of the Republican Party. Reagan narrowly lost the nomination in 1976. The final vote was 1,187 for President Ford and 1,070 for Reagan. After losing the roll call vote, Reagan was asked to say a few words. Reagan gave a great speech. Some commentators have said that many at the convention who had just voted for Ford said “Oh my! We just nominated the wrong guy.”
The roll call vote at recent conventions has not been that exciting. I watched the roll call vote of the Republican National Convention just to see who would announce the vote on behalf of Missouri and to hear the interesting things that each state delegation chose to say about its state. But the vote itself was otherwise not exciting, as the convention voted nearly unanimously for McCain.
That does not mean that the Republican National Convention was not exciting. Gov. Sarah Palin gave a fantastic speech on Wednesday night. There were also some great lead up speeches, including Mayor Rudy Guliani's resume comparison of McCain and Obama. The part where Guliani noted the first thing on Obama's resume was that he was a “community organizer” then paused and broke out laughing was great! It just emphasized that Obama has no qualifications for the duties of president other than (1) being a great speaker with the crutch of a teleprompter and (2) looking good in an expensive suit.
There was a truly interesting twist to the convention that became clearer on Thursday night. McCain with his VP pick and his speech on Thursday night -- took the “change” message away from Obama. McCain's speech set the stage for his plan to change Washington. McCain went so far as to be critical of his own party at its convention.
There are two kinds of change. There is “bad” change, like what Obama wants to do. Obama wants to change Washington by raising taxes and thereby pulling more money out of a slowing economy. Obama also wants to dramatically increase government spending and government control over our lives. Then there is “good” change like what McCain is talking about. McCain wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and, if possible, lower taxes even further. McCain also wants to cut wasteful government spending instead of adding to it.
McCain's change message has energized conservatives. Conservatives both conservative Republicans and conservative Democrats -- are sick of wasteful government spending. We want government to live within its means.
McCain's pick of Palin as his running mate simply embodies his change message. Palin is not part of the Washington establishment. She has held administrative roles as mayor and now governor where she has had to manage a budget and department heads. Palin has fought corruption whether the corrupt persons are Democrats or Republicans. She has also cut government spending and cut taxes. Washington insiders spent much of last week attacking Palin because she has not appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows they host. However, that is the whole point. Palin is not an insider. She is a person with a proven track record of reforming government.
One of my favorite lines of McCain's speech was that “I can't wait to introduce Gov. Palin to Washington.” In their speeches McCain and Palin both emphasized that they work for “the people” and not the Washington insiders. This pairing of the Republican Party's “maverick” and Gov. Palin seems to be a perfect team for taking on the task of reforming Washington.
(James Thomas is part of The Landmark’s perfect team. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
PALIN KILLED THE INFAMOUS BRIDGE TO NOWHERE
When I came home last Friday, I jokingly told my wife, “I think I'm in love.” The joke was an exaggerated response to my enthusiasm over McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate.
I only know a little about Palin. I have never met her or heard her speak in person, but as a conservative Republican, I love her resume.
The two most important things to me when evaluating a candidate are (1) honesty and integrity and (2) the candidate's stance on fiscal policy. Palin has a strong record of standing up to party insiders notwithstanding the adverse political consequences of doing so. She served as chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and challenged her fellow Republican commission members over ethical issues. Her pursuit of complaints against Alaskan Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich and Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes over their conduct resulted in both of them resigning from the commission.
In 2006 she challenged the incumbent Republican Governor Frank Murkowski in the Republican primary. She ran on a clean government campaign and defeated the incumbent governor. She then went on to defeat former Democrat Governor Tony Knowles in the general election.
Palin also cut spending and waste in state government. She cancelled the construction of a road project approved in the closing days of the Murkowski Administration. She also sold the airplane used by the former Governor. When given a bloated budget with excess spending, Palin used her veto power to cut $237 million from the budget. She also essentially cancelled the now infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” by refusing to budget state funds for the project.
Although I care the most about honesty and integrity and fiscal policy, I like Palin's stance on other important issues as well. She has strong pro-life credentials. She is also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association who likes to hunt. How could you not like a woman who is a member of the NRA?
Palin also has a great life story. She is the daughter of a school secretary and a high school teacher/coach. She married her high school sweetheart. She has five kids. Her oldest child volunteered for the military.
The Democrats have responded that the selection of Palin as the vice presidential nominee is great for them because it will take the focus off of Obama being inexperienced. When I heard that one, I laughed out loud. First, Palin is not the presidential candidate for the Republican Party. Second, she has more accomplishments than Obama has during his years in the Senate. Third, serving in the administrative role of Governor is far better preparation to be a member of a presidential administration than being a legislator who does not have administrative responsibility.
Palin is not necessarily the perfect pick. It would have been great if she was in her second term as Governor. It would have been even better if she had her 80+% approval rating in a key swing state like Pennsylvania, Virginia or Ohio. But she is still a great pick.
First, she is a woman. I personally prefer to run women candidates for most offices. Also, as a man with a wife who has an active professional career formerly in politics and now in business and the father of two daughters, I think it is great to see more and more opportunities for women to lead whether in business or politics.
Second, she will not offend -- and should actually excite -- the conservative base. Conservatives are sick of excessive government spending and corruption. She has a solid resume of fighting both of those. She is also solidly pro-life and pro-Second Amendment.
I am excited that McCain did not pick some boring late middle aged white guy who is part of the establishment. Palin is a bold pick.
(James Thomas never offends his conservative base. Email him at email@example.com)
THIS CAMPAIGN IS ABOUT PACKAGING VS. SUBSTANCE
The political talking heads appear to have what they want: a close presidential race. This is great timing as the nominating conventions get under way.
In a Reuters/Zogby poll released on August 20, McCain is credited with a five point lead in a national poll. This is a dramatic flip from the seven point lead that Obama boasted in the prior month.
I don't entirely trust this poll or polls in general. Depending upon the sample size, the structure of the sample and the questions that are asked, polls can give incorrect information. This is sometimes done on purpose. However, other times it is just a function of the limited accuracy of polling.
Rather than trusting this single poll, it is probably more accurate to rely upon daily tracking polls like Rasmussen's. These polls provide more consistent results instead of wild fluctuations in results. Rasmussen's daily tracking poll has consistently shown Obama with a lead, but the lead has been slowly declining. National polls are probably the least reliable and have the least meaning. They also don't matter. All that matters is the Electoral College tally.
My favorite website for Electoral College information is www.electoral-vote.com. I like this site because it compiles information from multiple polling sources in preparing its Electoral College map. As of August 25, it shows the Electoral College vote at Obama 264 and McCain 252. Virginia and Colorado, with their 13 and 9 electoral votes, respectively, are shown as tied.
One would expect Obama to get a bounce in the polls right after the Democrat Convention. This bounce may be less than usual since the Republican Convention will be immediately after the Democrat Convention. The Republican Convention should give McCain a bounce as well, but this may be reduced because potential voters have the DNC Convention so fresh in their minds.
The polls have been shifting to McCain. Many commentators have credited the steady attacks on Obama for the shift. Recently, Obama has been attacked on being wrong on expanded drilling for oil, raising taxes, the War on Terror, etc. The most interesting attack is the attack that Obama is nothing but a celebrity with no record or accomplishment.
This is going to be a campaign of packaging versus substance. You have a first term Senator from Illinois with no record of accomplishments and many views contrary to most Americans (Obama wants to raise taxes, opposes expanded drilling for oil, wants to give amnesty and welfare to illegal immigrants, etc.) versus a long serving and well-accomplished Senator who is more in tune with most Americans on the issues (lower taxes, less spending, more drilling, protection from terrorists).
If the polls can be trusted, we now have a close presidential race. We should have a better indication of how close the race is once the two conventions are over and we reach mid-September. For now, the political talking heads have a lot to talk about.
(James Thomas III is chairman of the Sixth District Republican Committee. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
TO DRILL OR NOT TO DRILL? THAT IS THE QUESTION
“To drill or not to drill?” Obama and other Democrats hope that is not the question on voters' minds when they go to vote in November.
With gas prices hovering around $4 per gallon, the public is clamoring for something to save them money at the pump. The public seems to agree that drilling off shore and in ANWR is a reasonable solution and that Congress should stop blocking new drilling opportunities. In fact, in a nationwide survey done by Rasmussen last week, 61% of Americans believe Congress should return early from the Democrat's recess of Congress to vote on lifting the ban on offshore drilling.
Obama had been openly opposed to drilling offshore. However, the political pressure has caused him to modify his position to at least say he is willing to consider offshore drilling if it is approved in conjunction with the development of alternate energy sources.
Of course, there are two key aspects of this. First, Obama only says he is “willing to consider” offshore drilling. That is not the same as saying he would support it. Second, Obama is now in the phase of his campaign where he will “say” whatever might help hide his liberal positions and make them sound more middle of the road.
The Democrats have tried hard to make the oil companies out to be the bad guys. They have come up with calculations like “oil companies make $1,400 per second in profit.” This is a ridiculous calculation that means nothing. The reason these calculations are ridiculous is that the Democrats don't tell you that oil companies are paying $4,000 per second in taxes. That means the government is getting more money than the shareholders of the oil companies. In fact, the government is getting about three times more than the shareholders of the oil companies. Furthermore, oil companies are earning this $1,400 per second on costs of $15,000 per second. In other words, oil companies have expenses of almost $1.3 billion (with a “B”) per day.
The most ridiculous Democrat position came out when an oil executive was testifying before Congress. The quote was from Congresswoman Maxine Waters. She said “This liberal would be about the government taking over your companies.”No kidding. A sitting Congresswoman is saying she wants to nationalize the oil industry. That sounds more like what you would hear in the old Soviet Union.
Two cartoons sum up the silliness of the opposition to drilling. The first has two frames. In the first frame a guy is talking to a caribou and saying “Don't worry, Mr. Caribou! Even though there's a vast resource of oil under this frozen tundra, I'd rather see the U.S. economy collapse before even ½ of 1% of this barren ice field is spoiled.” In the next frame the man is standing holding a sign that says “No Drilling in ANWR” with icicles hanging off of the sign. The caribou is walking away in the background with a cartoon thought balloon that says,”Idiot.”
Another cartoon has an Arab sitting in his living room watching a donkey in a suit speaking on TV. You can see oil rigs out the Arab's living room window. The donkey is saying “No more offshore oil drilling, no more nuclear power plants, no more drilling in Alaska, no more coal fired plants, no more . . .” In the next frame, the Arab is dancing around and saying “Blessed be Allah for giving us Democrats.”
Obama, Kay Barnes and many other Democrats are opposed to more drilling. The American people are smart enough to know that even the prospect of more drilling will drive down the price of oil. For that reason, Obama, Barnes and the Democrats have to hope that voters are not asking the question “To Drill or Not to Drill?” on Election Day.
(James Thomas is chair of Sixth District Republicans. Email him at email@example.com)
SEVERAL LESSONS LEARNED FROM PRIMARY ELECTION
With the primaries just concluded it is time to take one last look back before turning our attention to November's general election. There were several lessons learned.
The Democrat race for treasurer was the intersection of two political theories. First, is a theory that I made up that when you have candidates with unusual names, the candidate with the least unusual name will win. The Democrat race for treasurer was a contest among Mark Powell, Clint Zweifel, Andria Danine Simckes and Charles Wheeler. Under my theory, you would expect Mark Powell or Charles Wheeler to win because they have the least unusual name.
That theory proved true for the most part. As election results filtered in during the night, Mark Powell held the lead for quite a while. However, this theory requires the candidates to otherwise be equal except for their names.
Notwithstanding his hard to spell name, Zweifel followed the most prevalent theory in political campaigns, which is the candidate with the most TV wins. Zweifel spent over $300,000 on TV in the Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield radio markets. If you look at a map of Missouri, the counties covered by Zweifel's TV buy are where he won. Otherwise he was beaten by Powell. Simckes did buy a little bit of radio in targeted markets, which enabled her to win the central core of Kansas City.
Chris Koster has proven that if you spend over $1.2 million on TV in the month leading up to the primary, you can win the primary for a political party you only joined one year ago. The results have not been certified yet, but it appears the party switcher has won a squeaker. The unofficial votes show Koster with a 786 vote lead in a four way primary that had over 345,000 votes cast. That is a spread of two-tenths of a percent. Interestingly, Koster performed best in the counties where there are normally more Republican votes than Democrat votes in a primary.
Margaret Donnelly, who finished second, is talking about asking for a recount. A recount is automatically granted upon request if the spread is less than one percent. I hope Donnelly asks for a recount as a distraction, but I can say from my personal experience with a statewide recount that it is only likely to change the results by a few votes.
The governor's race was the most interesting race on the Republican side. Despite having the backing of much of the Republican establishment, Hulshof only defeated Steelman by 4.5 percent. Steelman dominated Hulshof in Platte and Clay Counties and even won much of southwest Missouri despite Congressman Roy Blunt's endorsement of Hulshof. However, it was not enough to overcome Hulshof's dominating performance in the Ninth and Eighth Congressional Districts.
Hulshof is a good public speaker and will represent the GOP well. However, I really liked Steelman's independence. The Republican Party would not have been hurt if she had won the primary.
I like to avoid primaries when possible, but this primary may have helped Hulshof more than it hurt him. Before the primary, Hulshof was not well known outside of his congressional district. The primary campaign has forced Hulshof to put in place a statewide campaign network for the August election. However, it is unfortunate he has had to spend most of his money and now needs to reload for November.
Nixon is sitting on a sizeable war chest and has a 12 point lead over Hulshof, according to a Rasmussen poll from last week. However, Hulshof can close this gap over the next 80+ days. And, with campaign contribution limits eliminated as of Aug. 29, Hulshof should be able to raise plenty of money. Also, it should not hurt Hulshof that McCain currently holds a 7 point lead over Obama in Missouri. Notwithstanding all of that, Nixon has to like where he is right now.
(James Thomas is chair of Sixth District Republicans. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
LIMBAUGH'S IMPACT ON THE AMERICAN MEDIA
Last week marked the 20th anniversary of Rush Limbaugh's nationally syndicated radio show. Congratulations to a fellow Missourian!
My wife first turned me on to Rush in the early 90s. I was fresh out of law school and still listened to a rock and roll station. My wife and I frequently car pooled. One of us would drop the other off at the office. There was a recurring consequence whenever she drove my car. She would change my radio from FM to AM and usually to the station that carried Rush.
So, I started listening to AM radio. It was kind of handy. The station that carried Rush had traffic and weather every ten minutes on the nines both on the way in to work and on the way home from work. And, then I started going to more and more business lunches that required me to get in the car and drive around during the noon hour. I would hop in, flip on the radio and Rush would be on.
It did not take me long until I was hooked. Rush was talking about current events and concepts from a conservative perspective. And, whenever liberals called in, which was fairly frequently, he always cut all their silly arguments to pieces. It was great entertainment.
Rush sometimes would get to be a little too much to listen to. He referred to himself as “Talent on loan from God.” (This didn't bother me too much because I consider it a religiously accurate statement for all of us.) But then he would go on and talk about “flawlessly executing host responsibilities” and other horn blowing that distracted from what he really had to offer, which was insightful commentary on current events from a conservative perspective.
Notwithstanding the blow hard factor, Rush changed AM radio forever. AM radio seemed to be nearing death. The radio signal was just not as good for music as FM. Rush gave AM radio a new purpose--talk radio. He also set up AM talk radio as the last outpost for conservative ideas in the media.
Rush inspired a number of “copycats” to try to develop their own AM talk radio programs. Some of these have been highly successful. However, when the liberals have tried to enter the talk radio market, they just can not seem to get the same sizes of audiences. This is despite efforts by big money liberals to prop up liberal talk show hosts. The bottom line is that not enough people want to listen to liberal talk radio.
