Neumann’s Own Agenda
"I’m here to tell you that, three years after they won control of the House, Republicans have just broken their no-tax pledge," Rep. Mark Neumann (R.-Wis.) told a startled luncheon of conservative leaders in Washington in March of 1997. Neumann, himself a member of the House GOP’s celebrated "Class of ’94," explained that the House had just restored the tax on airline tickets that had expired months before. Thus, passengers would soon begin seeing an extra charge on their tickets again. (I did, after the next flight I took a few weeks later, but I only looked for the little-reported tax because of Neumann’s remarks).
That was Mark Neumann in a nutshell. Although one could make a case that restoring a small tax that had expired was not a violation of a no-tax pledge, the Badger State lawmaker believed passionately that no taxes meant no taxes, period. It was in that spirit that real estate developer and former math teacher Neumann won a House seat in 1994 on his third try and criticized his own party leadership for what he felt was a betrayal of one of the key planks in the "Contract With America" upon which they captured Congress.
In 1998, Neumann ran a hard-charging race against Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (It’s conservative Mark versus liberal Russ, all right!) and lost by a margin of 51% to 49% in a very Democratic year.
Now, after twelve years of running six businesses he started with wife Sue, Mark Neumann is back in politics and seeking the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Democratic Gov. James Doyle.
"I remember talking about that airline tax business with you it was a preview of how Republicans would let spending go through the roof," the businessman-candidate told me during a recent interview.
On his "Mark on Main Street" campaign stops in which he visits hardware stores and other small businesses, Neumann focuses his fire on Democrats in Madison who, in his words, "got us in the mess we are now in." Specifically, he cited Doyle’s policies "that raised our taxes, raised spending 24% across-the-board, put Wisconsin $2 billion in the hole, and resulted in a loss of 120,000 jobs."
Cutting Budgets – And Taking Over Healthcare
To deal with this economic plight, Neumann says that government should "cut taxes, cut budget gimmicks and red tape and get out of the way of business."
In calling for dramatic cuts in both his state’s personal and corporate income taxes, Neumann also promises to name fellow leaders with business experience as heads of state cabinet departments.
"I will ask them to control the rate of growth by cutting their budgets by 1% less than what the budgets were in the previous fiscal year," the conservative hopeful told me. "And I can’t believe anyone would look me in the eye and say they can’t make these cuts. When the housing crisis hit and homes werent being built, I made cuts of 15% in my businesses."
As to the funding of Medicaid "by far the biggest cause of all states wallowing in red ink" would Neumann follow the example of Vermont’s Jim Douglas and other GOP governors by getting a federal waiver on Medicaid and thus being permitted to pursue policies such as making home care deductible?
"That’s not enough," shot back Neumann, who was a chief point man in the House on waivers on welfare reform for states in the 1990s. "States need waivers to deal on their own, not just on Medicaid but on all healthcare issues ‘tort reform, health savings accounts, everything.’" Neumann recently unveiled a ten-point plan for Wisconsin to deal with the health care crisis on its own.
The former congressman (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 98%) is anxious to contrast his agenda with that of the likely Democratic nominee for governor: Milwaukee’s arch-liberal Mayor Tom Barrett, who also served in Congress from 1992-2002 (lifetime ACU rating: 7%).
But with the state GOP convention to be held later this summer and the primary September 14, Neumann must first duel with a fellow Republican, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.
Because Walker has been in a high-profile office more recently than Neumann, the Milwaukee County executive had been considered the front-runner. But Badger State pundits generally agree this has shifted, in large part because of the focus on Walker’s record on spending as legislator and county executive. A recent analysis by a legislative watchdog group known as One Wisconsin Now found that as state representative, he "voted for five straight state budgets, which increased state budget spending from $26.6 billion to nearly $49 billion." As county executive, observed Cory Liebmann of the Milwaukee Express, "in his proposed 2009 budget, Walker suggested spending $1,426, 815, 877. In his 2010 budget, Walker suggest spending a total of $1,481,577, 120. That is a 3.9% incease in Milwaukee county spending from one year to the next."
Admitting that he was outspoken as a congressman and said so when he disagreed with his party’s leadership in Congress, Neumann added: "If you feel strongly about something, it’s good to have it known. Someday, your thoughts are vindicated and the politicians and the voters come around to your view. That’s where I am now."
Outsiders Night in South Carolina
That’s what the Republican run-offs amounted to in the Palmetto State last week. The biggest story was the victory of State Rep. Nikki Haley, who spent the least money and had the slimmest resume of any of the four Republicans vying to succeed lameduck GOP Gov. Mark Sanford. With strong support from younger voters and the growing Tea Party movement, the 38-year-old Haley topped the field in the initial primary, rolled up 65% of the vote in the run-off against Rep. Gresham Barrett, and is now a strong fall favorite over Democratic State Sen. Vincent Sheehan.
In the 4th District, six-term Rep. Bob Inglis became the third House member to be denied renomination. In denouncing Inglis (lifetime ACU rating: 93%) for supporting the TARP funding and backing a carbon tax, Spartanburg County Prosecutor Trey Gowdy won a stunning 71% of the vote. Inglis was also badly hurt by his being one of seven House GOPers to support a rebuke of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) for shouting "You lie!" during an address to Congress by President Obama (Wilson had an especially happy night on Tuesday as his son Alan Wilson won the GOP runoff for attorney general with 60% of the vote).
A similar win occurred in the 1st District (Charleston), where Republican Rep. Henry Brown is retiring after ten years. State Rep. Tim Scott, the lone African-American Republican in the state legislature, won 74% of the vote over Paul Thurmond, son of the late Sen. (1954-2002) Strom Thurmond (R.-S.C.). Where Thurmond supported the concept of earmarks and federal largess, Scott denounced earmarks as "corrupt" and had the backing of the Tea Party movement and national conservative groups such as the Club for Growth.
In the 3rd District relinquished by Barrett, Richard Cash, who owns a fleet of ice cream trucks and is a local pro-life leader, led State Rep. Jeff Duncan in the primary, but apparently lost the run-off to Duncan by a tight 51% to 49%. Although Cash was considered an outsider and had a strong following among cultural conservatives, the 44-year-old Duncan also sported impressive right of center credentials notably for his championship of tough legislation dealing with illegal immigration.
In Utah, the winner of the GOP Senate nomination, that is tantamount to election this fall, was attorney Mike Lee, who won 53% of the vote over businessman Tim Bridgewater. Both Lee and Bridgewater neither of whom had held elective office emerged as the top vote getters in the state convention in which three-term Sen. Robert Bennett was eliminated from contention. Lee, son of onetime U.S. Solicitor General Rex Lee, ran as a strong anti-government conservative and called for abolishing the Department of Education and other government agencies.
In the only GOP run-off in North Carolina, former TV sportscaster Harold Johnson was the winner in the state’s 8th District. He now faces Democratic Rep. Larry Kissell, who has been under fire from his party’s left for opposing Obamacare.