Elections 2010

Pass the hemlock, please

Though the Tea Party movement is not a cohesive entity, its component parts this year have been grappling with a central existential question: To be, or not be, a third party?  Thus far, Tea Party leadership from across the country has made a concerted effort to keep its powerful, grass roots movement within the Republican Party.  As one of Colorado’s Tea Party leaders, Lesley Hollywood, told me recently, “We had to work at convincing people that the right approach was to work within the Republican Party – to restore its conservative principles and to keep it honest.”  The thinking is that third party candidates are relegated to the role of spoiler, and even in the rare occasion when they are well financed, have little chance of actually winning.  Principle is important, but power is essential to changing the way government works.   The Tea Party has learned to work the system, and the system has begun to work for them. Or so they thought.  Late on Monday, former GOP Congressman Tom Tancredo announced that he was entering the race for Colorado Governor as the candidate of the tiny American Constitution Party.    Even for those who know this mercurial politician well, Tancredo’s move represented a dramatic about face.  In December of 2009, Tancredo sent an open letter to Colorado’s Tea Party patriots, imploring them to get behind the Republican Party and not make the “suicidal” mistake of backing a third-party candidate from a small fringe party:

Some patriots are tempted to launch a third political party or back one of the existing small parties that never attract more than one or two percent of the vote in state races. I strongly believe that such a course is suicidal and would only result in splitting the conservative vote and guaranteeing the re-election of liberals and socialists.

I believe the Republican Party is the natural home of conservatives and that the road back to constitutional government lies in taking control of the Republican Party from top to bottom, from county committee to the statehouse and all the way to Washington, D.C.

According to the Denver Post, the ACP has 2,000 voters registered with the Colorado Secretary of State, and is the kind of fringe party that Tancredo rightly says never attracts more than a point or two of the vote.  But with a high-profile candidate in Tancredo, who has a dedicated core of state-wide support and a proven capacity to raise money, there is a very real fear that the American Conservative Party will split the Republican vote sufficiently to ensure that Democrat John Hickenlooper is elected in November.  As Colorado GOP Chair Dick Wadhams told the Wall Street Journal, “He wants to destroy Republican chances”.

Not that Republicans haven’t done a good job themselves of messing up the Governor’s race – the Republican front runner, Scott McInnis, has been embroiled in a high-profile plagiarism scandal, and  Tancredo’s stated rationale for joining the race is McInnis can no longer win.   But in the end, this move by Tancredo likely has less to do with politics and more to do with personality.  “Tancredo has an unquenchable thirst for national media attention, at any cost”, Wadhams told the Wall Street Journal.  Tancredo has gained a national following for his strident position on illegal immigration.  When Tancredo ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008, he ran an ad that was reminiscent of the “daisy girl” spot that LBJ ran against Barry Goldwater in 1964 – depicting a bomb being planted by illegal immigrants exploding in a mall and the slogan “Tancredo – before it’s too late”.

This kind of sensationalism from a Tancredo run is likely to suck the air out of the Colorado campaign season – at all levels.  In fact, conservatives worry that beyond splitting the conservative vote in the Governor’s race, Tancredo’s presence on the ballot will affect other races as well.  This includes the race in the critical 4th CD, where Republican Cory Gardner is running a hotly contested race against Democrat Incumbent Betsy Markey.  If Tancredo’s presence at the top of the ticket helps the ACP”s 4th CD candidate Doug Aden siphons away votes from Gardner, it could mean the difference in the race.

All of which is salt in the wound to Colorado Tea Party activists – especially in Northern Colorado, where Cory Gardner is from.  In an open letter to Tancredo the day before he made his decision to enter the race, Lu Busse, Chairwoman of the Colorado 9-12 Project Coalition wrote:

We clearly demonstrated at the precinct caucuses and state assembly (that the)Tea Party and other pro-liberty grassroots individuals have worked tirelessly for more than a year championing our principles, becoming engaged and informed, learning the political process, vetting candidates at all levels, and also reshaping the Colorado Republican Party as you advised.

