Politics 2004Week of August 23

Goss Going, Connie Coming?

Headlines last week blared his name from his Waterbury, Conn. birthplace to the 14th U.S. House District in Florida that he has represented for 16 years, as Republican Rep. Porter Goss’s long-anticipated nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency finally came about. A 65-year-old Bush family friend, Goss had long made it clear he wasn’t running for re-election this year and, with his confirmation hearings and departure to “the Company” not expected until the fall, it is unlikely there will be a special election to fill his House seat.

But the very appointment of Goss (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 87%) has focused fresh attention on the already scheduled all-important Republican primary in his Sarasota-based district. With less than a week to go before the August 31st balloting, signs are strong that Goss’s successor will bear the same name as his predecessor, as Connie Mack, IV, is favored to win the primary. He is the namesake-son of the good-as-Goldwater conservative who held the district from 1982-88 and then served as U.S. senator from the Sunshine State for 12 years.

According to a recent Public Opinion Strategies survey, former state legislator Mack has the backing of 42.3% of likely primary voters, followed by State Rep. Carol Green with 16.3%, Lee County Commissioner Andy Coy 11.3%, and physician Frank Schwerin 1%. Under a recent election law revision enacted by the legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, the winner of primary–without a run-off–will be the GOP nominee in this securely Republican district.

During his 18 years in Congress, the elder Mack was frequently denounced by opponents for almost always voting with Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), “And I’m probably more conservative than my father,” the 36-year-old Mack told me with a smile during a recent visit to Washington. He cited as evidence his solidly pro-life views, his strong support of Gov. Bush’s tax cuts, and his membership in the group of most conservative GOP legislators in Tallahassee.

But attacks on Mack focus less on issues than on his background and geography. In 2000, while working in Fort Lauderdale, Mack won his first term in the state house of representatives and was boomed almost immediately as an eventual heir to veteran Republican Rep. Clay Shaw. But after Goss’s retirement announcement last year, Mack resigned his seat and moved more than 100 miles across the state to the 14th District–where he had been born and raised, but had not lived since high school. Explained Mack: “My intention had always been to eventually move back to where I was born and grew up, but the opportunity of serving in Congress only hastened it.” The candidate now lives in Fort Myers with his wife, daughter, and one-year-old son (named, of course, Connie Mack, V). Often he is the first to bring up the subject of residency, beginning meetings by asking how many people in the audience were born in Florida and how many were born in the district. When only a handful of arms go up, Mack will then ask how many have lived in the district more than five years–again sparking a handful of raised arms. “Welcome to Florida!” deadpans the candidate, who then begins his remarks.

“Bleeding Kansas”

Although much of the national news media August 3 focused on Missouri’s overwhelming vote in favor of traditional marriage amendment, there was an equally resounding voter message in nearby Kansas: “No More Taxes–Or Else!”

In primaries across Kansas, six incumbent Republican state legislators and one Democratic lawmaker were denied renomination. As Karl Peterjohn, executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network that helped spearhead last week’s revolution, told me: “In the highest-profile races, there was some really bad news for tax-and-spend Republicans–what I like to call, the Walter Mondale wing of the Kansas GOP.”

Most stunning of all was the defeat of the heir to perhaps the Sunflower State’s most revered political name: State Rep. William Kassebaum, son of former (1978-96) Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker (R. Kan.) and grandson of Gov. (1932-36) and 1936 Republican presidential nominee Alf M. Landon. For all of the luster surrounding his name, Kassebaum was best-known this year as the co-sponsor of the Kassebaum-Neighbor bill, which would have added a surcharge to the state income tax, raised the sales tax up to a record 5.5%, and given local school districts additional authority to raise property taxes. K-N, as the tax bill is widely known, had the strong support of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and passed the House, But it was stopped in the senate. Kassebaum lost to ’02 primary foe Shari Weber.

Similarly, K-N co-sponsor Cindy Neighbor (lifetime Kansas Taxpayers Network rating: 17.5%) was defeated in her third consecutive primary battle in Johnson County with former State Rep. Mary Pelcher Cook (lifetime KTN rating: 100%).

Other “taxers-and-spenders” defeated by Republican wrath were House Speaker Pro Tem John Ballou, who broke with conservatives over the marriage amendment (he opposed a constitutional amendment vote.) as well as over taxes and ended up losing to conservative insurgent Mike Kiegerl; veteran State Senate Tax Committee Chairman Dave Corbin, a leading proponent of Internet taxation and interstate sales taxation, who was clobbered by a 2-to-1 margin by conservative former State Rep. Peggy Palmer; and former Wichita Mayor and ’02 gubernatorial candidate Bob Knight, a liberal GOPer with backing from the Kansas branch of the National Education Association, who managed only 36% of the vote against conservative State Sen.. Susan Wagle. Another losing moderate in the state legislative primaries was John Sebelius, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’s Republican brother-in-law; who lost 3 to 2 to conservative State Rep. John Faber.

KTN’s Peterjohn also gave credit to the Club for Growth and the Kansas branch of American Prosperity for the conservatives’ big win. Both groups got involved in 12 legislative primaries by putting out information on voting records. “This is a tactic liberal Republicans have successfully used in the past,” Peterjohn told me, “and in the 12 races they were involved in, the more fiscally conservative candidate won.”

Kobach KOs Establishment

For all the legislative victories for the anti-tax forces, the big story from Kansas for conservatives nationally was the stunning nomination of conservative swashbuckler Kris Kobach in the 3rd U.S. House District. One week after he appeared to have topped GOP Establishment-backed Adam Taff by 81 votes in the primary and after a count of provisional ballots, Kobach–law professor and former counsel to U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft–was declared the winner by 207 votes out of more than 80,000 cast. Former fighter pilot Taff, who had narrowly lost to Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore in ’02, thereupon endorsed Kobach and called for all Republicans to work for his election this fall.

Kobach won by running hard on the issues of immigration, abortion, and marriage and rallying volunteers who felt strongly about each of these issues. He opposed the Bush Administration’s visa program for illegal immigrants, was pro-life without exceptions, and backed a constitutional amendment on marriage–all three positions on that opponent Taff was to the left on. Moreover, Gun Owners of America and the National Right to Life Committee weighed in strongly for strong 2nd Amendment advocate Kobach, a graduate of Harvard, Yale Law School, and Oxford.

Close Call in Colorado

To be sure, most political eyes in Colorado were focused August 10 on the Republican U.S. Senate primary in which beer magnate Pete Coors defeated fellow conservative and former Rep. (1996-2002) Bob Schaffer for the nomination to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Coors won handily, with about 60% of the vote.

But the other major contest for Centennial State GOPers that day proved to be a cliff-hanger. In the 2nd District vacated by six-term Republican Rep. Scott McInnis, the winner of a week-long recount was former State Natural Resources Director Greg Walcher. A onetime staffer to conservative former Sen. (1978-90) Bill Armstrong (R.-Colo.), Walcher edged out more moderate State Rep. Matt Smith by 285 votes out of more than 48,000 cast.

Smith is the brother-in-law of McInnis (lifetime ACU rating: 91%), but the outgoing congressman endorsed Walcher. He now faces a competitive fall race against State Rep. John Salazar, brother of state Atty. Gen. Ken Salazar, the Democratic nominee to succeed Campbell.