That is one of the other amazing things Rush has done. He has not only been a bastion for conservative talk, he has done it in a free market environment. His talk radio program is highly successful economically.A lot of his marketing is like old-fashioned radio where the announcers tell you how great a product is. I know I initially got hooked on Snapple tea because I tried it after Rush promoted it. More recently I tried Boca Java coffee after Rush raved about his favorite flavor -- Maple Bacon Morning. He was right again. It smelled and tasted great!
I listen to Rush less than I used to. In part that is because when I hop in the car in the mornings I tune my radio to 710, where I can listen to Chris Stigall. He is sort of a cross between a great talk radio host and a radio disc jockey. He covers serious topics, but he also has a light-hearted manner about him. His show is great. And, over lunch, I often don't switch off 710 because I like Dave Ramsey's show.
You can love Rush or you can hate him, but I am not sure if any one person has ever had a greater impact on the American media. Not bad for a college dropout from southeast Missouri.
(James Thomas is chairman of the Missouri Sixth District Republicans. Reach him at email@example.com)
POLITICAL PRIMARIES CAN OFTEN TURN UGLY
The Republican primary will be held next Tuesday, Aug. 5. To slightly modify what Charles Dickens wrote “It is the best of times. It is the worst of times.”
Political primaries can be a great process. The primary election allows a political party to pick the candidates that best represent the values of the party and who present the best prospect of defeating the opposing party's candidates in the November election.
However, political primaries can often turn ugly. A primary often causes people who were once allies to choose sides in the primary process. When people who have worked together “in the trenches” of political warfare start working for opposing candidates during the primary process it can create tension. Primaries can also turn ugly when some folks take a disagreement over the best public policy as a personal dispute instead of a policy dispute.
I have been involved in a few primaries. The first was technically in the state-wide primaries in 1992. However, at that time I was so new to active participation in the Republican Party that I was not fully aware of what was a really ugly primary race for governor.
The first local primary I got involved in was the sheriff's race in 1996. There were four Republicans and six Democrats that ran to try to succeed Tom Thomas, who was retiring after 28 years of service. I joined my friends John Elliott and Kurt Killen in support of Dick Anderson, who was not the pick of the “political insiders” at the time. After the primary all of the other candidates and their supporters rallied around Anderson and he has now been serving for the last 12 years.
Sometimes I have been pulled into primaries that I did not really want to be involved in. Other times, like 2006, I have helped create or expand Republican primaries because we needed better candidates than the choices that were available.
When Gov. Blunt announced that he was not going to seek re-election, my immediate fear was of a repeat of the ugly primary fight of 1992. I knew how divisive a statewide primary for a high profile office like governor could be.
Within a couple of weeks after Gov. Blunt's announcement, we were down to two candidates: State Treasurer Sarah Steelman and Congressman Kenny Hulshof. I like both Steelman and Hulshof.
The first statewide race I ever volunteered for was for Steelman's husband in 1992 when he ran for attorney general. I am good friends with a lot of Steelman's campaign staff and advisors. Although she is not as good of a public speaker as Hulshof, Steelman has a lot of good conservative values and she does not shy away from standing up to the political establishment. I like that.
I also know a lot of people that are in Hulshof's camp. He has people working on his campaign that have long been political allies. The first time Sandra and I met Hulshof was at Lincoln Days in St. Louis. We sat with Hulshof, his wife and his parents. They were great people. I especially liked his dad, who reminded me a lot of my dad. (Hulshof's dad died a couple of years ago.) Hulshof is an articulate speaker with a strong record in Congress. However, with Congress having a single digit approval rating right now, being a sitting Congressman might not be a good thing to be when running for governor this year.
Primaries can be “the best of times” because they allow a party to pick its best candidates to run in November. However, primaries can also be “the worst of times.” A highly-contested primary can leave your party's candidate battered and weakened and short on cash. This can result in a rough time in November. Especially if there are lingering hard feelings held by the unsuccessful candidates and their supporters.
(Email James Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org)
CONTINUED SOUND FISCAL MANAGEMENT IS NEEDED
What a difference four years makes. The Missouri state government has gone from a world of hurt to sound financial footing.
In January 2005 Matt Blunt was inaugurated as governor. It was the first time in something like 80 years that there was a Republican governor and Republican majorities in the General Assembly. Just two years earlier was the first time in approximately 50 years that Republicans held a majority in both the Missouri House and Missouri Senate.
I know everyone wants to talk about “change” as the theme of the 2008 campaign. But, before we make a change we should look at what changes made in the 2002 and 2004 elections did for the State of Missouri. We may not want to change back.
My friend Brad Lager tells the story pretty well. In 2002 he was part of the Republican wave that brought Republican control to the Missouri House of Representatives. Two years later Brad gets a call saying “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you are going to be appointed as chair of the House Budget Committee.”To Brad, that sounded pretty good. So he asked, “What's the bad news?” “We have a $1 billion deficit created by soon to be former Governor Bob Holden and the Democrats. We need you to immediately start attending special meetings to begin working on the problem.”
I am not sure how many people remember what things were like in the Missouri budget at the end of Holden's term as governor. To call it a “train wreck” would be an understatement. Missouri was facing a $1 billion budget shortfall. You will also recall that Holden was withholding money from local school districts even though that money had been appropriated by the General Assembly.
How have things changed? Well, Brad Lager is now in the Missouri Senate and campaigning for state treasurer and Gov. Blunt is “riding off into the sunset” after four great years of fiscal management for Missouri's state government. Missouri is no longer facing a $1 billion shortfall. Instead, Missouri is entering the 2008-2009 fiscal year with a $833 million surplus. Wow! That is a dramatic turn around.
What is even more impressive is that this improvement in the state's financial condition was accomplished without a tax increase and while increasing the funding for education in Missouri by hundreds of millions of dollars. So what created this improvement? With a Republican Governor and Republican General Assembly, Missouri became friendlier to its citizens and to its businesses. Republicans dropped any further discussion of tax increases and actually passed additional tax cuts. Republicans passed tort reform aimed at encouraging doctors and businesses to locate and remain in Missouri. The question behind every policy became “Is this good for the people of Missouri?” instead of “Is this good for government bureaucrats or special interest groups?”
Good things have happened in Missouri state government over the last four years with Republican leadership in the Governor's office and the Missouri General Assembly. Missouri has gone from a fiscal nightmare to sound financial footing.
I know a lot of folks are focused on the national elections and particularly the election of our next president. These national elections are thrust before us every night on the TV news or radio news reports. The national elections are obviously a big deal. However, there are still some very important decisions to be made on the state and local level.
Do we want to go back to the way things were under Mel Carnahan, who gave us the biggest tax increase in Missouri history during his first few months in office, or Holden, who gave us record spending deficits? Or do we want to continue the sound fiscal management of the Republicans? I know I am not interested in a change back to either of these. How about you?
(James Thomas is leader of the Sixth District Republicans. Email him at email@example.com)
OBAMA'S PLAN FOR TAXES WOULD HIT EVERYBODY
“Change . . . its all you will have left if Obama is elected.” I heard that line on the radio on the way home from work last week. The radio program co-hosts could not recall where they originally heard it, but they acknowledged that they were sharing it second or third hand.
The scary thing about that line intended as humor is that like all humor there is a certain amount of truth to it.
At a time when the rate of growth of the economy is slowing down, Obama wants to impose massive tax increases and new government spending. After Obama's new taxes are passed, none of us will likely have even a little jingle left in our pockets.
Besides several of his own tax increases, Obama wants to start with repealing the Bush tax cuts. In his stump speech Obama claims that these were tax cuts for the rich. That simply is not true.
The Bush tax cuts were some of the most fair and reasonable tax cuts of the last several decades. Instead of being dominated by numerous conditions to qualify for the tax benefits for example, you have to have student loans that are only a certain number of years old and you can only have a certain level of income to deduct the interest expense the Bush tax cuts were predominantly structured as rate cuts. This way everyone benefits from the cuts regardless of the kind of income or expenses you have.
One of the fairest components of the Bush tax cuts was the new 10% bracket. It used to be if you paid taxes, that once your income exceeded your available deductions and exclusions that you paid tax on the first dollar at a 15% rate. The Bush cuts created a new 10% bracket that in essence gave every taxpayer a $300 tax cut. This 10% tax bracket has been indexed for inflation so now a married couple is still in the 10% tax bracket on the first $16,050 of taxable income.
If you are married and have a couple of kids and only take the standard deduction instead of itemizing your deductions, then your personal and dependent exemptions are worth $14,000 and your standard deduction is $10,900. So you would still be in the 10% bracket making $40,950. Your tax bill would be $1,605 with the Bush tax cuts. If Bush's tax cuts were repealed, your tax liability would jump by 50% to over $2400. Ouch!
That extra $800 would be enough to buy 200 gallons of gas even at $4 a gallon or eight weeks of groceries if you usually spend $100 per week at the store.
That is just the impact of the repeal of the Bush tax cuts on the lowest tax bracket. When you increase all the rates in all the tax brackets to their pre-2001 levels, the numbers are quite dramatic. On top of that, Obama wants to impose even higher tax rates on the higher income taxpayers and remove the current cap on the amount of income that is subject to Social Security taxes. When you start piling on those increases, people are going to have a lot less money to spend.
That is particularly troubling as we are looking at a slow down in the economy. The last thing we need during these times is for people to have less of their own money to spend. Our economy is a consumer driven economy. If people are not buying cars, clothes, electronic gadgets and houses, then the whole economy will drop off dramatically.
Now that I think about it, I might not even have any change left if the Obama tax increases are adopted.
(When he isn’t practicing law, losing sleep over Obama’s tax proposals, or penning political goodness for your Landmark, James C. Thomas III is chairman of the Sixth District Republicans. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
OBAMA IS WRONG ON SO MANY ISSUES
Last week I discussed why McCain might lose. As we end eight years of challenges that have arisen while a Republican was in the White House, voters are open to change even without proof it would be change for the better.
A McCain loss is made more likely by $4 a gallon gas, a slowing economy, his irritation of conservatives like being wrong on illegal immigration and campaign finance reform, and his focus on a nationwide strategy rather than an Electoral College strategy.
This week I wanted to focus on why Obama should lose. So many reasons came to mind. Obama is inexperienced. He was only elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. That was even in an election where the leading Democrat and Republican candidates both withdrew from the race due to personal issues leaving Obama with nearly a free pass to victory.
Obama is also wrong on the issues. He is wrong on wanting to expand government and give it more control over our lives. He is wrong on taxes, illegal immigration, economic policy, national defense and pretty much every other issue that comes to mind.
All of Obama's positions can best be summarized as liberal or extremely liberal. No liberal has been elected president in recent history. Remember that in order to get elected in 1992 Bill Clinton had to hide his “liberalness” and re-invent himself as a “New Democrat,” who was supposedly in favor of a middle class tax cut and a two-year limit on welfare.
So the question is whether Obama can “re-label” himself as something other than a liberal. Recent polls show that may not be possible.According to polling by Rasmussen Reports, LLC, Obama is increasingly seen as liberal. Before the Iowa caucuses, Obama was seen as liberal by 47% of voters nationwide. That number had grown to 54% by April. A June poll indicates that 67% saw Obama as liberal, including 36% who said he was very liberal.
McCain's credentials as a conservative are improving. He was seen as conservative by 31% of all voters in December, by 41% in April, and by 67% in June. McCain was seen as very conservative by 19% of those polled in June.
This is a much more rapid shift in the identity of the two candidates than occurred in 2004. The percentage seeing Obama as liberal has already shifted by twenty percentage points. By comparison, John Kerry's numbers shifted just eight points in a roughly comparable time frame. Kerry was seen as politically liberal by 37% in January 2004 and by 45% in May 2004. By November 2004, 53% saw Kerry as liberal. The perception of McCain has shifted even more rapidly than the perception of Obama -- twenty-six percentage points so far. In 2004, President Bush was seen as conservative by 48% in January and 57% in May. That's a change of just nine points. By November 64% saw Bush as conservative.
This increased perception of Obama and McCain as liberal and conservative, respectively, should work in McCain's favor in November. The one thing that may save Obama is that those polled increasingly define themselves as liberal. In June polling 36% said they were conservative, including 16% who said they were very conservative. Thirty-seven percent claimed to be moderate. One-fourth said they were liberal, including 8% that self-identified as very liberal. Compared to 2004, the percentage of conservatives is nearly the same, but the percentage of liberals is up eight percentage points.
It is possible the shift is over. But, if the trend continues McCain and Obama will be seen as conservative and liberal, respectively, by more and more people. However, for McCain to capitalize on his improved standing as a conservative and Obama's worsening standing as a liberal, McCain must focus on those states where “conservative” is a positive label like Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania and ignore those places where “liberal” is not a dirty word like New York and California.
(James Thomas, a leader in local Republican politics, can be reached via email to email@example.com)
IN ORDER TO WIN, MCCAIN MUST ENERGIZE THE BASE
I decided to take an unusual approach this week. This week I thought I would summarize some of the reasons John McCain may lose in November. Don't worry. When I was thinking about this column, I was simultaneously considering the many reasons we should NOT elect Obama, which is the column I have started for next week.
The top of the list of the reasons McCain may lose is $4 a gallon gas. This is something he can do very little about. However, when things are bad, the incumbent president and his political party often get blamed even when it is not his or its fault. Since McCain and Bush are of the same political party, McCain very likely will also get blamed for high gas prices. This is despite the fact that Democrats and a handful of liberal Republicans are actually the ones that have blocked Bush's energy policies that are designed to lower the price of gas.
On a related note, the economy in general will be a serious detriment to McCain. We are not technically in a recession. We have yet to have a single quarter of negative growth in the economy let alone the two consecutive quarters of negative growth that are normally how a recession is technically defined. However, the growth has slowed to a snail's pace. And, when slow growth is coupled with high gas prices, folks start to feel like economic times are bad and blame the president and his political party.
McCain is wrong on illegal immigration. His opponent is wrong too. So is President Bush. However, this is an issue that has many people really upset. By not being able to effectively distinguish himself from Obama on this important issue, McCain loses the opportunity to gain support.
McCain has also developed an approach that I would argue is simply wrong. McCain wants to be labeled as a “maverick” Republican. He does not want to be painted as someone who runs to the center after the primaries are over, but instead wants to be the guy who was in the middle all along. This is not the best strategy for winning an election.
In 2002 and 2004, Republicans went back to an old fashioned political strategy. I have heard the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln that the way to win elections is to “identify your supporters and turn them out on Election Day.” The in-the-trenches Republicans like myself were knocking on doors in May of both of those years identifying our supporters. Then on the five days leading up to and through the November election we made multiple contacts with these voters to turn them out.
That is apparently not McCain's plan. One newspaper report indicated he has been “slow” to open an office in the critical swing state of Missouri. However, McCain just announced the opening of an office in New Jersey a state last won by a Republican in 1988 and a state in which no GOP presidential candidate has opened an office in 16 years. The presidential election is not decided on the popular vote. It all comes down to the Electoral College. The keys for a Republican to win the Electoral College are the swing states like Missouri, Ohio, and Florida. If McCain wants to win, the swing states are where he needs to put his focus.
Furthermore, he needs to not be doing things to irritate the base. The Republicans made a come back after the disasters of 1974 and 1976 because of conservatives and evangelicals. McCain cannot take these folks for granted. Many of the so-called Reagan Democrats voted for Reagan because of his conservative policies.
A lot can happen between now and November. McCain is in the hunt, but he must energize the base and overcome $4 a gallon gas and a slowing economy if he wants to win.