For Tancredo, it’s do as I say, not as I do.  “He’s making a mockery of himself and the entire election process”, Lesley Hollywood told the Wall Street Journal.  “It seems like an enormous power grab”.

Or publicity grab, anyway.

Billion reasons to distrust Colo. Dems

Four years ago, Colorado voters decided to trust Democrats with complete control of state government - the governor's mansion and large majorities in the legislature. As voters consider their choices for 2010, they might be surprised by how little governing Democrats have trusted voters in those four years.

Since 2007, Gov. Bill Ritter and the Democrat legislature have increased property taxes by more than $160 million a year, raised vehicle license "fees" by $250 million, instituted new hospital patient "fees" that will cost $600 million, and imposed some $180 million in new sales and use taxes.

All told, Ritter and the legislature have managed to increase the cost of taxes and fees by $1.19 billion and, miraculously, not once triggered Colorado's constitutional requirement that taxes can be raised only by a vote of the people.

In 2007, Democrats changed the school finance act to force most school districts to collect more property tax revenues, thereby reducing what the state spends on K-12 education. Previously, even many Democrats acknowledged that such a change must be presented to the voters.

This time, however, Democrats commandeered the political will to pass such a law and constructed a legal argument which, although rejected by a lower court, ultimately prevailed in the Colorado Supreme Court. As a result, Coloradans will pay an extra $160 million for property taxes this year alone - and more than $1 billion over six years.

Thus emboldened, the 2009 legislature smashed another of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights' (TABOR) prohibitions by eliminating the general fund spending limit without a public vote. Although Colorado Revised Statutes specifically referred to this provision as a "limitation" on the general fund, Democrats and their attorneys argued that it was instead an "allocation strategy" and, therefore, not subject to TABOR's prohibition against weakening spending limits without a public vote.

In its ruling on the 2007 property tax hike, the supreme court also signaled lawmakers that other taxes could be raised, under the guise of eliminating tax exemptions, so long as they didn't exceed TABOR revenue limit. To Democrats, suddenly everything that wasn't already taxed was merely "exempted" and a target to be taxed. So in the middle of a recession, they raised taxes on Colorado families and businesses by $180 million over two years.

However, the greatest deception is the onslaught of taxes masquerading as fees. Generally, taxes - which, according to the constitution, can't be raised without voter approval - are collected broadly and can be spent for any purpose. Fees, however, were generally understood to cover the cost of a regulatory function or of administration (e.g., licensing or registration) for which the fee is assessed.

Democrats made no pretense that the largest of their fee increases merely cover administrative expenses. Ritter suggested that the primary criterion necessary for a tax to be considered a fee is a "direct relationship" between the payer of the fee and a government activity funded by the fee.

Under this construction, it seems obvious that a new "fee" on gasoline could be imposed without a public vote so long as revenues are dedicated exclusively to highway construction or repair.

The most egregious fee - a $600 million tax on hospital services - is assessed on "outpatient and inpatient services" and ultimately paid by patients or their insurers, who receive no direct benefit in return. Ironically, Democrats dubbed this legislation, the "Health Care Affordability Act."

Together these two fees when fully implemented are projected to raise a combined $850 million a year. With fees of this magnitude, voters may never again be asked to approve a genuine tax.

Democrat candidate for governor John Hickenlooper recently said, "I think if you put issues before the public, they'll decide if it's a worthwhile investment."

That's not the way Democrats have governed for the past four years. So why should Colorado voters trust Democrats when Democrats clearly don't trust voters?

Treasurer primary: Take it from me

In today’s economy everyone is looking for ways to better manage their money. It is important that we also find someone qualified to manage our state tax money. Someone who knows public finance and will use sound, conservative fiscal policy to manage investments and protect the people’s hard earned tax dollars. In my judgment as a former municipal treasurer, that person is J. J. Ament. After spending 10 years advising state and local governments across the country in matters concerning public finance, J. J. is running for State Treasurer so he can use his experience to benefit the State of Colorado. He would be the first State Treasurer in over 40 years with a professional background in finance.

