California’s successful effort to recall its governor epitomizes a growing tendency for citizens, frustrated by the unresponsiveness, and at times flat-out foolishness, of government, to take matters into their own hands.
In a country increasingly dominated by the whims of unaccountable judges and bureaucrats, any movement to restore self-government has much to commend it.
And though the removal of an incumbent governor may seem a rather extreme measure quite befitting the pronounced idiosyncrasies of so-called ‘planet California,’ this obscures the fact that in terms of voter initiatives-which can force intractable governments to reform-California’s example is both instructive and potent.
Successful referendums there to restrain runaway property taxes, abandon racial preferences and bi-lingual education, and to deny state benefits to illegal aliens (the latter being found unconstitutional in one of the most outlandish judicial rulings in memory), serve as powerful reminders that government can still be made to serve the people, rather than vice-versa.
All this raises a vital question in Republican circles: Why is it that even though Californians consistently vote for conservative positions in voter referendums, they have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in recent years?
Or, more broadly: Why is it that despite polling data that consistently find that a healthy majority of Americans favor conservative positions, the country appears to be evenly divided between Republicans, who generally support their views, and Democrats, who do not?
Many conservatives have suggested a two-pronged reason for this apparent contradiction: First, while many Republicans pay lip service to conservative principles, they’re actually more interested in simply maintaining power.
Staunch and Uncompromising
And second, that tremendous opportunities with minorities-a large potential Republican constituency that stands to benefit the most from conservative policies-are being squandered because Republicans have not effectively made their case.
Enter Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who in launching an initiative to repeal a recently enacted 20% sales tax increase-in violation of a campaign pledge by Gov. Bob Taft (R.) not to raise taxes without a public vote-is not only striking a blow for fiscal responsibility, but as a staunch, uncompromising black conservative who can inspire minority voters may be just what the doctor ordered for the conservative movement.
To have such an individual rise to prominence (Blackwell is considered a leading candidate for governor in 2006) strongly articulating the conservative message of hope and opportunity to minority voters could have enormous positive repercussions. In fact, it could prove decisive in wresting away a substantial portion of a voting bloc that Democrats, still mired in the archaic, self-defeating mindset of preference and dependency, have long taken for granted.
To bring that revolution about, Blackwell says Republicans must start acting like Republicans.
He cites Ohio as a prime case in point.
“In the last 10 years, Ohio has led the nation in state government spending,” Blackwell says. “We’ve increased spending by 70% over that time, and this is the handmaiden of excessively burdensome tax policies.”
In fact, Blackwell says even a comparison with California is not an exaggeration.
“We have one of the highest marginal tax rates in the country, which means that our young people are leaving the state, and our self-sustaining seniors often vote with their feet, moving to Florida for the tax advantages.”
This would indeed sound familiar to Californians. In fact, a recent study by the Tax Foundation, a non-profit group that monitors fiscal policy, ranked Ohio 47th in the nation in the business-friendliness of its tax system, barely ahead of California.
But Blackwell says the situation in Ohio is compounded by the fact that its problems have arisen under Republican control.
He cites Ohio as being among the nation’s highest spenders in education, prisons, workers’ compensation, and Medicaid (where the number of recipients has long exceeded the number of people on welfare, and where the amount paid per recipient is strikingly high).
In addition, Ohio has had a very difficult time reforming a legal system that subjects businesses to inordinately high costs from frivolous lawsuits, a system Blackwell says is especially maddening to manufacturers, physicians, and entrepreneurs across the state.
“They’re frustrated and angry because they know we’ve been in control for the past decade, and yet we can’t pass tort reform. And the reason is there are people in the legislature who are more interested in holding hands with trial lawyers than in reforming the system.
“This is a matter of political will, dedication, and purpose. There’s nothing stopping us from getting this done, but we’re not holding true to traditional Republican principles.”
Naturally, none of this endears Blackwell to Ohio Democrats, liberals in the media, or to moderate Republicans in the statehouse.
He’s been accused of everything from fiscal recklessness, to irresponsible rhetoric, to crass opportunism in pursuit of his gubernatorial ambitions.
But he’s standing firm in the face of it-another valuable lesson for conservatives.
“There are people both in and out of state government whose political philosophy is hostile to limited government, and the liberty of taxpayers,” Blackwell says. “They can thumb their noses at this repeal, but that means they have a tin ear. Because small shopowners and major manufacturers who have seen their businesses fail, and workers who have seen their jobs leaving the state know what the problem is. So the nay-sayers can wring their hands all day long, but we’re going to keep moving forward.”
He is particularly dismissive of the charge that he is merely seeking an issue to use as a political ploy.
“I’ve been on every major congressionally appointed tax reform commission in this country,” Blackwell says. “And I’ve spoken out on the need to slash taxes, control spending, and limit the reach of government. So nobody can call me a Johnny-come-lately on this issue.
“I am running for governor in 2006, and I’m not going to let people blur the distinction between how conservative Republicans govern, and how liberal Democrats govern. I intend to run-and to win-as a true Republican.”
If he does, the possibilities for advancing the conservative movement are limitless, because Blackwell has the ability to connect with minority voters just looking for a reason to come aboard.
“There’s a sea-change coming with the minority vote,” Blackwell says. “Young people between the ages of 27 and 35 are not identifying themselves as Democrats-they’re more open-minded than before.”
This is critical, because Blackwell says that “when given a clear option, young minority voters respond to the conservative message.
“I talk to minorities about Social Security reform helping to give them a property stake-something that’s theirs, can be passed on, and can expand a family’s asset base. That’s how wealth is created.
“And education goes hand in hand with that. I talk to minority parents about giving their kids a chance at a decent education through expanded school choice. I tell them that school reform is a civil rights movement, a liberation movement that gives them the keys to success. And all of this really resonates with them.
“So it’s no accident that I’ve gotten 50% of the minority vote.”
A genuine conservative who gets 50% of the minority vote? Liberals should see the handwriting on the wall.