(When he isn’t writing his Landmark column, James Thomas is practicing law and leading the Sixth District Republicans. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
EVEN TAX LOVERS THINK LIGHT RAIL IS A BAD IDEA
On the way to work the other day I was listening to the radio show of my friend Chris Stigall and I almost ran off the road. You see after what I heard on the radio I was not paying attention to the road. Instead I was looking up in the sky to see if there were any “flying pigs” in the air.
I was in shock over the radio report about recent positions that had been taken by the Civic Council and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. These two groups are made up of a bunch of civic leader-types who are well meaning folks, but they always seem to have one constant bias. Both of these groups seem to favor every local tax increase that is proposed.
Both groups recently expressed reservations about a light rail tax. Neither group went so far as to say that they would oppose a light rail tax. However, they did say they would not support a tax increase to fund light rail until Kansas City gets its financial house in order. Even though neither group said they were opposed to light rail because it is just silly for a city like Kansas City, they at least were willing to recognize that light rail is a luxury item that the City can not currently afford.
I have said repeatedly that light rail might be cool to have if Kansas City had extra money. However, the City does not have extra money. The City has been robbing the resources that should have been used for deferred maintenance for many years. Every year of delay on deferred maintenance just means that the cost of that maintenance goes up. This is not just because of rising costs. It is also because the problems get more expensive to fix with time.
Kansas City has two other key crises in its future. One is the issue of the combined sanitary sewer and storm sewer system. Estimates of the costs to fix this problem are $3 to 4 billion (with a “b”) dollars. I know the federal government seems to throw around a billion here and a billion there, but a billion dollars (with a “b”) is a Big deal (with a capital “B”) for Kansas City since its total annual budget is only just over a billion dollars. The other problem that is big, but not as big, is the risk the City is exposed to with the downtown TIF project. The City is on the hook for millions of dollars of debt if the project does not work out. I really hope this works because it will be really bad for the taxpayers if it doesn't, but I just have trouble believing that there will be enough sales tax generated by new bars and restaurants in downtown to fund this heavy debt load.
I have other reasons that I do not believe light rail makes sense in Kansas City. First and foremost is the lack of density of the City. The City is geographically huge and its modest population is spread out. Second, I believe that few Midwesterners will ever give up the freedom of their cars to ride mass transit. Third, light rail only connects fixed points A and B, but increased bus service could serve other areas and change if the need arose. Fourth, ridership fees are almost never sufficient to fund the operating costs of light rail. The City simply does not have the money to fund these operating deficits.
Although there are a lot of reasons that light rail does not make sense in Kansas City, the Chamber and Civic Council have hit upon the most important one. Light rail is simply a luxury that the City can not afford. The fact that these tax loving groups agreed with me on this got me looking out the window for flying pigs.
(James Thomas is a leader in state and local Republican politics. Email him at email@example.com)
INCREASING SUPPLY KEY TO LOWERING GAS PRICES
The liberals must be both thrilled and frightened as gas prices skyrocket.
Liberals are likely thrilled that gas prices are rising. One of the recommendations of the liberals has been to put a huge tax on gas to make it so expensive that people would either drive dramatically less or give up their cars entirely. A secondary goal of the tax increase was to give the government more money for the liberals to spend as they saw fit. The rise in gas prices due to general economic principles has not given the liberals more tax dollars to spend, but it has accomplished the goal of raising gas prices so dramatically that many people are now changing their consumption habits.
Although liberals are likely giddy that gas prices have soared, you won't hear much from them on this subject because they have to be frightened that these huge increases may get them in trouble with the voters. The average national gas price has gone from $2.33 per gallon when Nancy Pelosi became Speaker to $3.99 per gallon earlier this month. This is over a 70% increase in the price of gas in the 17 months since Democrats regained control of Congress. That is an average increase of over 4% per month. This is more than the average annual increase in the price of gas during the first six years of the Bush Administration. If the Democrats get blamed for the skyrocketing price of gas, they could be in trouble in November.
The reality is that the number one factor driving up gas prices is worldwide demand. The American appetite for gas has been insatiable. That appetite has grown dramatically over the last two decades as the SUV has become the vehicle of choice for so many Americans. However, the real problem is that over the past few years the demand for oil in other countries like China and India has also grown dramatically.
This is really simple economics. When the demand for something goes up, the price for that thing will go up. The price will continue to rise until the quantity supplied and the quantity demanded reach a new equilibrium at a new higher price. The way to bring the price back down is to increase the supply.
How do we increase supply? First, we need to increase domestic production. This includes allowing drilling in the ANWR and off-shore. Second, we need to increase refining capacity. Due to burdensome government regulations, no new oil refineries have been built in the U.S. since 1976.This needs to be fixed. Third, we need to encourage the pursuit of technologies and alternate sources of energy that would reduce the demand for oil.
Although Democrats can not be blamed for the dramatic increase in world-wide demand, they can be blamed and should be blamed for the failure to increase the supply. Back in 1996, the Republicans in Congress passed a bill to authorize drilling in ANWR. President Clinton vetoed the bill claiming the environment was more important than access to oil and that it would take ten years for this oil to be able to actually have an impact on oil prices. Well, 10 years after 1996 would have been 2006, which is right before the time when oil prices really started to rise dramatically. Since 1996, Democrats have blocked multiple attempts to allow drilling for oil in ANWR or off-shore.
Obama's plan would cause gas prices to go even higher. First, he would prevent an increase in supply by prohibiting drilling in ANWR. Second, he would slap oil companies with a big tax increase, which, of course, would pass straight through to the price at the pump. The Democrats just have to hope the voters don't understand simple economic principles and the impact of the Democrats' policies on the price of gas. Otherwise the voters will not be supporting the Democrats in November.
(James C. Thomas III is active in local and state Republican politics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
LIBERALS DON'T WANT OTHERS TO ENJOY SUCCESS
My mother always told me I should not hate, but I cannot help myself. I hate liberals. They are two-faced and disingenuous because they want others to forego the fruits of success while they enjoy these fruits themselves. As I have mentioned before, Obama's church (or just recently former church) not only has a racist “pastor” who says crazy things, but the mission statement of that church is to seek to “correct America's economic mal-distribution.” Those are fancy words for taking money from hard working people and giving it to those who don't work for a living.
More liberal drivel was recently spouted by Obama at a commencement address at Wesleyan University. He discouraged the graduates from pursuing the American dream of success and self-reliance. He told those about to graduate “You can take your diploma, walk off this stage and . . . chase after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should. But I hope you don't.”
I am sure that there were some parents in the audience who wanted to have a stroke. Their children were just completing four years of study at a school with tuition, room and board of over $50,000 per year and now some joker is discouraging their children from pursuing success. If their children did not go to this expensive school to be more successful, then their children could have just gone to a far less expensive college or maybe a community college.
The thing I hate about liberals is that they want to discourage others from pursuing success and financial independence when that is what they are doing or have done. For example, Obama's “pastor” (or recently former “pastor”) lives in a big house and drives a fancy car paid for by his parishioners. Obama reportedly made $4 million last year and lives in a $1.65 million house. It is okay for these liberals to pursue the American dream, but the rest of us should not. Baloney!
Obama and his “pastor” are like the former leaders of communist Russia. These leaders were chauffeured around in fancy automobiles, lived in fancy housing and ate well while their “comrades” lived in poor conditions and waited in long lines for food.
I am not a McCain fan, but I have to vote for him because Obama is a socialist. In his commencement address, Obama said “Our collective service can shape the destiny of this generation. Individual salvation depends on collective salvation.”
Don't get me wrong. I strongly believe that all of us have an obligation to perform community service and help our fellow man. In fact, my confirmation verse is 1 Peter 4:10 (“As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.”) I try to live up to this expectation and seek to instill this value in my kids. So far, it appears to be working in that my daughters are already exhibiting significant commitments to volunteerism and service to others. However, my kids are also anxious to find jobs to make money so they can pay for the things they want.
It is my goal to encourage my kids to pursue financial independence and wise financial management while still finding time and money to help others. And, if I spend $200,000 to send a daughter of mine through four years of college, I expect that expense to help her achieve financial independence while pursuing a career that brings her great personal satisfaction.
Also, like my mother did with me, I will try to teach my kids to not hate liberals. But it might be hard, given the blatant disconnect of liberals' actions and conduct from their words and policies.
(James C. Thomas III is active in state and local Republican politics. Email him at email@example.com)
RON PAUL SUPPORTERS BOISTEROUS BUT NOT DISRUPTIVE
The Missouri Republican Party held its convention in Branson last weekend. Some were expecting major fireworks, but it was relatively quiet. Of the approximately 2000 possible delegates, 374 were subject to challenge. (There were actually over 550 delegates that were initially challenged, but the challenge to the delegates from Jackson County was withdrawn after a compromise was reached in April.) The Credentials Committee had to review these challenges and make recommendations on whether to seat the challenged delegates. In the end only 53 delegates were excluded from the convention.
Many of the challenged delegates were supporters of Ron Paul. However, no delegates were excluded for being Ron Paul supporters. A few delegates were excluded because of technical defects in the handling of their County Caucuses held back in March. Some delegates were excluded because they were not registered voters at the time of the County Caucuses. Ten delegates were excluded for actually being members of the Libertarian Party.
While the party regulars were attending a pre-convention gala featuring political speeches and Branson entertainers on the night before the convention, Ron Paul was speaking to his supporters at an event separate from the official Convention festivities. I am not a Ron Paul supporter, but I am impressed by the enthusiasm of those that do support him. In Platte County, Ron Paul received less than six percent of the vote in the presidential preference primary held in February. However, when the Platte County Caucus was held in March, the Ron Paul supporters made up almost 45% of the caucus attendees. These supporters represented nearly 10% of the votes that Paul received in the presidential preference primary. The other caucus attendees only represented about one-half of one percent (0.5%) of the other voters in the presidential preference primary.
It is exciting to see new people wanting to be involved in the Republican Party. There is plenty of work to be done so I am sure we can find something for them to do.
The state convention featured speeches from most of our state-wide candidates and officeholders, including both of our governor candidates. Delegates and alternates to the national convention were elected. The national committeeman and committeewoman were elected. The party platform was also adopted.
There was a great deal of security for the convention. I had not seen this much security at any of the previous conventions I have attended. However, I was told that there were threatening remarks made on some of the Ron Paul blogs, so the state party was taking no chances.
The Ron Paul supporters were boisterous, but they were not rowdy or excessively disruptive on the convention floor. I did have to deal with a few argumentative fellows prior to the beginning of the convention, but their gruff attitude could easily be explained by their lack of experience with political conventions. The convention essentially went off without a hitch.
The most interesting thing was that many people were disappointed when a motion was made to adjourn. Since I had reported for duty at 6 a.m. to organize the volunteers to register delegates from the Sixth Congressional District, I was glad to be done at 4:30. But some of the attendees wanted to stay and debate more issues.
John McCain was not in attendance, but he sent former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating to speak on his behalf at the “official” pre-convention gala. I was disappointed that McCain did not find a way to speak to the Convention directly. I realize that a national candidate has a very busy schedule and is traveling constantly. However, in 2004 President Bush spoke to the state convention via satellite. It would have been nice to hear from the guy we are suppose to rally around in November.
(Reach James via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
CLINTON IS THE DEMOCRATS' BEST CHANCE FOR SUCCESS
Hillary Clinton so far has refused to drop out of the presidential race and open a path for Obama's coronation at the Democrat Convention in Denver. Many political operatives and political pundits have stated she should do so. However, there is one big reason she should not drop out: The polling data shows that Clinton is the best prospect the Democrats have to defeat McCain in November.
I generally do not trust polls. Polls can be manipulated in how the question is asked. Polls can be manipulated in the structure of the sample size. For example, a poll of “registered voters” is not generally as accurate of as a poll of “likely voters.”Also, the sample can be skewed by having too many responses from a particular geographic region, demographic group or political party. Furthermore, polls over five months before the actual election fail to take in to account how a candidate will develop their own image and positions and attack their opponent's image and positions between now and the November election. However, as we “look in to our crystal balls” and try to evaluate the “what ifs” of November, polls are the most substantive tool we have at our disposal.
A website that I have had loaded on my “favorites” for years has been www.electoral-vote.com. This website gathers published polling data from all the major pollsters and evaluates it so the analysis on this website is not based upon any single poll. Most importantly, this website ignores national polls and focuses on state-by-state polls so that it can develop an electoral map based upon these polls.
This website predicts that if the election were held today (actually, if the election were held on May 21, which was when I did the research for this column), that McCain would beat Obama by 285 electoral votes to 242 electoral votes. (Polls currently show a statistical tie for Indiana's 11 electoral votes.) However, Clinton would beat McCain by 284 electoral votes to 237 electoral votes.(Polls show a statistical tie for the 17 electoral votes of Michigan.) A study of the map tells us the usual swing states are where the election will be won or lost. Missouri has always been one of those states. However, whether Obama or Clinton is the candidate, current polling has Missouri in the McCain column in both cases. Of course, given the long-standing history of Missouri as a swing state, one would expect to see Missouri as a major battleground as November approaches.
The two biggest swings from Republican to Democrat depending on whether Obama or Clinton is the candidate are Ohio and Florida. These two states account for 20 and 27 electoral votes respectively. Current polling shows that Clinton would carry these states, but Obama would not. Current polling also shows Clinton picking up Arkansas and West Virginia if she is the nominee. However, Obama would pick up Colorado and Iowa if he were the nominee. Also, Michigan would swing from barely Republican with Obama to a statistical tie with Clinton. Indiana would swing from weak Republican with Clinton to a statistical tie with Obama.
I do not want the Democrats to win in November so I will not spell out here what they need to do to win this election. Also, please do not take my prediction that McCain beats Obama too strongly. These polls have been taken five or more months before the actual election. A lot can change between now and November. But, the polls do show that Clinton is a better Democrat candidate than Obama for November. For this reason, she has a good reason to fight until Obama is actually “crowned” in Colorado.
(James Thomas will keep fighting for the right. Let him know your thoughts with a note to email@example.com)
GOP NEEDS TO FOCUS ON FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE ROOTS
Is the Republican “brand” in trouble? It sure seems like it.
Republicans just lost their third straight special election for a Congressional seat. The loss last week was of a Congressional seat that became vacant when its holder was appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Trent Lott's retirement. Earlier this year, Republicans lost the seat vacated by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and a seat in Louisiana.
Some of this is just “incumbent president fatigue.” In a President's second term, it is not unusual for voters to start to grow weary and clamor for change. This is particularly true as the War on Terror continues, gas prices rise in response to increased world-wide demand and the rate of economic growth slows.
The bigger problem is the sense that the Republican Party has lost its sense of direction. There is a perception that the Republican Party has not controlled spending. However, this is not entirely true. Republicans held the increase in non-defense discretionary spending to less than one percent during the last two years the Republicans were in control of Congress. However, the problem is that so much of the budget is either mandatory spending or defense spending related that the budget still grew at a rate greater than what conservatives would prefer. Also, the budget is so complicated that the voters and the media outlets that tell voters about the budget do not understand many of its details.
But, in politics, perception is reality. Since it is perceived that Republicans are not fighting wasteful spending and there is still too much wasteful spending going on, that is the political reality Republicans face.
There is also the perception that Republicans are not doing enough about other important issues of the day, like illegal immigration. The reality is that if it had not been for a group of conservative Republicans in Congress we would already have an amnesty program for illegal immigrants. However, since a couple of Republicans leaders including President Bush strongly supported an amnesty policy, the Republicans are sometimes all labeled as being pro-amnesty.
The Republican brand may appear to be in trouble from the information the media provides, but there is hope for the future. When traveling to DC with a small group last fall, I met several Congressmen that presented a reason for Republicans and all Americans to be hopeful. These young Congressmen, who will be the future leaders of the party, are firmly committed to conservative fiscal policies.
