Saturday, February 25, 2006

Do We Need a GOP Legislature?

Many supporters of the proposed Taxpayers Protection Amendment are working off the theory that it doesn't matter whether we have a Democratic or Republican legislature. As Peter DiGaudio puts it:

We need to go RINO-hunting. Seriously. Wisconsin's Republican Party and leadership needs an enema. If it means defeating RINOs in primaries or even electing Democrats to send a message. I never used to feel that way, but seriously: can a Democratic-controlled Legislature in Madison or Congress in Washington be any worse?

Peter's not alone. Aaron at Subject to Change has a variation of this theme here, and Owen at Boots and Sabers stops just short of endorsing the theory here.

This frustration with Republican legislators is absolutely understandable. I'm particularly disappointed in our federal representatives. I mean, we hold both houses of Congress and the presidency, and this is the best we can do? Did we really need a costly new Medicare prescription benefit that's turning out to be a net political negative? Do we need to continue the massive increases in farm subsidies and federal education spending?

And while I feel some of the same frustration at the state level, I have a simple message for those that don't care who controls the state legislature:

You are insane.

I know everyone wants to "TPA me ASAP" and there's general dislike of things like the ethanol mandate and the horrific "eight year old car seat" bill, but you really have to look at the big picture.

Let me take the easiest point first. If you don't keep hold of a Republican legislature in the short term, then there is absolutely no chance of the TPA passing. Remember - it takes two consecutive legislatures to pass a constitutional amendment before it can go to the voters for approval. That means it would have to pass this session and next session, with elections in between. Senate Republicans are playing defense this November, trying to hang on to at least three Democratic-leaning seats that they hold in large part because of the Chvala debacle that sunk Democrats during the 2002 election. Lose those three seats, and the Senate goes from 19-14 Republicans to 17-16 Democrats, in which case there is ZERO chance of your beloved TPA passing. I know it faces a tough challenge as it is, but some chance is better than none.

I know there's a lot of talk about taking out "soft" Republicans in primaries, but the fact is that a lot of these moderates actually represent the political philosophies of their constituents. You can go ahead and run a conservative in a primary against some of these guys, but then you're almost guaranteed to flip the district to a Democrat, since a lot of these districts lean liberal. The GOP is actually pretty lucky to have some of the seats in the State Senate that they do - three Democratic incumbents were yanked out of office in 2002, and each of those seats could easily revert back to Democratic hands with the Chvala issue off the table.

While TPA is a hot topic now, there are other issues that are vital to our state that I am not willing to just concede to Democrats because of failure to pass the TPA. You don't really have to think that far back to remember the Chuck Chvala years, where he essentially assumed the role of co-governor in thwarting the Republican agenda. It just takes one house to go Dem, and it kills any meaningful conservative bills coming out of the Assembly. Think Majority Leader Judy Robson will have a vote on your right to carry a concealed weapon? Think we'll ever be able to stop the state from giving out birth control services to 14 and 15 year old girls without their parents' knowledge? You may have heard about that "school choice" program - good luck getting that to where it needs to be with dems in charge.

That's only if one house goes Democrat. If, for some reason the Assembly were to go Democrat too? Hold on, because here comes your constitutional amendment that guarantees free health care to all Wisconsin's citizens (that would pass a public vote). Be ready for the constitutional amendment guaranteeing spending increases for public education every year (as passed in Colorado, a much more conservative state than Wisconsin). This is one of the downsides of the TPA - it sets the precedent that pretty much anything goes in the State Constitution, which will be a living bitch when Dems retake both houses.

Even if TPA passes and revenue is capped, there's still the question of how that revenue is spent. With Dems controlling one or both houses, there could be shift away from funding prisons, allowing dangerous people to roam free. You could see more funding for worthless programs like the SAGE program (a program solely used to hire more public school teachers), and less funding on transportation, which creates economic development. Even if the "pie" of state government isn't growing, we need Republicans to make sure Stan Johnson of WEAC isn't holding the knife and cutting up the pieces.

So conservatives, keep pushing for the TPA. Keep blogging about what frustrates you regarding your state legislators. But when it comes time to support Republicans that are with you 95% of the time, make sure you think of the big picture.