Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Delaware Lesson for Missouri

Is there anything that the Missouri GOP can learn from the Delaware primary for the U.S. Senate last week? There is if it can get past the tangled web that its Delaware counterpart created. In the past several weeks, the establishment Delaware Republican Party has made itself irrelevant for any general election campaign in Delaware.

Within political parties, there is a classic debate between the “large tent” and the “small tent” strategy. The view of the large tent is that a political party must be inclusive of a wide divergence of positions in order to permit the group to coalesce around one banner for the sake of size and power. To exclude individuals based on their views limits the size of the party and its influence. The large tent view permits a party to select a candidate that can win the race for an office in keeping with the philosophy of the region where the election is held. The theory of the small tent, in reaction thereto, is that if the views permitted by the party become too broad, the party will lose its distinction and become meaningless in its message. The small tent view permits a party to maintain a consistent message and educate the nation based on a principled message, but risks the party becoming isolated (or so it is the theory).

It is into the dilemma of the large tent, small tent views of a political party that the Delaware Republican Party fell as it responded to the efforts of the tea party. During the primary, the Delaware Republican Party supported long time Congressman Mike Castle, a candidate considered by many in Delaware and in the rest of the nation to be too liberal. However, the Delaware Republican Party responded that only a moderate of his type was capable of winning an election in blue state Delaware. This is the classic large tent view of the political party. Only by the conservatives accommodating a more moderate view from Delaware may the party grow and win the election.

The tea parties, on the other hand, supported Christine O’Donnell, whom they believed to be the more conservative of the two and to hold views truer to the traditional Republican standard. They were not prepared to bend their principles for the sake of the large tent view. Their principles committed them to a small tent view of the party.

What happened in the primary was ironic. However, it is a classic example of what will invariably happen to a large tent disconnected from its moorings. In its rhetoric, it opposed Ms. O’Donnell, saying she could not win in Delaware. The establishment Republican Party shifted the focus of its message to value of the large tent at the expense of substance. In an attempt to obtain power, substance was lost to expedience. The small tent tea party attempted to persuade the citizens of Delaware to its point of view and ultimately became a bigger tent than the big tent Delaware Republican Party by winning the election. The Delaware Republican Party is now on record as claiming that its candidate cannot win the general election, a position indistinguishable from the position of the Democratic Party. A desire for expedience has made the Delaware Republican establishment obsolete.

What should Missouri Republicans learn from these events? They should learn that the ultimate outcome of a large tent view is eventually irrelevance. Irrelevance comes either in the form of being indistinguishable from those around you or in becoming isolated, seeking only power for power’s sake. The argument that a certain candidate cannot win with the views of the small tent is a self fulfilling prophesy; it is self defeating. As the small tent accommodates to the big tent, the message is lost. A perfect example of this is the recent montra of the media that any thought to eliminate the federal Department of Education is extreme. This is a proposition which has been championed as wise thinking within my lifetime. The message has been lost.

A small tent view is a significantly more difficult position to be in the short term. It may mean loss for a time. However, it has far greater long term value. A small tent view, that is principled, can become a big tent by persuading the culture to the small tent’s principles as was done in the Delaware Republican primary. Ronald Reagan, the champion of conservative values in the Republican Party decades ago, was elected as governor of the state of California, one of the bluest of blue states today. Ronald Reagan brought the nation to him through a reasoned, persuasive dialogue on conservatism. He did not capitulate to a broader view of his party. He brought Republicans and Democrats to him.