No one has specifically emerged on the national stage as the clear voice for fiscal conservatism, but there are fiscally conservative policies being advanced by many Congressmen. For example, Vern Buchanan from Florida has introduced a balanced budget amendment that would require Congress to live within its means. Our own Congressman Sam Graves is part of this group of young Congressmen who are fighting to return the Republican Party to its fiscally conservative roots.
Hopeful news just came out earlier this week. The Republican Study Committee, which is made up of conservative Republicans in Congress, is planning to roll out a proposed agenda that calls for a constitutional limit on spending, a simplified income tax alternative and a plan to require recipients of food stamps or housing aid to meet work requirements.
The Republican brand may be a little “tarnished” at the moment, but many leaders are still engaged in advancing conservative policies. It may take more than one election cycle to assure the voters that Republicans will stay true to their fiscally conservative roots, but there are many young leaders who appear to be committed to continuing the fight until the voters' trust is restored.
(Email James Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org)
BARNES NOT A GOOD CANDIDATE FOR SIXTH DISTRICT
The other day I was joking with one of the new partners I got in my law firm merger from earlier this year. He was organizing an event for Kay Barnes. (You need to realize that although all of our lawyers are smart and talented lawyers it does not mean they are smart about politics.) I was joking with him about whether he knew that Kay Barnes is running in the Sixth District and not the Fifth District.
Barnes might be a good candidate in the Fifth District, which includes the inner city portion of Kansas City and the limousine liberals from Ward Parkway and the area south of the Plaza. However, Barnes is not a good candidate for the Sixth District. The Sixth District includes the Republican leaning parts of Jackson County (i.e., the eastern portion of Jackson County), all of Clay and Platte Counties and all the other counties from the Missouri River to the Iowa border and about half way across the state (except for Ray County).
Barnes has raised a lot of money. However, what she has raised has overwhelmingly come from outside the Sixth District, including substantial sums from the Fifth District. In fact, Barnes is having a fund raiser in San Francisco with Nancy Pelosi. Barnes has no idea what are the priorities of the Sixth District. Case in point is the looming disaster called the Power & Light District. The taxpayers of Kansas City are now on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in giveaways to out-of-town developers for a project that is called “economic development.”However, this “economic development” is not a factory with good paying blue collar jobs. This “economic development” is bars and restaurants.
The developer already appears nervous that the project will be a failure. Kay Barnes negotiated a special privilege for this downtown project to have an area where patrons are permitted to wander (or stumble) between bars and restaurants with their booze. “Festival district” legislation has been proposed to allow places like Westport a similar privilege under certain limited circumstances and time frames. The developer has written a threatening letter to the City of Kansas City saying that if this festival district legislation is approved that it will cause “significant damage” and loss of value to developer by taking away the competitive advantage that Kay Barnes gave them. Think about how scary of a statement that is. If this development is not the exclusive location in Kansas City where patrons can walk around with a bottle of beer, the project is doomed to failure. What!?! It sounds like the developer is just setting the stage for blaming someone else when the project goes under.
Who do we have to thank for this? Barnes. Of course, don't forget that Barnes has received numerous maximum political contributions from the developers of this project. We should all say “Thank you, Kay” for making it possible for the taxpayers of Kansas City to risk hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a bunch of bars and restaurants to Kansas City.
I was shocked to read that fellow Landmark columnist Russ Purvis believes Barnes would be good for the Sixth District. He couldn't stand her as mayor. In fact, we worked together to oppose “Barnes' Barn.” (You know that fancy new arena that has an NBA team and an NHL hockey team as tenants. Oh, wait. The arena only hosts events poached from the now generally empty Kemper Arena.)
I'm starting to worry that Russ is actually believing the junk he has recently written about Democrats being about “peace, harmony and understanding.” Maybe he is planning to move to the Fifth District, which is where my politically confused partner who is supporting Barnes happens to live.
(James Thomas is active in state and local Republican politics. Reach him at email@example.com)
CRAZY REMARKS BY PASTOR WILL HURT OBAMA
Obama must be reading “The Right Stuff” or his own plummeting poll numbers in key swing states. A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I hoped Obama would keep standing behind the crazy comments of his “pastor” and continue his own comments about people in small towns in the Midwest being “bitter” and “clinging to their religion and guns” in order to help out John McCain's bid for president. However, last week Obama finally chose to denounce his “pastor.”
The critical issue is not the crazy things that Obama's “pastor” is saying. (E.g., Obama's “pastor” has claimed that AIDS was created by white people to kill black people.) The troubling issue is the mission statement of Obama's “church.” Part of the mission statement of the “church,” which you can read right off the church's website, is “to become agents of change for God who is not pleased with America's economic mal-distribution!”
Let me repeat that. The focus of this “church” is not on addressing the eternal salvation of its members and all people through faith in Christ Jesus through grace. The focus of this so-called “church” is on correcting “America's economic mal-distribution.”
This is a central theme for Obama and many national Democrats. They want to take money from you and me and give it to someone who doesn't work for a living. This is more than a “Robin Hood” strategy of taking from “the rich and giving to the poor.” There are not enough “rich” people to sustain all their “wealth redistribution” schemes. So, to make this re-distribution of wealth possible, Obama (and Clinton for that matter) plan to raise taxes on ordinary working people so they can give that money to someone else.
So, while the inflammatory remarks of Obama's “pastor” are entertaining (or frightening) clips for talk radio, the real issue is that the mission of Obama and his “church” is to correct “America's economic mal-distribution.”
If the attention of voters in the swing states is directed to these socialistic or even communistic wealth redistribution plans, these voters will vote for McCain or stay home. Either way, they are Democrat votes that Obama will not receive. The problem is that the media attention has been on the crazy things Obama's “pastor” has been saying rather than the express mission statement of Obama's “church.”
Obama's national poll numbers are fairly steady. However, national poll numbers are not the issue. The Republican nominee for president will not likely win New York or California for many years to come. Likewise, the Democrat nominee for president will not likely win in the South or the mountain-west or western plains. The critical issue is the poll numbers in Missouri, Ohio, Florida and similar swing states. Right now the “bitter” comments about people clinging to their “religion and guns” and the crazy things being said by Obama's “pastor” are driving down Obama's poll numbers in these critical swing states.
The impact of these statements is also evident in the endorsement of Hillary Clinton by Congressman Ike Skelton, who represents the Fourth Congressional District of Missouri, basically an area across the middle of Missouri stretching in a swath that begins just south of Kansas City to a little bit north of Springfield and from the western border of Missouri to a little more than halfway across the state. Skelton said he is backing Clinton “because of her support in rural Missouri, her commitment to national security, and her dedication to our men and women in uniform.”
Skelton also likely endorsed Clinton because the things Obama and his “pastor” are saying are offensive to the constituents in his mostly small town Midwest district.
(James Thomas is a leader in local Republican politics. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
ABOUT THOSE CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION LIMITS
In 1994 campaign finance limits were passed in Missouri. These limits restrict the amount of political contributions that can be collected by a candidate for elected offices in Missouri (federal offices have their own campaign finance laws). These limits have been adjusted for inflation over the years. Therefore the limits are now $325 per person for a state representative race, $675 per person for a state senate race and $1,350 per person for a state-wide race.
A political party committee can contribute approximately 10 times the limit to candidates for each election (the primary and general). So, a political party committee can contribute $3,350 to state representative candidates, $6,725 to state senate candidates and $13,450 for state-wide candidates. A political party committee may also make and “in kind” contribution of this amount to candidates. (The amounts are different if the candidate does not have a primary opponent).
Other political offices have similar limits based upon population. The limits for Platte County offices are equal to the limits on state representative races. To run city-wide in Kansas City you would be subject to the state-wide limits.
In 2006 the Missouri General Assembly decided to do away with dollar limits on political contributions. The elimination of the limits was tied to a prohibition on raising money while the General Assembly was in session. This prohibition was correctly held to be unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court. However, in reaching this conclusion the Missouri Supreme Court incorrectly reached a determination that the removal of contribution limits was so tied to this unconstitutional prohibition on raising money during the legislative sessions that it threw out the removal of contribution limits.
Recent proposals have been made to do away with campaign contribution limits. This makes the most sense. What we need are no contribution limits, but quicker and clearer disclosures. For example, in my capacity as deputy treasurer for several committees, I give weekly reports to the campaign team on all of the money coming in and going out for the week. It would not be hard to convert this internal weekly report to a weekly report that is electronically filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission. This way the public can easily trace who is giving money to a particular candidate and how much they are giving.
There are proposals to restrict contributions from political party committees to the same limits that apply to individuals. I am adamantly opposed to such proposals. This is bad policy. The whole purpose of political party committees is to elect candidates. When done correctly, politics is a team sport. Political party committees should be free to spend as much money as they want to elect their slate of candidates. If political parties are subject to restrictions on how much they can spend their role is neutralized. Without the involvement of political parties the campaigns can become individual candidate free-for-alls.
The truth is that the Platte County Republican Party does not typically give large contributions to our local candidates. Instead, we generally use the money we raise to do things to help our local candidates. These helpful things include things like operating the party headquarters, funding Election Day door hangers and maintaining databases of registered voters and their party preferences and issue preferences. These are far more beneficial to our candidates than giving them a few hundred dollars a piece. However, the party should not be restricted in making monetary or in-kind contributions of larger amounts if the party wants to do so.
There is one good thing about political contribution limits: I can write a check for $325 to a candidate for county office or $1,350 to a candidate for state-wide office and not be able to give any more. This is contrary to the Freedom of Speech principles of the First Amendment, but it is nice for my wallet.
(Email James Thomas at email@example.com)
GOVERNMENT IS NOT THE ANSWER
Two weeks ago my firm sponsored a table for an event for The Children's Place, an organization that works with children who are abused or neglected. The keynote speaker was Liz Murray.
Liz began her story with her experiences as an eight year old child. Both of Liz's parents were drug addicts. The first of the month would come. The check from the government would arrive. This was an exciting family event.
The family would go down to one of those rip off check cashing businesses because they did not have a bank account. They would take the proceeds of the check and troop off to an apartment building where Liz and her slightly older sister would wait outside while their parents would go upstairs to buy drugs. Then the family would take what little money they had left and go to the grocery store. The problem is that whatever groceries they bought would have to last all month. Their purchases were usually not enough to last a week. So Liz often went hungry.
Liz's teachers would just pass her through each grade level. The family services bureaucrats came to Liz's home, but took no action. Liz's mother became ill and went for a long stay in the hospital. Liz's father could not handle the pressure and started living at a homeless shelter. Liz started living on the streets and quit going to school. After a long illness, Liz's mother died.
After her mother died, Liz tried to go back to school. She interviewed several places and was rejected. Then she met a kind teacher who reached out to her and set high standards for her. He pushed her to take a double course load and complete the high school course work in two years. She did this while keeping her homelessness a secret from the kind teacher and the rest of the school.
As she was completing her course work, the kind teacher encouraged her to apply to Harvard. She did and was accepted. Her homelessness was still not known to her teacher. Liz applied for a New York Times scholarship. As part of her application, she was required to write an essay that told the story of what adversities she had overcome. Obviously it would be difficult to even make up a story more compelling than Liz's story. Upon awarding her the scholarship, the New York Times published a story about Liz. Suddenly her secret was out. The outpouring of support in response to Liz's story was amazing. Anonymous donors began bringing gifts of food, clothes and money to the school. Some direct gifts were given to Liz and her sister to provide them a place to live and food to eat.
This spring, Liz will graduate from Harvard. She hopes to keep sharing her story with others. The interesting point is that she does not feel bitterness towards her parents for their addiction. She also does not tell her story from the perspective of pulling herself up by her boot straps. Instead, she talks of the kindness of one teacher, then the staff of the school and then many others that changed her life.
Government did not fix Liz's problems. In fact, government programs enabled Liz's parents to continue living like they did. Giving people money without expectations does not make their lives better. What changed Liz's life was the kindness of one teacher. This teacher encouraged her and set high standards for her. She responded. We need programs that focus on helping people in a way that gives them something to be proud of and the ability to eventually provide for themselves. The most effective programs like this are not run by government, but rather are in the private sector.
We do not need ineffective government programs that cause people to wait by the mailbox for their check from the government.
(James C. Thomas is active in local and state Republican politics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
OBAMA: THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
I used to think that Republicans should want to run against Hillary in November. Her polling numbers show her negative numbers as high as her positive numbers. But lately Barrack Obama just keeps giving us gifts.
I was afraid of Obama. I think it would be great for America to elect a person as president who just happens to be black. It would show that we are nearing a truly color blind society that judges a person on the content of their character and the quality of their ideas and not on the color of their skin. I suspect that a lot of Americans agree with me. And that made me nervous for one reason. They might vote for Obama just because he was black and not based upon the quality of his ideas or the content of his character. I was concerned that Obama's true character and ideas might not be made known to the voters until it was too late. Obama might hoodwink the voters by talking about “hope” and “change” while providing no substance.
A few weeks ago the sermons from the “pastor” of Obama's church became an issue. This is a really serious issue. The mission statement of Obama's church is to correct “America's economic mal-distribution.”Those are mighty big words for a simple concept. Obama's church advocates taking money from hard working people and giving it to other people. Sounds like socialism or communism to me.
Obama's “pastor” also shouted racist comments. For example, he has accused white people of starting AIDS as a way to wipe out black people. What?!?
Obama tried to sweep some of this under the rug by saying that his “pastor” was like a “crazy uncle” that he did not always agree with. He gave a speech on the role of race in America. The storm seemed to have blown over. Then, Obama gave us another gift an insight in to his true character and feelings. At a speech in Pennsylvania, Obama said “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. . . . And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
This type of attitude is exactly why Republicans were able to make a run at Democrats. Missouri Democrats are generally conservative. In fact, there are many Democrats that are more conservative than several members of my party. These conservative Democrats are often pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax and anti-handouts. But, the national Democrat Party refuses to acknowledge these attitudes among the members of its own party.
I would argue that the Democrat party becoming increasingly liberal is why both houses of the Missouri legislature have Republican majorities. The Democrats have become so much more liberal than many of their members that those members have left them. But that is great for Republicans. We can continue to talk about smaller government, less spending and lower taxes. We can continue to advocate for responsible gun ownership and the rights of the unborn. And the Democrats can continue to try to sell people in places like Missouri on huge tax increases, more government handouts, prohibition of gun ownership and abortion as a method of birth control.
I used to want to run against Hillary in November. However, if Obama will keep sharing his true perspectives with the voters, maybe he will be an easier opponent than Hillary. If the voters learn how liberal this guy is, we should be able to hold Missouri in the Republican column. Maybe the Republicans should pay for him to make a trip here and give a speech. Maybe we could invite Obama's “pastor” as a warm up act.
(Email James Thomas at email@example.com)
SOME LOCAL 2008 RACES COULD BE FASCINATING
The fourth Tuesday in February and the fourth Tuesday in March are always big days for elected officials, candidates and party leaders in Missouri. Those days mark the opening and closing of filing for elected offices ranging from governor all the way down to county offices.
Platte County has gone from being a Democrat county to a swing county. This means that the elections are now decided based less upon party affiliation and more on the strength of a candidate's qualifications and the effectiveness of the candidate's campaign. There appear to be several interesting match ups brewing for August and November.
The two junior county commissioners are up this year. One of the incumbents, Tom Pryor (R), has followed the path of Governor Blunt and declined to seek re-election. With the death of his father and step-mother in the last two years, the related added burdens of his business (his father and step mother were involved in his business) and his commitments to his family, Pryor has indicated that he just does not have the time to continue to serve after the end of this year. For Republicans this could be an unfortunate withdrawal. Pryor had raised substantially more money than any other candidate and had a solid record of conservative fiscal management to base his re-election bid upon.
