Politics

Politics 2003Week of June 23

HARDBALL

In contrast to their counterparts in Great Britain or most European countries, U.S.political parties do not enforce party discipline or play rough with renegade lawmakers. At the worst, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R.-Colo.) will be removed from the White House invitation list for his strong views on illegal immigration, which differ from those of the man doing the inviting. But are, say, John McCain or Olympia Snowe deposed from key Senate committees or denied campaign support when they vote against the crown jewel of the Bush agenda, the tax cut? Hardly. Apparently Hardball just isn’t played in the Republican or Democratic parties

Or is it? In recent weeks, Republicans in California and North Carolina have begun to show that holding an office under a party label does indeed count for something and those who think otherwise are in for their comeuppance.

BRULTE: “NO MORE TAXES-OR ELSE!”

“I just wanted to be clear to everybody. We know the games the Democrats are going to play. They are going to buy people. They are going to try to bribe them.”

Forewarned, it appears, is forearmed. With the above words, California State Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte told his colleagues that if any of them cut deals with Gov. Gray Davis and the Democrats and support tax increases to close California’s $38.2-billion budget deficit, he would work to defeat them. Brulte, according to the Los Angeles Times, “even brought in a mock political advertisement that he said would be mailed to voters of traitorous party members with money he would raise.”

Brulte’s warning to the 28 other Republicans in the Golden State’s 80-member Senate came two weeks ago as Davis and the Democrats called for a budget including $8 billion in fresh taxes on tobacco, vehicles, and high incomes. No way, say Brulte and the opposition-because any new taxes would be devastating to the efforts of small business to come out from the state’s crippling financial blight.

While Democrats hold handsome majorities in both houses of the state legislature, that is not enough to pass a budget. The state constitution mandates that two-thirds of both houses are required to enact a budget, thereby requiring Davis & Co. to bring over a handful of Republicans. Last year, they managed to convince five GOP members from the assembly and Senate to cross party lines and give Davis his desired budget. Brulte and more than a few other Republicans believe that there was more to do with this crossing of party lines than the desire to pass a budget.

Former State Sen. Maurice (MoJo) Johannessen, who voted for Davis’s budget last year, has since been named to the governor’s Cabinet to run the Department of Veterans Affairs. Fresno Assemblyman Mike Briggs, another renegade, was subsequently awarded a lucrative $8-9,000-a-month consulting contract with the office of Democratic Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson.

Asked what he thought of Brulte’s bare-knuckled words, Wesson told reporters: “It is obvious to me that not only do they take hostages, they shoot their hostages.”

Coming from the 47-year-old Brulte, however, the threatened manhandling of prospective apostates is a pleasant surprise for conservatives. A 13-year state legislator who has been in office or campaign positions since 1976 when he joined the staff of the late Sen. (1976-82) S.I. Hayakawa (R.-Calif.) at age 20, Brulte has long been perceived on the right as a “wheeler-dealer” who is unafraid to “work” with non-conservatives. The Rancho Cucamonga Republican has been distrusted by many conservatives because he came out early in favor of the plan crafted by Los Angeles investment banker Gerald Parsky, the President’s closest friend in California, that limited the powers of elected party officials. (During a conversation at breakfast at the state party convention in Orange County last fall with then-State Chairman Shawn Steel, a strong conservative, the topic turned to Master of the Senate, the latest volume in Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, which we were then both reading. Without missing a beat, Steel said to me “Johnson reminds me so much of Brulte!”)

Interestingly, Steel himself was unanimously censured by the board of directors of the state party last December for publicly vowing to recall any Republican legislator who voted for a tax increase to close the state’s deficit. Now, with the Republican Senate leader throwing the gauntlet down, the cries on the right are “Right on, Brulte!”

GUNNING FOR THE ‘GANG OF FIVE’

Beginning in January, because North Carolina Republicans had seen their majority in the state House of Representatives undermined by members from their own ranks, talk of revenge and retribution has flown like shrapnel within the state . Two weeks ago, as more than 800 delegates gathered for the state convention at the Charlotte Convention Center, that talk became reality.

As expected, delegates unanimously re-elected stalwart conservative Bill Cobey as their state chairman. But most of the talk centered on five politicians who weren’t there: Democratic State Rep. Michael Decker (Walkertown), who switched parties in December and thus turned a one-seat Republican edge into a 60-60 tie; and Republican State Representatives Richard T. Morgan (Pinehurst), who as Republican caucus chairman has overseen spending money for legislative campaigns in three successive election cycles (in each of which the GOP lost seats in the House); Dan McComas (Wilmington); Julia C. Howard (Mocksville); Wilma Sherrill (Asheville); and Harold J. Brubaker (Asheboro), the first Republican speaker of the House (1994-98) since Reconstruction.

“All five Republicans have an alternative political view to that of the majority of the House caucus,” fumed conservative State Rep. Sam Ellis of Raleigh. He noted that the so-called “Gang of Five” had broken with the rest of the caucus to enact a state senate redistricting plan favored by Democrats that would have wiped out the gains the Republicans have made in the last election and reduced GOP ranks from the present 22 to 14. (As it turned out, it didn’t matter because a judge ended up drawing the map.)

Accordingly, the Resolutions Committee at the Charlotte conclave adopted a handful of resolutions, that declare that the party expects its candidates to remain Republicans once elected to the legislature and vote for its leadership candidates; that failure to do so would require candidates to refund the party for its campaign donations; and individuals who violate the party line will be targeted for extinction in the next primary; and a condemnation of self-interest in politics (albeit after stripping the names of the five renegades from the original draft of the resolutions). All were adopted by the full convention after a spirited debate.

“These resolutions were not developed by party bosses, but by the grassroots volunteers that I represent and owe my greatest allegiance to,” Ellis told me. For his part, Cobey told me, “It’s a family dispute, albeit a very hostile dispute, that became public. However, the Democrats should not take comfort in this caucus dispute. We’re going to be extremely strong and united as a party in 2004.”

SHORT TAKES

Number 435: The seat of former Rep. (1984-2003) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Tex.) was recently filled. Former Lubbock City Councilman Randy Neugebauer won the run-off June 3 with 51% of the vote. Neugebauer beat another conservative Republican, former state official Mike Conaway of Midland. . . With Rep. Mac Collins as an announced candidate for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Zell Miller (Ga.) next year, the Republican primary will almost surely be the definitive race to determine his successor in the House. Within days of Collins’ announcement, state House Republican Leader Lynn Westmoreland declared for the open 3rd District seat. Weighing in immediately for fellow conservative Westmoreland was Georgia Republican National Committeewoman Carolyn Meadows, who told me last week, “You can count on me being in the front-lines for Lynn.”

PRYOR’S DISSENT FROM “I.Q.”

As he was preparing for hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Alabama Atty. Gen. Bill Pryor nonetheless found time to catch an error in “How’s Your Political I.Q.?” in our May 26th issue. The question was how many justices of the Supreme Court did not previously serve on a lower federal court and the answer we gave was Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Not so, dissented Pryor-correctly. While it would have been correct to say that Rehnquist is the only justice who was not a judge at all, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, as Pryor pointed out to us, was a judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals rather than a federal bench before President Reagan appointed her as the first woman justice of the Supreme Court in 1981. We stand corrected, General.


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