What do these events recommend to the Missouri Republican Party? I have several observations, and these observations go primarily to Congressman Roy Blunt. If elected to the U.S. Senate, he will be the primary standard bearer of the Missouri Republican Party. First, return to principle. The Republican Party has been called back to its roots by the tea parties. It has been called back to a conservative ideal of strict construction of the Constitution, to a limited federal government and free markets. I am deeply impressed with the practice of State Senator Jim Lembke. Jim carries the Missouri Constitution wherever he goes. It is dog eared, worn, written in and bent. He almost never fails to testify that it is his guide in his job. I suspect that he is following an old admonition of Scripture.
And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel. Deuteronomy 17:18-20.
Roy, your practice should be the same with the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, when you have opportunity to vote once again on TARP, your vote should be no. When you speak of repealing nationalized healthcare, your reason should not be we cannot afford it. Your reason should be “IT IS NOT CONSTITUTIONAL.” Stay principled in keeping your commitment to the U.S. Constitution.

Second, eschew requests for bipartisanship. Our constitutional form of government was designed to protect the liberties of all. In our culture, bipartisanship has become a fraudulent catch phrase for surrender. Today bipartisanship is used by the majority party to induce the minority party to give up the rights of certain people for the legislated benefits of others. This should never be granted in a free republic. You have no right to give up the rights of the people you represent and subject them to tyranny, the confiscation of their property for another. By maintaining a small tent, you will create a large tent.

In closing, I recall a brief conversation I had with former state representative Roy Cagle. I met Mr. Cagle several years ago when he was the Minority Floor Leader of the Missouri House of Representatives. I introduced myself to him again after more than twenty years. He had no reason to remember me and he did not. By way of complement, I thanked him for his service to the state and told him he had served in the Legislature with my father, Bill Linton. At that his response changed appreciably. “Ah, Mr. Conservative, how is your father?” was his response. I told him he was doing well. He heartily thanked me for stopping him and for my kind words. My father’s commitment to principle had made an impression that had stuck. Commitment to principle always leaves a lasting impression. Capitulation does not. Thanks, Dad, for your commitment to principle.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Override the Governor's Veto of HB 1903 on September 15

On July 14, Governor Jay Nixon vetoed House Bill No. 1903. His reasons for rejecting the bill, though several, revolved around his disagreement on the handling of federal funds transmitted to the states from the federal government. How are we to think of this turf war between the Governor and the General Assembly in the state of Missouri? The best way is to return to an understanding of the respective functions the legislative and executive branches of our government.

In 2009, the Missouri General Assembly passed and the Governor signed Senate Bill No. 313. SB 313 established two funds within the state treasury, which funds were virtually identical, except that one was for collecting federal budget stabilization funds and one was for collecting federal stimulus funds, both granted to the state due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The bill directed the state treasurer to invest the money in the funds for the benefit of the funds. It also specified that the funds would not revert to the credit of the general revenue fund.

In 2010, the Missouri General Assembly passed House Bill No. 1903 which created two additional funds for subsequent gifts from the federal to the state government. These two funds, again, were virtually identical to the two funds created by SB 313, except that they were created for (1) subsequent federal appropriations to the states for extended budget stabilization or a temporary increase in the Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage and for (2) federal appropriations to the states as part of the federal race to the top program. The federal race to the top program is a race established by the federal government to provide financial incentives to states for complying with federal education standards. The key differences in these two funds are that the legislature required the commissioner of education to seek approval of the distribution of funds from a joint legislative committee and that moneys remaining in the fund at the end of a specified period would revert to the general revenue fund.

In his veto message, Governor Nixon cited three reasons for his rejection of HB 1903:
• The two additional funds are an unnecessary duplication of funds created by SB 313.
• The joint committee’s approval of the distribution of the race to the top funds is an improper intrusion by the legislature into the duties of the executive branch. And the process would unnecessarily delay distribution of funds to the schools of the state.
• By allowing the moneys to revert to the general revenue fund, the legislation violates several federal conditions on the race to the top money and subject the state to sanctions.

The first two stand or fall together with an understanding of the respective roles of the legislative and executive branches of the government. The third is far more complex and becomes an issue of wisdom. Article III, Section 1 of the Missouri Constitution declares that, “The legislative power shall be vested in a senate and house of representatives.” Simply put, the General Assembly has the duty to write law. Article IV, Section 2, more explicitly sets forth the duties of the Governor. “The governor shall take care that the laws are distributed and faithfully executed, and shall be the conservator of the peace throughout the state.” The duties of the Governor are to carry out the law written by the General Assembly.