In the race to replace Pryor there are two former mayors of Parkville -- Kathy Dusenbery (R) and Bill Quitmeier (D) -- seeking the job. But, both of them have primary challenges Jeffery Jones (R) and Michelle Wilson (D). One can expect that key issues in the two primaries will be allegations of fiscal mismanagement in Parkville and issues with Parkville's sewer fund. We will have to see if the two non-mayors can overcome the name ID of the mayors to survive the primaries. Then, we can watch the survivors duke it out in November.
Jim Plunkett (R) is the other incumbent junior county commissioner. He faces a challenge by Chuck Rankin (D) who filed at the end of the filing period. Plunkett has not only the ability, but has also shown the willingness to self fund his campaign. So, unless Rankin has his own resources or some substantial backers, he is going to have a tough time in November.
Incumbent Treasurer Bonnie Brown (D) is being challenged by Michael McCormick (R). Brown has shown an inability to perform the duties of her office. However, prior to becoming treasurer, Brown served as a community outreach officer at a Democrat-owned bank. In that capacity she was active in every civic and social group in the county. So, a lot people know her and like her even though she does not have the skills to do the treasurer's job. This race will be a question of whether McCormick is able to sell his message of business experience and competence over Brown's name ID.
Incumbent State Representatives Jason Brown (R) and Jason Grill (D) have both pulled opponents. Brown will be tough to beat with the effective job he has done in Jeff City and his military service. Likely campaign issues in the Grill race are the allegations that he raped a girl after his 2006 election night party and his reputation for partying in Jefferson City.
Assessor Lisa Pope (R) is being challenged by Marcena Fulton (D), who works in the county clerk's office. Pope has the thankless jobs of re-assessing people's property. No one likes getting those notices in the mail saying that their assessed valuation has gone up, but Pope seems to doing the job well and in accordance with proper procedures. So, the question will be whether people are so upset with the re-assessment of their property that they want to change to a person with no experience for the job.
Sheriff Dick Anderson (R) and Public Administrator Terry Edwards (D) were two very happy people at 5 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday in March. Neither drew opponents.
(Email James Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org)
PROSPECTS STARTING TO LOOK BRIGHTER FOR GOP
Timing is everything. No where is that more true than in politics.
Following the 2004 elections, Republicans seemed to be on a roll in Missouri. Bush won Missouri by a comfortable margin. Republicans captured the Governorship. Just two years earlier Republicans had taken control of the State House. A little more than a year earlier Republicans had taken over the State Senate. In 2004 Republicans increased their control of both of these houses. So in January 2005 for the first time in something like 84 years Republicans held control of the General Assembly and the Governor's office.
Republicans inherited a train wreck. Governors Carnahan and Holden and the Democrat controlled General Assembly had made a mess of Missouri's finances. Jobs were fleeing the State in response to an unfavorable business environment. Doctors were fleeing the state in response to excessive lawsuits. The state budget had a $1 billion (with a “b”) deficit. (Keep in mind that a “billion” in the state budget unlike the federal budget -- is still a big deal because it is about 5% of the state budget.) Holden was actually holding Missouri's school children hostage as he withheld money from schools.
Governor Blunt and the Republicans in the General Assembly cleaned up this mess. They passed tort reform and medical malpractice reform measures that caused large increases in jobs in Missouri. Republicans actually increased funding for schools. All this was accomplished without a tax increase.
Despite these great accomplishments, things started to turn sour leading up to the 2006 election cycle. The War on Terror was entering its fifth year. Some Republicans in DC started acting like their tax and spend Democrat predecessors. More and more politicians from both parties became embroiled in scandals. One Republican described the mood in 2006 as “the worst he has seen it since 1974.” (President Nixon won re-election in a landslide victory in 1972 and then resigned in August 1974.)
Two months ago, things were looking bleak for Republicans in 2008. First, we were still smarting from the narrow loss by Senator Talent in 2006. Second, our sitting governor, who had a monstrous fund raising lead over his Democrat challenger, unexpectedly chose to not seek re-election.Third, “none of the above” was heard as a very common stated preference for the Republican presidential candidate.
Then things started to get better. After the initial craziness of a potential vacancy in the Governor's office had settled down, one really good candidate Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder stepped out of the race. This still left the Republicans with two good candidates so there is still the potential for some internal party squabbles, but at least there should be less of it now.
The Republican Party has begun to coalesce around John McCain. He was not my first (or second) choice. (I had a really hard time deciding who to pull the lever for on Feb. 5.) But McCain is a heck of a lot more palatable than Clinton or Obama. I may only agree with McCain 60 to 70 percent of the time, but that is a whole lot better than the nearly zero percent agreement I have with either of the Democrats.
Then the sweetest part of all is that Clinton and Obama both seem to be imploding. It seemed like Clinton was all but out of the race, but some how she has managed to hang in there. Obama seemed to have a lock, but then the story finally broke about the racist remarks by his pastor and his church that advocates a redistribution of wealth. These events have made it clearer than ever that if Obama wins the presidency that we will all need to “hold on to our wallets,” because he will be coming for our money.
It is still seven months until November. A lot of things can change in politics in seven months. But things sure are different than they were just two months ago.
(Email James Thomas at email@example.com)
WHAT DOES OBAMA’S CHOICE OF CHURCH SAY ABOUT HIM?
Barrack Obama is a member of Trinity United Church of Christ. Jeremiah Wright is the pastor there and also serves as an advisor to Obama's campaign. Wright has given some fiery--and outrageous -- sermons.
The media has obtained some of Wright's sermons because they are available from this church in electronic form. Wright has made several anti-American and anti-white comments. He said the 9/11 attacks were “America's chickens coming home to roost.” He noted that three strike laws (laws that say a criminal is locked up for life after his third felony conviction) are a way that white people are oppressing black people. He also preaches a Marxist ideology of redistribution of wealth. Obama initially responded to the publication of Wright's comments by saying that Wright was like “an old uncle who sometimes will say things I don't agree with.” The crisis over Wright's comments escalated to the point that Obama was forced to give a major speech on race.
Obama took an interesting strategy. He did not denounce Wright's comments, but instead said that these comments show the need to improve race relations. This way Obama can say to the black community that he did not reject Wright's message. At the same time Obama can say to the white community that he did not embrace Wright's comments. If it works, this will prove to be a brilliant strategy. However, the white voters, which make up approximately 90% of the electorate, may not buy this “foot in both camps” strategy. We will have to wait and see.
Wright's comments are not just words of a pastor who has strayed from his sermon notes. They are part of Trinity's theological message. The mission of Trinity has been described as “black liberation theology.”
Wikipedia describes black liberation theology as “theology from the perspective of oppressed people. It seeks to interpret the gospel of Jesus against the backdrop of historical and contemporary racism. The message of black theology is that . . . African Americans must be liberated from multiple forms of bondage social, political, economic, religious.” A scary line from Trinity's own website states a part of its mission is “to become agents of change for God who is not pleased with America's economic mal-distribution.”
This whole discussion is disturbing on two fronts. First, the teachings of the Church (note the capital “C”) are being diluted by this particular church (with a small “c”). The message of the Church is not about overcoming the oppression of any race of people or redistributing wealth. This church's mission statement makes me think of the folks who on the first Palm Sunday thought Jesus had come to establish an earthly kingdom. I appreciate the fact that Jesus' true mission had not yet been made known to these people. However, in this post-Easter environment, the Church does know Jesus' mission. The role of the Church is to share the message of salvation by faith through grace and not some other social mission.
It is interesting that this so called “church” has built its whole theme around the incorrect theory that white people are out to oppress black people. It saddens me every time I hear this type of message from the black community and leads me to believe we may never end racism as long as we have to deal with these messages of “reverse racism.”
Wright's preaching is the exact opposite of the concepts discussed by J. C. Watts, a former Congressman from Oklahoma and the author of What Color is a Conservative? Watts calls for black people to work hard to improve themselves and stop blaming their problems on someone else.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that Obama has voluntarily associated himself with a church with a mission of becoming “agents of change for God who is not pleased with America's economic mal-distribution.” What does Obama's choice of church say to you about who he is?
(Email James Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org)
DEMOCRATIC ADVISORS CREATING HUMOROUS SCENE
The Democrat presidential candidates and their advisors were very entertaining last week. First, Geraldine Ferraro, 1984 Democrat vice presidential candidate and advisor to Hillary Clinton, said Barrack Obama would not be where he is today if he were not black. The media, with encouragement from the Clinton campaign pounced on her remark and called for Clinton to renounce Ferraro.
Watching this brouhaha develop has been humorous. First, the comment has been taken somewhat out of context. In making this statement, Ferraro was noting that her selection as Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984 was made more based upon her being a woman than based upon her qualifications for the job. She was actually comparing Obama's rise to the national political stage to her own elevation to that stage. She was not ridiculing Obama for being black.
Second, a strong argument can be made that it is a true statement. Obama is a sharp dresser and a greater speech maker who has attended some of the most respected schools in the country, but that is not enough to put together a winning campaign plan. You have to have coalitions of voters to be successful in a campaign. One of Obama's coalitions is black voters. This is a great block of voters to have on your side. It is even more important in a Democrat primary since black voters make up such a large portion of the voters in a Democrat primary.
Early on, Clinton was leading with many demographic segments of voters. With Obama's overwhelming support of black voters, he could have a much smaller portion of the other demographic segments of voters and still win or at least stay close in the Democrat primaries. This solid base of support gave Obama a starting point for his campaign. As the primaries have progressed, Obama has begun to win in more and more demographic segments. He has recently been winning among nearly all demographic segments of the Democrat primary voters. In fact, I had to chuckle when the TV commentators said the only demographic segment of voters Hillary Clinton was winning in the Virginia primary was “poor, uneducated white people.” (It still makes me laugh every time I recall that particular report.)
The bottom line is that Obama's overwhelming support in the black community was a big boost to him early on. Some political pundits may have thought that Hillary could have inherited her husband's good standing in the black community. (As odd as it may seem, Bill Clinton has sometimes been referred to as the “first black president.”) However, any good feelings that Bill developed in the black community either did not carry over to Hillary or were trumped by stronger good feelings towards Obama, who although of mixed race certainly looks black.
Obama's strong support in the black community gave him a foundation to start his campaign. From there he has added many other segments of the Democrat Party to his support base. Obama may never have been “the black candidate.” But, his support in the black community was a big bonus to help jump start his campaign.
I actually am concerned about Obama being black. It would be great for America to have a black president to show how far we have come as a nation. The difference is I would want a conservative black man like former Oklahoma Congressman J. C. Watts, whose autographed picture hangs on my office wall -- instead of a liberal. Similarly, it would be great to have a woman president if it was a well qualified conservative woman.
Under this theme of advisors to Democrat presidential candidates providing entertainment, I was hoping to fit in this week's column a discussion of the outrageous statements by the senior pastor of Obama's church, who has also been serving as an advisor to Obama's campaign. But that topic is just too much fun (or too scary) to do in a single paragraph.
(Email James Thomas at email@example.com)
JETTON'S REMARKS UNPOLISHED, NOT NECESSARILY WRONG
You can always count on Missouri House Speaker Rod Jetton to say or do something brash. One of his first notable flubs was his heckling then Governor Holden during a State of the State speech.
Most recently Jetton said a lot of “lazy Missourians” could benefit from adopting the work ethic of Mexican immigrants. He went on to say he would like to “trade some of our people for some of the Mexicans who work so hard.”
Jetton might be described as a “loose cannon.” A polite way to refer to Jetton's outbursts and public statements is to say he lacks “polish.”
Some of the media twisted what Jetton said to imply that Jetton was supporting illegal immigration. He was not advocating illegal immigration. What he was advocating was the attitude of immigrants who legally come to this country and work hard to make better lives for their families.
Even though the media attacked Jetton for his “unpolished” comments, it is likely that everyone except the liberal elitists and the freeloaders in our society would agree or at least empathize with his comments.
During the construction of our house six years ago, the roofing and sheetrocking crews hired by our general contractor were made up of workers of Hispanic descent. I can only assume that these workers were legally in this country. (I sure hope the subcontractors checked their immigration status so there was nothing illegal going on, but that was up to the general contractor since I did not hire the subcontractor or the subcontractor's employees.) I went by the work site every day at the end of the day. Most days there would be no one there and I would have to close windows and lock doors. That was not the case when the roofing and sheetrocking was going on. After 6:30 they were still hard at work. And, they just weren't working. They were hustling. I was impressed. They roofed the house in two days. They sheetrocked the house in two days. Each of those jobs was a lot of work for two days.
We have lots of hard working Americans. These men and women go to work every day and do the best quality and quantity of work that they can do. I have always thought that if I ran business that required blue collar labor that I would be extremely lucky to have employees like my dad, who was a dedicated employee for 39+ years who gave his best every day. However, we have too many people who don't want to work and who instead prefer to freeload off the rest of us.
One other important caution: The frustration is not with those who have a disability (a real disability) that prevents them from working. The frustration is with the able-bodied and able-minded people who want something for nothing instead of working for a living.
It would be a rude awakening for these Missouri freeloaders if they were shipped to Mexico where they did not know the language and did not get a check from the government for sitting at home and doing nothing. It would be interesting to see how they would fare if we did swap a few of these folks for immigrants who want to legally enter our country and work hard.
The bottom line is that Jetton's comments may not have been “polished” or politically correct; however his comments probably did reflect what many people would like to say. The difference is that most people would likely say something similar while enjoying a cool beverage and watching a sporting event on a very large TV at some local business establishment instead of as part of a public speech that the media is covering.
(Email James Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org)
SOME NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND OBJECTIONS ARE HUMOROUS
I am generally opposed to No Child Left Behind. This issue and immigration are the two major points of disagreement that I have had with President Bush's policies. However, my objections are different than those of the education establishment. My objection comes from the fact that I actually believe the Tenth Amendment (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”) should actually mean something. I would prefer that the federal government have little to do with education. It is something that the states should address.
During President Bush's recent visit to Platte County, he was asked a question about No Child Left Behind. Bush said he was pushing for renewal. He explained that as Governor of Texas he was appalled that so many students would graduate from high school and not be able to read. He began efforts to raise the standards as Governor and took those efforts to the national stage when he went to Washington.
Bush said that being sure students can read “was a Republican value.”He acknowledged that local control of schools was better than federal interference. However, if federal dollars are going to schools, schools should be expected to prove that they are performing their stated purpose of educating.
The interesting thing is that the education establishment is not objecting to federal funding. They first objected that the standards are too hard. The humorous thing about this objection is that each State was allowed to set its own standards of proficiency. Missouri used a higher standard than most States, which apparently made it harder for Missouri schools to meet the standards. The really crazy thing about this is that the standard is supposed to measure proficiency in reading in math at certain grade levels. Many good schools have only 30% to 40% of their students testing as proficient. How is this possible? Isn't “proficient” sort of a minimum standard that nearly all students should meet? Shouldn't 90+% be testing as proficient?
The most recent objection is somewhat humorous. Some in the education establishment have complained that the efforts to improve their students' math and reading skills are distracting from teaching in other areas. Really? Are these schools so bad that they can not teach the kids to be proficient the minimum standard -- in one area without hurting other subject matters?
The education establishment does have one legitimate complaint. NCLB expects the standards to be met in all sub-classifications of students. They have all sorts of categories like free and reduced lunches, special education, English as a second language, etc. I would be in favor of cutting the schools some slack in some of these areas. I would not let them off for the free and reduced lunch students. (The less economically fortunate students need an education as much, if not more, than the wealthy students.) But, it would make sense to provide some breathing room when testing students with limited English skills and those with learning disabilities. These students can not be abandoned, but they have real issues that might make meeting the standards much more difficult.
