We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get re-elected once we have done it.
— Jean-Claude Juncker, former prime minister of Luxembourg
Why do so few elected Republicans work to win public support for their Party’s Platform causes of limited government and school reform? Part of the answer is that few of the currently elected Republicans care about much of anything except their own reelection. The other part of the answer is that those who do genuinely believe in GOP principles haven’t bothered to learn how to build the kind of political support necessary for them to achieve policy reform success.
The ability to rationalize failure is now a highly developed skill among many Republican elected officials. In 2008 America there really is no excuse. There’s too much private sector communications talent to tap into, too many think tanks, too much solid research, and too many commentators helping show how words can work.
At the state level, there are plenty of examples from across the country showing what to do and what not to do. The state of Michigan, just in the news because of their primary, is a case study of what not to do when it comes to taxing and spending. The city of Milwaukee’s school choice program is an example of something that should be duplicated as often as possible.
Here in Illinois, the Democrats keep providing wonderful opportunities for Republicans to gain ground. Instead, our guys support a massive expansion of gambling and a few Republican legislators started the new year by voting to support a sales tax increase.
Fortunately, a few brave souls have stepped up to enter the fray and run for political office and in several key races a reformer just might win. It’s our view that there are plenty of talented people in this state – they’re just not involved in politics yet.
We don’t need to change the principles of our party — we do need to change the personnel leading our party. We don’t lack solutions. We lack enough properly motivated competent people to help apply the solutions.
The failure of the Republican state house and state senate caucus leadership in Springfield is becoming more stark with every passing day. The leadership teams of state Senator Frank Watson and state Representative Tom Cross have had plenty of time — five years — to begin building support for an alternative approach to governing the state. Instead, they’ve joined the effort by the Democrats to find ever more “revenue streams.”
Despite this, there’s always a chance for a political redemption play to be acted out before the year is over. Everyone loves a good Prodigal Son story, and it’s preferable that the rebuilding of our state’s GOP not have to be done completely from scratch. There’s a huge opportunity for a few back benchers in the General Assembly to step forward, break their silence, and lead.
However, as this is written General Assembly Republicans are on track to lose even more seats this fall. The Illinois vote this November for Obama or Clinton will be a tsunami, and expectations are that Illinois Republican candidates at all levels will be washed out to sea.
Memo to Frank and Tom: a massive expansion of gambling isn’t going to inspire people to vote for Republican legislative candidates. It doesn’t matter that those profiting from a $25 billion dollar capital bill will belly up the bar and pump in a few million dollars into the GOP campaign coffers.
What could survive the next Election Day tsunami would be a foundation set in place by a few leaders articulating the message that none of the problems facing Illinois will be solved by taking more money from hardworking families or over-burdened businesses.
Increasing taxes, fees, or creating more gambling addicts in the state will make things worse, not better.
Let’s put it in simple terms. The appetite for increasing spending isn’t going to be satiated no matter how many new “revenue streams” are created. The taxpayer funded K-12 schools, for example, will never have enough. The people who run them are among the most incompetent financial managers you’ll ever find, and their greed for more will never be tamed.
What’s needed is pretty basic stuff.
Real oversight. Not pretend oversight committee hearings but real, honest and thorough investigation and measurement of the efficiency and effectiveness of state government funded programs. If Republican legislators don’t want to put in place what’s needed to get this job done, then the GOP elephant logo should be replaced with a white surrender flag.
Priority setting. Illinois legislators, to paraphrase Newt Gingrich, need to learn how to say the word “no” again. You can’t have a successful system where politicians always say “yes.”
A “Tax and Expenditure Limitation (TEL)” law is needed in Illinois. A recent study has outlined how TELs have made a positive difference in other states.
Of course none of these relatively simple steps will be taken without courage, conviction, and most important — honesty. If Republican legislators don’t know how to build a political organization or how to move public opinion, they need to admit it as soon as possible so they can reach out and get the help they need. As I wrote four years ago, outsourcing is a good option.
I know many of our current Illinois Republican legislators expect to ride off into the sunset someday having built a wonderful legacy of accomplishment. Unfortunately for them and all their colleagues who’ve retired in the past few years, there’s not much to show thus far.
It’s possible to do the right thing and get reelected. If our Republicans office holders want to learn how, the road to redemption is ready for them to travel.