Sunday, October 5, 2014

GOP Reforms Which Work (and Why Some Do Not)

Looking over key reforms enacted by Republican governors and their legislatures, I find that some reforms worked very well, and the leaders and legislatures held (or are holding) onto their victories.

Other reforms did not pan out well (or have not panned out fully), and the Republican Party in those states is struggling to hold onto their majority power.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback enacted huge tax cuts, spending cuts, but Kansas public schools (and other government programs) have felt the hurt. Local leaders are outraged, and a large number of Republicans have endorsed the Democratic challenger as a protest to Brownback's steep, brave, and comprehensive reforms.

The political blowback is hurting Brownback's chances.

Where's the increased revenue that tax cuts and spending cuts are supposed to create?

Now, numerous economic and historical accounts have affirmed the growth and prosperity which follows from comprehensive tax and spending cuts.

But. . .

The funding increases take time. Politically, that is posing a problem for Brownback's reelection chances.

What about Michigan?

Governor Rick Snyder passed right-to-work after the 2012 elections, and yet the job recovery and economic growth have not skyrocketed as rapidly as he had promised.

Reforms like right-to-work take time, too, but the trends are noticeable not just in the business sector, but for individuals who are leaving corrupted, domineering unions. Teachers find freedom for the first time to associate or not associate with a union.

Then there's Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

What did he do that has had such a marked effect on the economy and the state?

Facing a three billion dollar deficit in a recession, Walker and his colleagues instituted unforeseen reforms to collective bargaining rights for public sector unions. Instead of an ongoing, unchanging status, unions would have to seek recertification from their members. They could no longer draw out union dues from employees' checks. The issues for which the unions could bargain collectively would be limited to salaries and benefits, within a limited financial framework.

Cities and school boards received more freedom to contract out healthcare plans, and the unsustainable patterned bargaining among unions in different cities and school boards came to a halt.

So, a number of governors have promoted sweeping conservative reforms.

Some of them have worked, some of them have not. Some of the governors are facing uphill battles to get elected, and some of them are likely to lose.

What is going on?

Conservatives have to be savvy and politically inspired when implementing serious reforms. They have to work with people, even within their party whom they disagree with, and the reforms they push through the legislature have to demonstrate immediate as well as long-term results.

Let us consider Brownback's reforms, since he is the most embattled reformer of the three governors mentioned above.

Brownback plowed over centrist Republicans and pushed them out for conservative alternatives. These maneuvers created nothing but animosity within his own ranks. Tax and spending cuts do not material wealth immediately, either. Cutting programs without providing effective alternatives will incite ire instead of admiration from voters.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder
It's not enough to make government leaner, if the voting public find their options remain just as lean, if not worse.

Consider Rick Snyder's bold measure. At first, Snyder was up front with the voters. He was not interested in right-to-work, because of the inevitable divisiveness which would erupt. Snyder did not take his voting electorate for granted, because he could not. Michigan is still in many ways a blue state. Perhaps Brownback concluded that he could push strong reforms without any fear of backlash because the voters are so reliably entrenched Republicans.

What pushed Snyder to go for RTW?  The unions attempted to enshrine collective bargaining as constitutional reforms through initiative Proposition 2. The effort failed by fifteen points, but the unions tipped their hand, and Snyder could make it clear to Michigander:

"I have no choice but to do this. .. "

He explained his reforms, and provided two reasons: freedom for the individual, and economic growth. Right away, Synder made two appeals, and his reforms have played out fully and evidently regarding the first, even though the economic part has not developed fully.

Conservatives must press reforms which engage the minds and hearts of voters. Brownback's reforms were accurate yet academic, and appeared heartless.

Not that Brownback should have backed away from massive tax cuts, but the benefits had to connect with voters individually. His moves to cut funding for the Arts made him look like a heartless, cultureless conservative. Bad optics.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Consider also Governor Walker's example in contrast to Brownback and Snyder. Walker worked diligently with his colleagues in the legislature. So did Snyder. In pursuing collective bargaining reforms, Walker needed to unite his party and his base. The reforms fostered immoral (and unethical) outrage from Democrats, enough that they fled the state to prevent a quorum.

Walker also explained the dire need for reforms which did not institute steep cuts nor raise taxes during a recession.

Reforms which cut costs and implement proficiency without dealing directly with state revenue will create results without severe political fallout. Walker's Act 10 was so successful, Democrat Tom Barrett could not oppose them in his recall race against the governor. Why? Because Barrett used those very reforms to balance the city of Milwaukee's budget!

So, what can Republicans learn from the three different examples of reforming governors?

Reforms which save money with direct interventions on cuts or spending tend to help conservatives accomplish their goals without alienating them or limiting their chances or reelection. Leaders need to create respect, consensus, and cooperation among the different elements within his own party. Reforms should not create divisions, as much as possible.

Walker's collective bargaining reforms were politically savvy as well as moral and financially viable. Collective bargaining reforms limited an easy cash-cow for the state's Democratic Party, and established the freedom of association for individual workers, and instituted structural reforms to save money.

Snyder's reforms will promote similar political consequences, too, taking away an easy (yet immoral) funding stream for the Democratic Party in Michigan, along with the sclerotic influence of the Labor Movement in the Midwest.

With these reflections in mind, Republican Governors need to focus on reforms which produce immediate ,positive, and individual results:

1. Collective Bargaining Reforms (especially for public sector unions). Walker's legislation and enforcement have pushed back against union bullying. Big Labor will not have the unearned, unjust influence which it had held in the past.

2. Tort reform: voters don't like lawyers, and lawsuit abuse hurts businesses, as well as aggravates government intervention at the expense of individual liberty and economic growth. Lawyers ten-to-one support Democratic candidates, and any reforms which hurt their financial interest will diminish Democratic dominance.

3. School Choice: Education is  a crucial battleground in the war against unconstitutional liberalism. This reform would take away the arbitrary power of unions and school boards while empowering individuals and families. Funding based on moving enrollment would force schools to compete, spending their money effectively, and reduce the influence of Democratic political power brokers.

4. Decriminalizing controlled substances (or diminishing penalties to administrative or restorative measures). This measure is decidedly controversial. Yet experiments and implementation of these policies have actually led to increase revenue, diminished crime, reduced bureaucracies, and more focused public organizations.

These policy reforms do not involve  direct collection, transfer or disbursements of public money, but can generate more wealth for individuals and yet allow government to fulfill essential functions, are very important.

They also permit conservatives to appeal to the innate sense of justice which everyone feels. These proposals champion "the little guy" while also laying out plans to limit government, expand individual liberty, and promote economic prosperity.

The brave examples of Governors Brownback, Snyder, and Walker deserves our respect, and we can learn from them how to push forward and enforce freedom-oriented policies in political as well as moral capacity for long-term success.

Republican Governors have implemented sweeping policy reforms in their states. Some are facing better reelection chances than others. Why? Successful governors put forward comprehensive reforms which manifested perceptible and personal results, while others have taken longer than expected to accomplish what the governors had originally promised.

Conservative reforms must be bold, but well thought out, politically savvy as well as emotionally apparent to voters. Optics and opportunities must combine for conservative reforms to succeed in the long-term.

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