My preference would be to adhere to the Tenth Amendment and keep the federal government out of the primary and secondary education business. If that is not possible, the federal government should be limited to gathering testing information from all the schools in the country. For that testing information to be comparable, it really needs to be based upon the same standards nationwide. And, while we need to keep the pressure on the schools to no longer graduate students who lack basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, the standards should provide a little slack--but not a lot-- for students with learning disabilities or who have English as a second language.
(Email James Thomas at email@example.com)
SEVERAL WAYS COURT PLAN COULD BE IMPROVED
Most Missouri counties elect their local judges. However, judges in the larger counties like Platte, Clay and Jackson Counties and the appellate level judges are selected by a plan call the Missouri Plan.
Under the Plan, a Judicial Selection Panel nominates three candidates for the governor to consider. The governor then selects one of these three nominees. If the governor refuses to select one of the three nominees, the Panel appoints one of the nominees.
The Panel is made up of an equal number of lawyers chosen by members of the Bar and lay people appointed by the governor and a judge. Since the judge is a lawyer, a majority of the members of the Panel are lawyers. The Panel will meet in secret and afterwards announce the three names to be submitted to the Governor for consideration.
Through the last several Governors, the panels have been willing to put forth bi-partisan nominees and give the sitting Governor at least one nominee acceptable to him despite the fact that a majority of the Panel members were appointed by a governor from the other political party. The Plan has come under substantial scrutiny because of a perception that the process is dominated by plaintiff lawyers.
The Bar adamantly defends the Plan, but it has several flaws. The most notable flaw is that the Plan resulted in the selection of a lawyer to the Supreme Court who flunked the Bar Exam twice or who at least was not admitted to the Bar until after the third offering of the Bar Exam after he finished law school. This same lawyer also fell off of the three year track to finish law school supposedly for academic reasons. You guessed it, plaintiff friendly Democrat lawyer appointed by a Democrat governor.
The Plan is flawed for several reasons. One of those is that a majority of the panel is made up of lawyers. All of these lawyers except the sitting judge are selected by the lawyers themselves. Unfortunately, the lawyers that tend to vote in these elections tend to be dominated by members of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys who actually only make up about 10% of the lawyers. This flaw could be fixed by adding to the panel two additional lay people chosen by the governor. This way a majority of the panel would be non-lawyers.
A second necessary fix is the actual selection process. Applicants for the last Supreme Court opening filled out a short questionnaire and appeared before the panel for a secret interview of approximately twenty minutes. What a joke! Our firm spends more than twenty minutes to interview secretarial candidates. Surely the process of selecting someone to sit on the Supreme Court deserves a substantially longer interview process.
Furthermore, the interview process should not be held in secret. This is an appointment to an important position in government. Selection of the three nominees should be a public interview process.
The governor should also have the ability to reject an entire slate of nominees and tell the Panel to go back and try again. This rejection process should not be allowed to go on forever, but the governor should not be forced to pick the least bad of the nominees that are sent to him or be faced with the Panel making the selection.
Finally, the Plan should apply everywhere in Missouri and not just in select counties.
I am outraged at the official position of the Bar. The Bar has adamantly defended the Plan as not being subject to any possible improvement. I could not disagree more. The leadership of the Bar should engage in the legislative process to encourage modest improvements of the Plan. This process would give the Bar more direct input in to the changes than a complete overhaul of the Plan through the initiative petition process, which is what the Bar is liable to get if they refuse to discuss minor changes to the Plan.
(Email James Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHRIS BENJAMIN PULLS A CHRIS KOSTER
I just finished a great book, American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis. It covered many historical events from 1775 to 1803, but one event that intrigued me was the development of the political party system.
It was interesting that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who so vocally opposed the concept of political parties by their public statements, were really at the very center of the creation of the political party system that has existed to this day. The two-faced conduct of Madison and Jefferson prompted me to think more about some recent party switchers.
The party switching by Chris Koster last August was not a complete surprise. I was a little surprised that he would abandon the party on whose ticket he ran for prosecutor three times and State Senator once. But, I always saw Koster as an opportunist who put his own self interest above any ideology. It was not hard to figure out that Koster would have a rough time in a Republican primary. Southwest Missouri and St. Louis play a significant role in Republican primaries. Koster's likely opponents were both from St. Louis. Koster's aggressive advocacy for cloning was going to make it difficult for him to win in southwest Missouri. Faced with these political realities, Koster went to the extreme of leaving the Republican Party in hopes of winning elective office.
The most recent defection is more of a surprise. Chris Benjamin, former chief of staff to Speaker Rod Jetton and former campaign manager for Eric Zahnd, has left the GOP to run as a Democrat for a State Senate seat.
I never trusted Koster. But, Benjamin is someone I have “been in the trenches with.” We have run door-to-door delivering campaign literature. We have worked phone banks together. We have given the best we had for our Republican candidates.During our working together, I was never aware of Benjamin's disagreement with the Republican agenda. I did not know he wanted higher taxes, excessive and burdensome regulations on businesses, more government handouts to people who are too lazy to get a job, amnesty for illegal immigrants, restrictions on gun ownership by law abiding citizens and abortion on demand as a method of birth control. But, a few weeks ago, Benjamin held a press conference in which he said the Republican Party did not represent his values. So, I can only assume that he must really want these things if he felt he had to leave the Republican Party.
My concern is three-fold. First, I am concerned that Benjamin so effectively hid his true feelings from those of us who worked so closely with him to advance the Republican agenda. Second, I am concerned that as the Speaker's chief of staff he has been at the center of many strategy sessions for the 2008 campaign cycle and is now “playing for the other team” with all that inside knowledge. Third, and this is the worst, prior to his party switch, Benjamin was serving as campaign manager for the Republican candidate he is now running against.
It will be interesting to watch Benjamin as he campaigns. I do not believe he will abandon conservative values. I suspect that in reality he was simply disappointed that he was not the favorite candidate of the Republican insiders so he “pulled a Koster” and switched parties to avoid what would likely be a difficult primary.
Political parties are an interesting creation. There is not and never will be complete agreement amongst all of a political party's members. However, there is enough agreement on core principles to form the foundation for an alliance for promoting a legislative agenda. Therefore, the most important vote that a legislator casts in the furtherance of that legislative agenda is the vote for the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tem of the Senate.
(Never a suspect to switch parties, our right-hand man can be reached at email@example.com)
BUSH WILL BE REMEMBERED AS A REALLY GOOD PRESIDENT
I almost didn't go see President Bush when he was in town recently because it always takes so much time out of my day. But I went because I was not sure if I would get another chance to see the President in person. I am sure glad I went.
Bush is great at Republican and informal small group events. I saw him at the White House in the spring of 2002. He was relaxed and informal. He was on a similar roll earlier this month at the home of John and Twila Wilson. Bush was relaxed, gave a lot of comments and took a lot of questions.
I am more convinced than ever that Bush has a clear vision for America on many issues and especially on the challenges presented by the Middle East. I sleep better at night hearing Bush describe his appreciation of the risks presented by the terrorists and his proposed response to those risks. He is committed to doing whatever he can to support our military's mission of hunting down the terrorists. This is a president who, unlike his predecessor, has not ignored terrorist attacks on America. He has responded by unleashing the best trained and best equipped fighting force in the world to take the fight to the terrorists and sought to remove roadblocks to our various law enforcement and intelligence agencies sharing information about the enemies of America.
Bush also has a vision of democracy. He is seeking to harness what he calls the “transformative power of liberty.” His vision is that creating a democracy in Iraq not only makes Iraq a better place, but also adds stability to the whole region.
Bush talked about a very real example from just two generations ago. Bush's father was a pilot who fought the Japanese in World War II. The attack on Pearl Harbor and the brutal struggle over the next several years left a great deal of animosity towards the Japanese. However, after the war America planted the seeds of democracy that led to a flourishing Japan. The prime minister of that democracy is now someone the son of that WWII pilot calls one of his “greatest allies” in the war on a new terror in the world.
After his speech, Bush took questions from the audience. There were many good questions, but I only have space for one this week. One woman noted that in the Democrat response to the State of the Union, Governor Sebelius said we should not ask anything of the American people. (This is just the opposite of JFK's famous quote of “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”) The woman asked if Bush would ask anything of the American people and, if so, what? Bush's response was “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (I recall someone else saying that.)
Bush emphasized that we should not wait for the government to find a solution to someone else's suffering. We, as individual and participants in the many social benefit organizations, should strive to help our fellow man. Bush noted that on his travels around America he recognizes a volunteer at each city he visits in order to promote this philosophy.
Bush has taken a lot of hits in the press and the polls. However, I am convinced that history (albeit maybe 20 or 30 years from now) will remember him as a really good president or at least the right person at the right time. His strong position on terrorism and Iraq will go down in history as the right thing to do. Bush is thinking about what is best for America in the long run not just what is best for just the next election cycle. I admire him for that.
(Email James Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org)
WE NEED ANOTHER REAGAN TO UNITE CONSERVATIVES
I have always had an interest in dates that mark the anniversaries of historic events. One of those dates is Feb. 6. Feb. 6 is not just the eve of my oldest daughter's birthday, which is obviously important to me. It is also Ronald Reagan's birthday. That alone is a big deal to me since Reagan is my favorite president, at least of my lifetime, and possibly of all 43.
But Reagan's birth is not the most significant event for me that is tied to Feb. 6. A more significant event is a speech that Reagan gave to a group of Republicans in New Hampshire on Feb. 6, 1977. This speech has been dubbed as the speech which inaugurated “The New Republican Party.”
Reagan's speech discussed that a majority of Americans identified themselves as conservatives. He acknowledged that there were those who might only be social conservatives or fiscal conservatives. Reagan called for a unification of all conservatives “. . . to create a political entity that will reflect the views of the great, hitherto [unacknowledged], conservative majority.” He also called for an inclusion in the Republican Party of those people who may be in the Republican Party, but who may not identify themselves as conservatives. This was his vision of the “New Republican Party.”
The full text of the speech can be found at http://Reagan2020.us/speeches/The_New_Republican_Party.asp.His speech inspires me every time I read it and expresses why I am a Republican.Reagan emphasizes that conservatism is not an ideology that is derived from ignoring incongruent facts like Marxism, but instead conservatism “. . . is the antithesis of the kind of ideological fanaticism that has brought so much horror and destruction to the world. The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way -- this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before.”
Reagan says “The American new conservative majority we represent is not based on abstract theorizing of the kind that turns off the American people, but on common sense, intelligence, reason, hard work, faith in God, and the guts to say: "Yes, there are things we do strongly believe in, that we are willing to live for, and yes, if necessary, to die for." That is not "ideological purity." It is simply what built this country and kept it great.” Reagan says “our task now is not to sell a philosophy, but to make the majority of Americans, who already share that philosophy, see that modern conservatism offers them a political home. We are . . . members of a majority. Let's act and talk like it.”
And most importantly, Reagan's focus was always on what was best for America and all Americans. This vision for America is reflected in his closing line of his speech where he states “Then with God's help we shall indeed be as a city upon a hill with the eye of all people upon us.”
America and the Republican Party were at a crossroads in 1977. They both are at similar crossroads as we enter this presidential election season.
Reagan united conservatives under his vision for a better America and led us forward. We need that again. Maybe someone will restate those common sense conservative principles that Reagan stated so eloquently on the night of Feb. 6, 1977 and lead us on to a better future.
I sure hope there will be a positive and historically significant date from 2008 to add to my personal list of dates to celebrate.
(Email James Thomas at email@example.com)
BLUNT MATURE, NIXON IMMATURE
I have never been a fan of Jay Nixon. I have never been convinced that he has strongly defended Missouri laws when those laws are not to his political liking. I am irritated that Nixon gave millions of dollars in legal fees from the tobacco settlement to his political cronies. But, Nixon's reaction to Governor Blunt's declining to seek re-election shows his immaturity. Blunt said he was resigning because he had accomplished his goals and he wanted to spend more time with his family. Nixon responded by holding a press conference and saying his campaign “had a lot to do with” Blunt's decision to not seek re-election.
Blunt campaigned for Governor with a detailed agenda to address wasteful spending, tort reform, job creation and other important issues. Blunt has done an exceptional job of accomplishing those goals. In fact, nearly all of his goals were accomplished in his first few months in office.
Blunt had the benefit of a Republican legislature, but he did not inherit a good situation. Under Carnahan and Holden, government hand outs had expanded to a point that they were overwhelming the State's budget and were destined to bankrupt the state if not addressed. Missouri faced a $1 billion (with a “B”) shortfall. Holden had even gone so far as to withhold budgeted money from our schools!
Blunt with the help of a good staff and other Republican officeholders -- turned the budget deficit in to a budget surplus. He did this without raising taxes. He even did this while increasing funding for our schools and cutting taxes. The bottom line is that Blunt delivered on the commitments made in his campaign and cleaned up the mess created by 12 years of tax and spend policies.
I respect Blunt's desire to spend more time with his family. We have a saying in the legal profession that “The law is a cruel mistress.” The practice of law like the pursuit of any career or business venture requires a lot of time. Sadly, I have known many lawyers who have let their dedication to their law practice destroy their marriage and family. You can take the strain on your marriage and family that a commitment to a profession causes and multiply it tenfold when it comes to campaigning for state-wide office. For the next eleven months Blunt was faced with not only the heavy burden of managing the affairs of Missouri, but also spending all of his remaining waking moments raising money and campaigning around the state. Blunt's son is now in those wonderful toddler years. To run for re-election Blunt would miss nearly all of the next 11 months of his son's life.
The time commitment of a statewide campaign does not even consider the strain on your family of being constantly criticized by the often misinformed and usually biased media and usually intentionally hateful media supplement of the blogging world. As the spouse of a former state-wide candidate, I can tell you that this kind of stress is often harder on the spouse than it is on the candidate. I respect Blunt for not wanting to put his wife through this.
Blunt was well positioned for beating Nixon. Blunt's record of delivering on his campaign promises and his monster fund raising lead over Nixon put him in a strong position. Nixon had a lead in a few polls, but the only poll that matters is the one taken on Election Day. Once Blunt used his campaign resources to overcome the biased liberal media and share with the voters the real facts about his delivering on his campaign promises, victory was not guaranteed, but clearly achievable.
Few politicians ever walk away from a good prospect for re-election. Blunt's willingness to do so has increased my respect for him as a husband, a father and a politician. Nixon's reaction to Blunt's very mature decision demonstrates how immature Nixon is.
(Email James Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org)
WILL THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION BE LIKE 1976?
A few months ago, one of my Republican friends predicted that the presidential nominee might not be chosen until a heated political convention. That is not practical in today's political environment, but it sounds like fun to some political junkies who have studied political convention history -- like the 1860 convention that selected Lincoln as the nominee after three ballots.
This is a historically significant presidential election. Not since 1928 has there been a presidential primary election in which a sitting or former President or Vice President was not on the ballot. (You might say “What about 1952?” But, if you remember, Harry Truman participated in the early presidential primary process in 1952 before deciding to not seek re-election.) The lack of a clear front runner or “heir apparent” to the nomination has created a wide open nominating process in both parties. (Although Clinton's former residency in the White House may make this a little less true on the Democrat side.)
Many of my Republican friends have expressed dissatisfaction with our field of candidates, but Jack Cashill, a Republican activist, writer, documentary producer and sometimes radio host, has a different perspective. Cashill believes this is the most qualified collection of presidential candidates he has seen in decades. The Republicans have a diverse group of candidates. They range from Rudy Giuliani, who is fairly liberal by modern Republican standards, to Ron Paul, who is a libertarian-type candidate. In between there are a couple of guys namely Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson -- who are claiming to be the “Reagan candidate.” Then there are Mike Huckabee, who is a populist on many issues, and John McCain, who has always been somewhat of a maverick.
