It’s Republican primary time, when ambitions, conservative promises, and Reagan invocations are in full flower. And the only way to tell real conservative defenders from perennial conservative pretenders is to examine their records. Let’s start with the record of incumbent congressman Doug Lamborn of Colorado’s Fifth Congressional District. Mr. Lamborn is finishing his first term in Congress and in that time, according to Congressional Quarterly, he voted against the Democrat agenda in Congress more than any other Republican (“CQPolitics.com Candidate Watch,” Congressional Quarterly, Aug. 10, 2007). This includes social, economic, and fiscal votes.
Mr. Lamborn was also one of five members of Congress – that’s five out of 535, and only three of the 435 members of the U.S. House – that the nation’s leading fiscal conservative group, Club for Growth, has given a rating of 100% for 2007. Club for Growth tracked votes on a range of tax, fiscal, and regulatory issues in the last Congress and determined that Mr. Lamborn voted correctly every time. See the entire 2007 Club for Growth scorecard here:
This is no new pattern. Over the twelve years he was a member of the Colorado legislature, Mr. Lamborn consistently led both the Colorado House and the Colorado Senate with his record of opposition to big-government spending, pork projects (these days fashionably referred to as “earmarks”), and tax increases.
With this kind of record, it is striking that Mr. Lamborn has a Republican primary opponent, Jeff Crank, attempting to criticize him on his fiscal record. It is well-known that, in justifying his own candidacy against a man who for a decade and a half has consistently defended all the things Mr. Crank claims to believe in, Mr. Crank has settled on one fundamental, earth-moving issue that gets the blood boiling of every principled Republican everywhere: franking expenditures.
That’s right, franking expenditures.
The franking privilege dates to the founding of the United States and covers expenses members of Congress incur in sending mail to their constituents. The purpose is obvious: communication between congresspeople and their constituents is a good thing. Clearly, this privilege like any legitimate privilege can be abused, so there are processes in place in Congress by which all franked mailings must be approved. Mr. Lamborn is a first-term congressman whose constituents need to get to know him and what he is doing on their behalf – again, this is not empty campaign-speak, but a rationale endorsed by the framers of American government – and all his mailings have been approved by congressional leadership. All such mail, moreover, is paid for out of a congressman’s official budget; what he does not spend on constituent communications he is fully authorized to spend on other things, and what he spends on constituent communications is not available for other things.
The use of this kind of issue against someone with the fiscal record of Mr. Lamborn says more about Mr. Crank than it does about the Congressman: from the standpoint of conservative policy, there simply is nothing more substantial on which Mr. Lamborn can be criticized.
Mr. Crank raised the franking issue most recently in a May 30 opinion column in the Colorado Springs Gazette, where he also offered glowing promises to, if elected, “rock the boat” of the Washington establishment, eliminate earmarks, eliminate the federal departments of Education, Commerce, and Energy, and cut federal spending by 20%.
Aside from the fact that even Ronald Reagan was not able to accomplish such heroic feats, if Mr. Crank were sincere in these convictions, he would be supporting Mr. Lamborn for Congress rather than running against him.
No Republican in the last two years, and very few Republicans in Colorado in the last half century, have more consistently, philosophically, and courageously opposed Washington (and Denver) excesses than has Doug Lamborn. It is the lack of people in Washington like Mr. Lamborn, and the interest of too many self-proclaimed conservatives in running against them, that is at the heart of the very Washington excess Mr. Crank now decries. It is also at the heart of the national Republican malaise that is quickly heading the GOP toward an electoral cataclysm in November.
Mr. Crank waxes poetic against earmarks. Again, if this conviction were superior to his personal ambition, Mr. Crank would be supporting Mr. Lamborn. Here are all Mr. Lamborn’s funding requests for fiscal year 2009, a list the Lamborn office has made public. All directly relate to defense spending, a core purpose of government, all Mr. Lamborn has offset in the budget by equivalent cuts in other programs so that there is no net increase in the federal budget, and all ironically recall Mr. Crank’s criticism of Mr. Lamborn during the 2006 campaign for allegedly not being as strong as Mr. Crank on defense:
Land Acquisition for Peterson Air Force Base Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center ACES 5 Ejection Seat Expeditionary Alternative Power Generator Radiation-Hardened Memory Technology Digital Engine Technology Military Information Management Software Space and Electronic Warfare Analysis Tools High Altitude, Long Endurance Communications and Surveillance System Improved Ground Access to Peterson AFB Improvements to Ft. Carson Gates 5 & 6
With requests like these, and with Mr. Lamborn now occupying a seat on the House Armed Services Committee, it is no wonder the defense criticisms have given way in Mr. Crank’s rhetoric to complaints about franking. As with his fiscal record, Mr. Lamborn’s history at the state level on issues of national security and defense was as impeccable as his federal record has now become.
As a side note, if Mr. Crank should criticize Mr. Lamborn for the above funding requests and call them “earmarks” as if they were pet pork projects, Mr. Crank should explain why as a lobbyist on behalf of a defense company in 2005 he requested, according to public lobbying records, “increased spending for the HH-6OL program” in defense authorization bills. The name of Mr. Crank’s lobbying company was Rocky Mountain Government Relations, and the HH-6OL is the Blackhawk medical evacuation helicopter now in use in the Army and National Guard. Earmark, or legitimate modernization of the armed forces that defend us and that are such central issues in the Fifth Congressional District?
In addition to franking, Mr. Crank can regularly be heard calling for better “leadership” in Washington, presumably implying that Mr. Lamborn’s leadership is somehow defective. For starters, here is a short summary of Mr. Lamborn’s legislative resume, a kind of resume of which Mr. Crank has not the beginning: Colorado House of Representatives, 1995; House Republican Whip, 1997; Colorado Senate, 1998; Senate President Pro-Tem, 1999; U.S. Congress, 2006; U.S. House Armed Services Committee, 2007. Mr. Lamborn is also a member of two other U.S. House committees.
Moreover, here is a quotation from a letter written to Mr. Lamborn last week by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Crank’s former employer, concerning Mr. Lamborn’s funding requests. The letter is dated May 28, 2008 and is signed by the Chamber’s CEO.
“Your policy of only making requests that promote our nation’s defense, as well as providing full disclosure on these projects reflects not only their legitimacy, but also their important role in improving our nation’s defenses…It is with great pleasure that we offer our support, on behalf of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, for not only the appropriations you’ve requested, but also the manner in which you have done so. In a time where real transparency is lacking in Washington, your actions provide a refreshing change of pace.”
Sound suspiciously like leadership?
It should be noted clearly what many noted during the 2006 primary contest between Mr. Lamborn and Mr. Crank. Nobody doubts that Mr. Crank maintains a coherent conservative philosophy of government and a genuine desire to serve his country. Given Mr. Lamborn’s stellar record at both the state and federal levels, what is in doubt is Mr. Crank’s ability to subordinate his ambition to his desire to see the things he believes implemented in government. There simply is no improvement he could possibly make to the record of Mr. Lamborn, and plenty of ways he would not likely match Mr. Lamborn; indeed, at least according to the Club for Growth, there are only a handful even among current members of Congress who are in Mr. Lamborn’s league.
There is only one wise route for Fifth Congressional District Republicans on the ground to follow this August: ignore empty criticisms and empty promises, and say a prayer of thanks that in this age of messianic Democrats and the empty-headed crowds who love them, Colorado and Colorado Springs have a congressman with the kind of real wisdom, real mettle, and real leadership that will far outlast the latest political fad and the latest self-promoting Republican challenger.