The Constitution does not stop there. Section 36 of Article III provides that all money received by the state shall go into the treasury and none shall be withdrawn except in pursuance of appropriations made by law. Section 28 of Article IV makes this provision applicable to the Governor by specifying that now money shall be withdrawn from the treasury except by warrant drawn in accordance with an appropriation made by law. Therefore, it is the General Assembly’s obligation in the first place to appropriate moneys from the state treasury. Moneys received by the state from the federal government must first be appropriated by the General Assembly by law.

The real concern with the method of reviewing distributions proposed by the commissioner of education is not so much that it is an intrusion into the duties of the executive branch as it is whether the General Assembly may appropriate money via a joint committee and not an act of the entire General Assembly in passing a law. The General Assembly in HB 1903 undertook its Constitutional authority and created two new funds to collect additional distributions that it deemed SB 313 inadequate to address. And it did so for one fund that would give it additional oversight on how the moneys from a race to the top fund would be expended to safeguard the state. This is a legitimate role for the legislative function to fulfill. Certainly, the Governor has the authority to veto legislation, but it is not a reason for the veto of the legislation that it is an intrusion into the duties of executive branch.

While I accept the Governor’s third point and understand his reasoning, I confess that I find the General Assembly’s approach wiser. It is repeatedly and rightly claimed that the federal government is a government of enumerated and limited authority. The U.S. Supreme Court, some 16 years after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, declared in its opinion in Marbury v. Madison, that, “The powers of the legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the constitution is written.” The U.S. Constitution makes no provision for the federal legislature to legislate on matters of education. Therefore, the race to the top is wholly outside of the purview of the federal government. I would argue that it is inappropriate for the federal government to take money from the citizens of these united State for the purpose of dangling carrots before states to get them to adopt federal education standards. However, I am practical enough to understand the coercive power of money to the state. In light of the fact that money is so coercive, I prefer that the General Assembly, as the elected legislative body over the people, maintain its oversight of the money so bounteously tied to us by the federal government.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Uphold the Constitution of the United States, Mr. Castle

The following statements were attributed to Mike Castle, the U.S. Congressman from Delaware who is running in the republican primary for the U.S. Senate, yesterday morning in hotair.com:
“Some of the things [tea partiers] seem to advocate go beyond the norm,” says Castle. “I have trouble distinguishing sometimes between the factions out there that are in this ultra-conservative mode. You know—be it the patriots, or this Tea Party Express, or the different factions of the Tea Party. I’ve seen advocacy for eliminating the Department of Education, for example.”…
“There are a lot of things that the federal government does that, you know, might not be explicitly in the Constitution per se,” says Castle. “There are a lot of things that the states do, too. And they’ve been doing it in some cases since the 18th century.” He shrugs. “I do suppose it is a good question to ask.”
If these statements are true, Castle should be rejected summarily by republicans on his statement alone. My question is has Mr. Castle ever read the U.S. Constitution? He obviously understands that the power to address education is nowhere addressed in the Constitution. But does he realize the Constitution is a document which grants from States to the federal government only explicitly listed powers? Does he understand the Constitution does not address the authority of the States except in limited circumstances, such as the 14th Amendment? Does he understand the States are governments of general power and the federal government is a government of limited power? His comments do not indicate that he has the slightest clue about the meaning of the document which is the subject of the oath he took as a U.S. Congressman, the Constitution of the United States. How can he fulfill his oath in good conscience? How can he take the oath in good conscience? This attitude violates the oath he took to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Any candidate so woefully qualified to speak to the subject matter of the job he has and one he professes to seek should be summarily dismissed. And any official so callus to the meaning of the U.S. Constitution should also be summarily dismissed. Unfortunately, I think many of our federal elected officials are similarly qualified.