The nominating process has been severely compressed this year. The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary were held in early January. By the end of the day on February 5, more than half of the states will have held their presidential primaries or caucuses. This compression of the selection process has prompted a new strategy that I am not aware of having ever been tried before. Giuliani has chosen to run a February 5 strategy where he counts on wins in big states like New York and California to give him the nomination. However, this approach has caused Giuliani to forego the momentum that can be gained from winning in early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Romney has followed the more traditional model of trying to compete in each state and win as many as possible. Romney seems to have the money to keep up this strategy longer than some of the other candidates. This strategy has also given him an early lead in the delegate count. Despite a “shoe string” budget Mike Huckabee attracted a lot of conservative support in the last few weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses. His win there gave his campaign new strength. Fred Thompson probably has better conservative credentials than any of the Republican candidates, but his campaign has not seemed to ever get on track. Then there is John McCain. McCain's positions on campaign finance and illegal immigration are disturbing to many conservatives. However, no one can question his dedicated service to his country both in the military and now in the U.S. Senate. McCain's campaign appeared to be dead last summer. McCain's wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina have given his campaign new life.
Not since 1976 have the Republicans gone to a nominating convention without already knowing who will be the nominee. Depending on how Feb. 5 turns out, this might be the year that happens again.
(Our right winger James Thomas is active in Platte County and Missouri politics. Email him at email@example.com)
EARMARKS NOT THE PROBLEM--SPENDING IS THE PROBLEM
Last week I told you why “earmarks” are not necessarily bad. It is very important that our elected leaders be the ones to decide how to spend federal money. An “earmark” allocates federal money to a specific project. Without an “earmark” the decision of how to spend certain federal money is often left to unelected bureaucrats. By “earmarking” money, Congress is using its authority as our elected representatives to decide how to spend our money instead of just giving it to someone else to decide how to spend.
The earmark process is not perfect. Reforms are needed. The biggest problem is that Congress is spending way too much money. The problem is not that Congress is saying “Spend the money this way.” The problem is that Congress is spending more than we can afford. Besides cutting overall spending, we need a system that provides clearer attribution and public disclosure of earmarks and a mechanism for challenging individual earmarks.
No earmark should be allowed unless one or more Congressmen or Senators accepts responsibility for it. Some earmarked projects make perfect sense (e.g., fixing a particular bridge). Other projects are just stupid (e.g., studying the impact of cow flatulence on global temperatures). Clearer attribution is needed so that when there is a stupid project, the particular Congressman can be subjected to appropriate ridicule and eventual removal from office by the voters.
Public disclosure of earmarks should be required before they are approved. One survey showed that 69% of Americans -- 71% of Republicans, 68% of Democrats and 73% of independents -- favor requiring Congress to post the details of all earmarks on the internet at least 72 hours before they can be voted upon. With that kind of bi-partisan support, this is something we should definitely do.
There also needs to be a mechanism for challenging individual earmarks. Earmark reform legislation has been proposed by Republicans in Congress. However, Speaker Pelosi has not allowed it to come up for a vote. My preference is that every earmark be subject to a “Yea” or “Nay” vote. I am not sure if this would be practical. However, by at least having the ability to challenge individual earmarks, many of the bad spending decisions could be stopped. Fighting for reforms of the earmark process is what is needed instead of our elected representatives adopting a policy of not supporting any earmarks. We elect our representatives to fight for our interests. Examples of those interests as expressed by multiple local government and civic organizations -- are improvements to 45 Highway and additional river crossings of the Missouri River. Both of these projects have been the subject of earmarks.
By Sen. McCaskill not participating in the earmarking process she is actually hurting Missourians. In funding bills like the transportation bill, there is a mechanism for creating an allocation of the money among the states. Some earmarks come out of the total pot of money before it is allocated to the states under the allocation formula. By not participating in these earmarks, Missourians actually end up with less money for highway projects.
The money that Washington is “giving away” is our money. So, we should not let our local interests prevent needed reforms. We need to demand that Congress not spend more than it takes in. We also need to require all earmarks be (1) attributed to one or more sponsors (2) publicly disclosed prior to approval and (3) subject to individual scrutiny.
With these types of reforms, we can keep spending decisions in the hands of our elected representatives instead of unelected bureaucrats, cut down on overall spending and have a mechanism for challenging bad earmarks.
(James C. Thomas III is an active participant in Republican politics in Platte County. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
EARMARKS ARE NOT ALWAYS A FOUR-LETTER WORD
Some believe “earmarks” are a four letter word in politics. My first thought was to agree. But, as I thought about it more, I realized that the answer was, “It depends.” For that answer to make sense, you need to understand how many projects are funded. Road and bridge projects are a great example to consider.
Many road and bridge projects are funded with 80% federal money and 20% local money or some similar mix of federal, state and local money. In some cases a “block” of federal money will come to a state or local organization (e.g., the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT)). MoDOT will then have broad discretion on how to spend this money. Or, the federal money will come as an “earmark” so that it has to be spent on a specific project. The Missouri Highway Commission -- with a great deal of input from MoDOT staff -- decides how to spend the discretionary federal money. Public hearings are held at which various associations (e.g., the Northland Chamber or Platte County Economic Development Council), organizations (e.g., a school district, city or county) or even individual citizens will make presentations to MoDOT on why their projects are more worthy for funding than other projects. Then, MoDOT will make its own decision on what to do with the money.
In some case, certain organizations, such as the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), have a great deal of influence over the allocation of these resources. Sometimes there is a massive cooperative effort to fund a specific project. Many local organizations such as the Northland Regional Chamber, Platte County EDC, MARC, etc. may unite to say, “This project is important to us. We want it funded.” In some of these cases the organization will seek a Congressional “earmark” for their specific project. Occasionally, the pursuit of a Congressional earmark is done with the cooperation of MoDOT. For example, during the long negotiations that led up to the last federal transportation bill, MoDOT sent its own representatives to Washington to generally participate in the process and fight for specific projects.
There are several local projects where such cooperative efforts have been employed. One such example is the improvements to 45 Highway. Another example is the Paseo Bridge expansion. Other times a particular local project does not have an impact that is far-reaching enough to get support from far beyond the local area so smaller alliances are formed to pursue an earmark for the project. An example would be the Liberty School District and the City of Liberty joining forces to get a federal earmark for what they call the Flintlock Flyover to address safety for children on the way to school and traffic congestion in and around Liberty.
There are two reasons why “earmarks” are not always bad. First, most earmarks occur after local government and civic leaders have cooperated to determine what are the most worthy projects and then they have joined forces to convince our elected representatives in Washington that the particular project is so worthy that it should be the subject of an earmark. Second, when federal money is not designated for a specific project, unelected bureaucrats have a great deal of influence over how these resources are allocated. Doesn't it make sense that our elected representatives in Washington have the ability to designate how these resources are allocated by “earmarking” these funds instead of leaving these critical decisions up to a bunch of unelected bureaucrats?
(Reach local Republican activist James Thomas at email@example.com)
FEAR A GOVERNMENT THAT TRIES TO RESTRICT YOUR CHOICES
I am always amused by the way a saying on a t-shirt can sum up an important concept so concisely. I saw a good one the other day:
I love my country. It’s the government I’m afraid of.
I get more afraid of the government every day.
Just last week Congress adopted increased gas mileage standards for auto manufacturers. What?!? Why is this even a subject of government action?
A car's gas mileage is one factor to consider when purchasing a car, but it is not the only consideration. Other factors include cost, safety, reliability and passenger comforts. The consumers (and NOT the government) should decide whether gas mileage is more important than other factors when considering the purchase of a car.
Some experts predict that the new standards will significantly increase the cost of cars. One expert predicted a price increase of $6,000 to $8,000. Ouch!
The increased cost is disturbing, but not my biggest concern. I am more concerned with safety and the availability of a car that I want to buy.
My wife drives a Suburban. I was opposed to buying it because it cost so much money; however, I conceded because of the safety it provides. (Also, like all good husbands, I caved because it was what my wife wanted.) At over three tons it is a beast. A few weeks ago someone ran in to the back of the Suburban. The impact did nothing except scratch the trailer hitch. The other car a little car that probably gets great gas mileage -- needed a new front end. The safety of my wife and kids is important to me.
But safety is just one factor. The Suburban offers a great deal of comfort for up to eight passengers and still leaves plenty of cargo space. We take the Suburban when we travel around Missouri or when we go somewhere with my parents. Although I didn't originally want my wife to buy it, I am now convinced that it is the perfect vehicle for our family. (I became thoroughly sold when I finally got to drive it a couple of times during the 2006 campaign.) I would trade in my Buick for one if it wouldn't set off the height alarm in the parking garage at my office everyday.
I fear two effects of these new gas mileage standards. First, I fear that manufacturers will strip even more steel out of the vehicles and add more plastic. My wife's 65 Mustang probably has more steel in it than the Suburban has now. I can't imagine what will happen when they try to make it lighter to achieve greater fuel efficiency. That is a safety risk. Second, I fear that they might stop making the Suburban and leave you with only “baby SUV” choices. (The “baby SUV” is a description my daughters came up with a few years ago. They saw our Suburban from above parked next to an Explorer, an Expedition and a Tahoe and exclaimed, “Look Mom. Baby SUVs!”)
Freedom is the ability to make your own choices. I fear a government that wants to restrict my choices. If the American people want more fuel efficient cars, they will purchase those types of cars. This will force the auto industry to change its available choices. It is my understanding that this process has already begun with SUVs now being less popular with consumers. The government should just stay out of it and let supply and demand work. Consumers (and not the government) should determine what choices we have.
(Get more mileage out of The Right Stuff every week. Email James at firstname.lastname@example.org)
TIS THE SEASON
This time of year people are more generous than usual and often think a little more about giving to others. That is great!
I am a strong advocate for charitable giving and doing things to help other people. But, that does not mean I am generally in favor of the government taking the money of the citizens to do those things.
A strange coalition has been developing in a few places -- the joining of forces of the double liberals (both socially and fiscally) and fiscal liberals who are socially conservative. What I am talking about are people who read their Bibles (people the double liberals would normally insult with labels like “Bible Thumpers”) and interpret Matthew 22:37-40 and Matthew 25:34-46 to say that God wants us to raise everyone's taxes and give it to the less fortunate.
I am not a professionally trained theologian, but I couldn't disagree more. When Jesus talks about helping other people, He is not talking about creating a government program that involuntarily extracts money from people to give to the government for redistribution to other people. My un-trained theological understanding is that He is telling us not us through involuntary government programs to go out and help other people. (On a non-political note, we are to do this to “express our thanks” for what God has done for us and not in an effort to “earn” a ticket to heaven since that “ticket” was already paid for by no effort on our part, but that is beyond the scope of a political commentary.)
How is it a sacrifice and a commitment to a fellow human being when it is something the government forces you to do? It isn't.
I always laugh at the politicians who advocate increasing social programs, but whose charitable contributions are a tiny sum compared to their income. When Al Gore was running for president he disclosed on a tax return that he made several hundred thousand dollars a year; however, his charitable contributions were something like $300. Gore was advocating that we increase government spending on social programs, but his political advocacy was inconsistent with his personal commitment. What a joke!
Please do not misinterpret my position. I am not against doing things to help the less fortunate. In fact, I feel much to the contrary. But, I want to encourage people to do those things instead of expecting the government to do those things.
The needs of the less fortunate can be tackled in an organized manner. You can probably be part of such an effort through your church. Or, if you are not associated with a church or do not want to be associated with a bunch of “Bible Thumpers,” you can do those things through independent organizations like Hillcrest Transitional Housing, which provides transitional housing to the homeless. It is a “teach a man to fish” organization that my wife, my daughters and I all support. But I should warn you that although not affiliated with any particular church, a lot of the folks involved in the organization are trying to follow Jesus' teaching of “loving their neighbor.”
Please give to help others not only during this Christmas season, but all year long. You can do so through your church or through other non-religious organizations. But when you do it, do it out of “love for your neighbor” and not because the government makes you.
(Email your thoughts to email@example.com)
THE PAUL MORRISON SITUATION IS REALLY ABOUT OFFICIAL MISCONDUCT, NOT THE SEX ANGLE
Paul Morrison's announcement of his resignation as Kansas Attorney General on Friday could have lost me a bet.
On Sunday, Dec. 9 one of my friends e-mailed me the article from The Topeka Capital Journal that exposed Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison's alleged affair and sexual harassment of an employee of the Kansas District Attorney's Office where he served for 18 years before being elected Kansas Attorney General in 2006. When discussing the issue with one of my co-workers who has been very involved in Kansas politics, he said Morrison would be forced to resign. I didn't think so. If we had bet on it, I would have lost.
A politician cheating on his or her spouse is and should be considered a big deal even though it involves the politician's personal life and not the performance of the duties of the elected office. The most important relationship you have in this world is with your spouse. If a politician will cheat on his or her spouse, that politician will obviously have no problem cheating “Joe Taxpayer” or anyone else for that matter. So, this personal issue is relevant to a politician's character and impacts the suitability for that person to hold public office. But, in our current social and political climate I did not think that was enough to force Morrison to resign.
This situation is really about much more than an extra-marital affair. It is alleged that Morrison was using the woman to influence pending litigation involving the current occupant of the Kansas District Attorney's Office and to spy on other activities in the office he formerly held. If true, that would clearly involve Morrison's performance of the duties as Attorney General. But, given the Bill Clinton experience, I did not think that issue would be enough to force Morrison to resign.
The Clinton issue was a serious one. He lied under oath in a legal proceeding. Perjury! That is a big deal for anyone. It is much worse for a lawyer. (Remember that Clinton lost his license to practice law over his perjury.) It is even worse for the President of the United States.
But, Clinton and his friends in the media prevented the issue from ever being about perjury. Instead, the issue became about sex. We heard about a blue dress and other such things, but the media did not focus on the real issue, which is that Clinton had committed perjury. After hearing about Clinton's extra-marital escapades for months, the public reached a point where it bought in to the idea that the issue was about sex and not about perjury. Although Clinton was impeached, he was not convicted at the trial.
Besides, Morrison is now a Democrat. Extra-marital affairs are seen as a “badge of honor” or “right of passage” to many members of the Democrat Party. I did not think his fellow Democrats would hold him accountable for his actions.
So, if you had asked me to place a wager on Morrison's future, I would have said the story will stay out there, but instead of being about improper conduct in office, it will become about sex. We will hear all sorts of details about unusual locations and secret liaisons. But, at the end of the day the official misconduct will be ignored and the affair will be discarded as a personal issue that does not have anything to do with his public service.
Fortunately for the people of Kansas, I was wrong. And, fortunately for me, I did not bet a lunch on whether Morrison would resign because I would have lost.
(James Thomas also did not bet the over/under on how many judges’ offices were christened by Morrison and his love partner. Reach James at firstname.lastname@example.org)
HERE'S A THREE-STEP PLAN TO FIXING THE ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION PROBLEM IN OUR COUNTRY
Last week I noted that the national security risks and economic costs require that something must be done to address illegal immigration. First and foremost, we need to enforce the laws currently on the books. After that there are three essential elements to my proposed fix.
First, we need to address the definition of citizenship. Section 1 of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution says “All persons born . . . in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States . . . .” So, women who are nine months pregnant are crossing the Rio Grande to give birth to their children just so their children will be U.S. citizens. We can fix this by making it clear that being born in the United States only makes you a citizen if your mother is in the country legally at the time of your birth. I understand that this might require a constitutional amendment, but so what. It is that important.
Second, we need to cut off access to welfare and public education. Under current law some of these newly born citizens are receiving welfare benefits. Since the citizen is actually a child, we are paying those welfare benefits to illegal aliens on behalf of the child. Also, the courts have held that states have to educate these children. So, in addition to the child being eligible for welfare, we have to spend our limited public education resources to serve these children. Neither of these should be permitted or required.
Third, we need to cut off access to illegal employment. We can do that by cracking down on those who hire illegal immigrants. We already have laws on the books on this subject so the first thing to do is enforce those laws, including fining those businesses that hire illegal immigrants. However, another penalty we should add is that wages paid to workers who do not have Social Security numbers that match to their names should not be deductible for federal income tax purposes. To protect honest businesses there needs to be an easy and efficient way that an employer can quickly run a name/Social Security match and address accidental discrepancies (e.g., transposed numbers or misspelled names). If the illegal immigrants are just looking for work, but can’t find it, the theory is that they will voluntarily go home.
We should not offer amnesty to illegal immigrants. Congress may choose to ease the restrictions on immigration. However, such a policy should NOT let people off the hook because they broke the law and are already here.
If a less restrictive policy on immigration is adopted, we should give illegal immigrants a short period of time to voluntarily leave the country and then make application to re-enter the country under the more lenient procedures. We can then allow them to legally enter this country and, after following the normal procedures, they can apply for citizenship. BUT, if illegal immigrants are caught in this country after the grace period, then such illegal immigrants should not be allowed to apply for re-entry for five years or some similar penalizing period. (Of course if illegal immigrants are caught during the grace period they should still be deported, but Congress might let them reenter under the more lenient procedures without a penalty period.)
I do not want to discourage immigrants who want to come to America and build better lives for their families. That is what America is all about. But, we should not condone illegal behavior even if done with good motives. It isn’t fair to those who are trying to enter the country legally.
(Fixing the illegal immigration problem is just one of many issues James Thomas will tackle in his role as Landmark columnist. Tackle James via email to email@example.com)
WHEN IT COMES TO IMMIGRATION, IT'S THE ILLEGALS--NOT THE LEGALS--THAT ARE THE PROBLEM
One of the hottest issues today is illegal immigration. When discussion this issues, we need to keep in mind that we are not talking about legal immigration. Almost all of us are descendants of immigrants. Immigrants have made and will continue to make this country great. We need to respect the idea that people want to come to America.
We should not be surprised about the desire of others to come to America and improve themselves. Despite serious flaws with certain policies of this country, it is still the greatest country on earth (at least until the liberals ruin it). We have a great deal of freedom to generally do whatever we want. Some choose to waste that freedom on foolish and unproductive behavior. (That is fine so long as those that choose this path do not harm others and willingly accept the consequences of their actions.) But, there is the opportunity to take that freedom and use it to lead a responsible and financially comfortable faith-based life.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a first generation example of an immigrant who has made the most of what this country has to offer. Shoji Tabuchi, a violin-playing immigrant from Japan, came to this country with $500 in his pocket. He migrated from California to Kansas City and even spent some time performing in Riverside. Then, he ended up in Branson, where he now has his own show in a nice theater with a great group of performers and supporting team members. During his show, Tabuchi now proudly claims his naturalization as an American citizen.
So, the concern over immigration is not over legal immigration. We embrace it and the strength it gives to our country. What we do have to address is illegal immigration.
Although there are other concerns, there are two major concerns with illegal immigration. First, there are national security concerns. Many of the 9/11 terrorists entered the country illegally. The terrorists did not sneak in to the country by slipping across the border during the dark of night (although they could have), but they did exploit the legal entry systems by various means including false statements in applications for visas, using the wrong type of visas, etc. The bottom line is that if we had stopped the terrorists at the border, they would not have been able to carry out their acts of terrorism.
The second major concern is the burden it is placing on social services and our education and criminal justice systems. The problem is not as obvious to us in our day-to-day lives. But, let’s consider a few statistics.
One statistic claims that nearly 60% of the occupants of HUD properties are illegal. This statistic may not be entirely accurate, but an internal HUD audit shows that correct identifying information is not being collected for a large percentage of the HUD housing. Another statistic claims that 29% of illegal immigrants are on welfare. I don’t know if 29% is true, but a 1997 General Accounting Office report determined that in 1995 households headed by illegal aliens received a total of $700 million in AFDC benefits and $430 million in Food Stamps. The LA County Sheriff reported in 2000 that 23% of inmates in county jails were deportable. A study by a professor at Rice University estimated that the cost of illegal immigration to the American taxpayer in 1997 was a net $70 billion (with a “B”).
The bottom line is that something must be done to address illegal immigration. The national security risks and economic costs simply demand it. Stay tuned next week for a list of proposed solutions.
(James C. Thomas III gives readers the right stuff on a weekly basis here in your Landmark. Email him in perfectly legal fashion to firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE GOP BETTER REPRESENTS THE PRINCIPLE THAT U.S. IS THE GREATEST COUNTRY ON EARTH
What does it mean to be a Republican? That is a question that could take quite a while to answer. The Republican platform that was adopted at the 2004 Republican National Convention is over 90 pages long. Also, not all Republicans agree on everything. However, I have a t-shirt that provides a definition of a Republican.
It reads like this:
(ri-peb’-li-ken) n. 1: the Grand Old Party; 2: known for conservative money policy; 3: thinks giving a hand up is better than giving a hand out; 4: the party of Lincoln and Reagan; 5: someone who wants to see more accountability and less government; 6: thinks the USA is the greatest country on earth.
This pretty much sums it up for me.
I am a Republican because of my belief in conservative fiscal policies. I am against higher taxes. In fact, I would encourage lower taxes to stimulate the economy. But, right along with tax policy is spending policy. I am opposed to the government spending more money than it takes in.
I am a big fan of the “teach a man to fish” philosophy. In this great country with all its wealth and abundance, no one should ever have to go hungry. When we see someone in need, we should help them out. But, we need to help people in a way that not only feeds them today, but also prepares them to feed themselves tomorrow. That is why my wife and I are such active supporters of Hillcrest Transitional Housing, which provides transitional housing to the homeless, but ties that to a “tough love” program — you have to learn to budget responsibly and be looking for work or actually working to participate in the program. Help a man when he is down, but don’t help him so much that he never learns to take care of himself.
I am a strong advocate of greater accountability in government. I mean “What the heck are they spending all that money on?” For example, I did not know whether to laugh or cry when listening to people talking on the radio recently about the so-called “art” that is going up in Johnson County. But, we are not immune from such crazy spending. All you have to do is look at the top of Bartle Hall to ask, “Why did we pay X-thousand of dollars for the curler and other ornaments on top of that building?” And, the wasteful local spending is nothing compared to the silly things the federal government has been known to spend money on.
I believe in less government. Why does the government have to regulate every aspect of our lives? As a lawyer who advises business clients, there is a government regulation for about everything a business does. But, let’s consider something even closer to home. Why does the government have to regulate the size of the toilet in my house? And, all of this government regulation just increases the cost of government.
The saddest difference between Democrats and Republicans is the Democrats’ attitude about our country. I know there are many local Democrats who are patriots, who love this country and who have fought for this country. But an on-going theme of the national Democrat party has included an “anti-American” or “America IS the problem” attitude. I’m proud to be an American and humbled by those brave men and women who have fought (and in some cases been injured or even died) to protect the freedoms that this country provides.
This truly is the greatest country on earth. And, to me, the Republican Party respects that principle more than the Democrat Party.
(Pity the fool who tries to tell James Thomas what size toilet to put in his house. And then email the columnist at email@example.com)
CONTINUING TO FIGHT FOR FISCAL CONSERVATISM
A few days ago a reminder notice popped up on my calendar. It was a reminder of the historic events of November 8, 1994.
That was a day filled with politically significant events not only locally (Republicans took control of the Platte County Commission and many other county offices) but more importantly, nationally as Republicans took over Congress for the first time since early in the Eisenhower Administration (i.e., before I was born).
A significant factor in the Republican victories – besides Bill Clinton abandoning his campaign promise of a middle class tax cut and replacing it with the biggest tax increase in history and Hillary Clinton trying to take over the health care industry – was the Republican’s “Contract with America.”
Newt Gingrich, who would become Speaker of the House after the Republican victories in 1994, wanted to craft a unified message for Republican candidates for Congress that would run on a list of specific issues rather than the failures of Democrat officeholders. In an interview with the Washington Post before the 1994 elections, Gingrich said “We thought a positive Party, standing on the Capitol steps, offering a positive set of things people actually want . . . would be a healthy antidote to the level of anger at [then-President] Clinton and the level of negativism.”
The Contract with America actually had two parts. The first part was a list of reforms that were aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government. These reforms included things like requiring all laws that apply to the rest of the country to apply equally to Congress, selecting an independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud and abuse, requiring a three-fifth majority to pass a tax increase, and requiring all committee meetings to be open to the public. These reforms were in the nature of House Rules that were all passed on the first day of the new Congress.
The second part called for a list of specific pieces of legislation to be brought to a floor vote within the first 100 days of the new Congress. This legislation included a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, term limits, Social Security reform, regulatory reform and tort reform. The new Congress met its promise of putting all of this legislation to a vote in the House within the first 100 days. Except for term limits, all of these reforms were passed in the House. However, when some of the reforms reached the Senate, they died. For example, neither the balanced budget amendment nor the regulatory reform passed in the Senate.
Several factors led to the Republican’s loss of control of Congress on Nov. 7, 2006 – just 12 years after the Contract with America. Iraq was certainly one of those factors. But, I would argue that more important than Iraq is that some Republican elected officials lost sight of the Republican message of the Contract – most notably lower taxes and less spending.
Some Republican Congressmen, like our own Sam Graves, have continued fighting for conservative fiscal policies. On a recent trip to Washington, I met some other young Congressmen who are now in leadership positions in the Republican Congressional delegation and who are also fighting for these principles. This gave me new hope that the core Republican principles are still alive. In the next few weeks I hope to share with you some things I learned on this trip.
(James C. Thomas III is active an active participant in Republican politics. Like it or not, his column appears in your Landmark weekly. Reach him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
TOO MUCH TABLE-POUNDING IN POLITICS TODAY
Last week I set the stage for who my opinions should be attributed to. (The short answer was, “No one but me.”) This week I want to address one other important point before beginning to address substantive topics next week.
Political discourse has really deteriorated. In some cases it has been reduced to shouting and name-calling. This is not productive. People should be able to disagree and even take completely opposite positions and still be able discuss those positions in a polite and intelligent manner.
When Ivan asked me to begin writing this column a couple of weeks ago, he told me my column would run side-by-side with one by Russ Purvis. My response was, “Great!”
Although Russ is a Democrat and chairman of the local Democrat Party, we have a very good relationship. As political operatives who practice law for our day jobs, we understand that we can each advocate for our parties and our candidates, but that advocacy should be courteous and fact-based. At the end of the day we respect each other personally and professionally. In fact, we have even joined forces in certain non-partisan arenas, including both supporting Paul Danaher for the city council of Kansas City and both opposing some dumb things advocated at City Hall.
It is easy for me to get along with Russ for two reasons. First, he does not think “too much” of himself. Some political-types can be pretty puffed up about themselves. Second, while he is a Democrat, he is not one of those liberal-on-every-issue Democrats. Fiscally, he and I will agree on many things. And, on many non-fiscal issues he is more like an “old Missouri Democrat” than a “Nancy Pelosi-like Democrat.”
The point is that people – especially those engaged in the political process – need to be able to have an open and honest discussion about a topic without resorting to name-calling and petty bickering. I realize that in some cases that is the only tool that some people have available to them. When faced with “unpleasant facts” all the defenders of a position can do is try to demagogue their opponents. I know because my friends and I have been the subject of such demagoguery by “fact-less” opponents.
There is a joke among lawyers that “When the law is on your side, pound on the law. When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts. When you have neither, pound on the table.” That may make us chuckle. But the bottom line is that we see too much “table pounding” in politics today.
Russ and I have not yet been asked to write point–counterpoint columns. However, from time to time we may do that. When we do, I suspect that neither of us will resort to demagoguery or “table pounding.” We will each advocate strongly for our particular position. We will challenge the wisdom and strength of the other’s analysis. However, when all is said and done, we will be able to shake hands, treat each other with respect and enjoy our favorite beverage at Nick & Jake’s.
I would encourage all of you who are interested in political issues to do the same. Disagree. There is nothing wrong with that. But, don’t take it personally. Make it about the substantive issues and arguments. Not about that your opponent is a “low down, good for nothin’ polecat” – even if he is. You don’t help your position or yourself when you take that approach.
(James C. Thomas III is an active participant in Republican politics. He speaks only for himself--see his inaugural column with lots of lawyer-like disclaimers published last week for details on that. Reach him by email to email@example.com)
LAYING THE GROUND RULES FOR FUTURE FUN
A few days ago I got a call from Landmark publisher Ivan Foley asking if I would be willing to write a political column. I am excited by the opportunity. However, I am concerned with how my opinions might be attributed to others. So, it was critical to begin by laying out the ground rules that readers should use in applying my opinions to anyone other than me. In one word, “Don’t!”
I am a Christian, a husband, a father, a lawyer and an active participant in the Republican Party and many campaigns. However, what I write here is just my opinion and should not be stretched to apply as an official or unofficial statement by any group or person I am involved in or with.
I am an active member of Christ Lutheran Church, a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod congregation. But, I don’t speak here for my congregation, the LCMS or the “Christian” position. (In fact, the “Church” does not take positions on “political” issues that are not “scriptural” issues.)
I am happily married and have two daughters (Shannon and Anne). My wife, Sandra, is a former local elected official. I don’t speak for her. And, I definitely don’t speak for my daughters. If you want their opinion, you should ask them. You will be amazed at the thought process and depth of opinions of my ten and seven year old. A recent hot topic for Shannon has been eminent domain. Anne has expressed discontent over a Missouri law change that put her back in a car seat.
I am member of a 300+ (and soon possibly 600+) lawyer law firm. They are a diverse group of people. For example, one of my partners is a former treasurer of the Missouri Republican Party. Others of my partners . . . . Well, let me just say that I respect them as lawyers and partners even if I don’t agree with all of their political ideas, issues or client selections. But, they tolerate and respect me. So we will just call it even. The bottom line is that my opinions are not those of my law firm or its clients.
Finally, I want to address how to interpret my comments from a Republican perspective. Ivan asked me to write a column and give the “Republican” perspective. I am glad to do that with one important caveat. My opinions are not the official positions of the Republican Party or any particular campaigns.
I have held and continue to hold several leadership positions in the Republican Party. I have served as vice chairman of the Platte County Republican Central Committee and as a member of the Republican State Committee. I continue to serve as chairman of the 32nd Republican Legislative District Committee and the Sixth Republican Congressional District Committee. I also donate money, time, advice and assistance to many Republican candidates from the state-wide to local level. The positions I hold are almost in 100% agreement with the positions stated in the platform of the Republican Party. However, I am not going to write about or even attempt to express any official or unofficial positions of the party or a particular candidate’s position. I am just going to tell you what one red-blooded Republican thinks.
My positions will likely be consistent with those of most Republicans. However, the party is a diverse group and we don’t always agree on everything. For example, I support Bush’s positions on most things, but I strongly disagree with his proposal for dealing with illegal immigration.
I am just one Republican. Some folks (Republicans, Democrats and non-affiliateds) will disagree with me. I have always said that Ivan likes to “stir the pot.” This should give him lots of “Letters to the Editor” material.
I just wanted to lay the ground rules for what should be a lot of fun.
(James C. Thomas III, an attorney who resides in Platte County, is an active participant in Republican politics who will bring The Right Stuff to your Landmark each and every week. He can be reached via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)