A strong supporter of TABOR, J. J. will be an advocate for the taxpayers and a voice against reckless spending and government waste. He intends to restore the independence between the Treasurer’s office and the Governor’s office and State Legislature.

Carefully review the candidates’ qualifications. You will find that J. J. Ament is the candidate most qualified to be our next State Treasurer.

Susan Bockenfeld Former Treasurer City of Centennial

RTD tax hike? Clapp no, Sharpe maybe

Nancy Sharpe and Lauri Clapp both bring a fiscally conservative resume to the GOP primary for Arapahoe County commissioner, District 2. But when asked about RTD's upcoming tax-increase proposal at the Republican breakfast club on April 7, Greenwood Village Mayor Sharpe answered vaguely and left the door open, whereas former State Rep. Clapp answered in one word: "No." Sharpe's answer, expressing sympathy with her colleagues among the metro mayors who are counting on FasTracks being built as promised, even it takes higher taxes, reflected a government person's viewpoint. Clapp's reflected a taxpayer viewpoint and could give her an edge in the upcoming summer of fiscal fear and loathing, leading up to the Aug. 10 primary.

These aren't ordinary times. Freedom is near the tipping point. At every level of government, even a frontline service-delivery level such as this big suburban county, we need not just routine competency but fierce determination to force the tax-and-spend-and-borrowing beast back into its cage. As I said in my nominating speech for Lauri Clapp at the county assembly yesterday:

These are dark times for the form of self-government we cherish. We need our best team on the field. That's why I urge your support for my friend, my trusted legislative ally, and my fellow fighting conservative, Lauri Clapp, as our nominee for county commissioner. At this testing time, we need proven conservative leaders who can head off fiscal disaster and defeat progressive socialism. It all starts with local government. This is ground zero. We need a commissioner with the toughness, the principle, and the backbone of Lauri Clapp. She will guard the gate for taxpayers, jobs, and quality of life in this county.

Will Nancy Sharpe guard that gate? I don't know. She might or might not. But I am sure Lauri Clapp will.

A tale of three Novembers

Snapshot of a Fast-Changing Political Landscape: What sets America apart from other countries is the extraordinary reservoir of idealism that has been a constant in our national life from the very beginning. The national narrative-a.k.a. The American Dream- has always been about individuals and groups who achieved remarkable things against great odds. Cynics for whom the glass is always half empty call the dream a myth but Americans know better for they have seen it fulfilled in their own lives or those of others for generations. Throughout our history the stories of Horatio Alger, Abraham Lincoln and countless others have reinforced our belief in the boundless potential of the common man and our deep conviction that such aspirations are no relic of the past but rather a living legacy for our children and grandchildren. A parallel theme to this American idealism is a recurring naivete in our initial assessments of politicians who seek to be our leaders. Through endless elections we have seen the triumph of hope over experience in our susceptibility to slogans like “ ending business as usual or “eliminating waste in government” or “driving out the special interests”. We tend to believe that if ordinary Americans can do extraordinary things then it is quite reasonable to expect politicians to deliver on their promises. Accordingly new Presidents invariably enter office with high approval ratings and even higher expectations.

A corollary to these themes of idealism and naivete is that when the politicians fail to deliver results or worse do things that contradict their promises we commonly feel disappointment, even anger, a sense of betrayal, and a righteous determination to punish those who have proved themselves unworthy of our trust (i.e. “Throw the Bums Out”)

The speed with which the people can turn on their elected leaders is in direct proportion to how high the initial approval ratings and how wide the subsequently perceived gap between expectations and performance.

In accord with the above political axioms America is now at the mid-point of one of the most dramatic transformations in all of our history. While the truth of this assertion cannot be fully known until at least November 2010, already the extraordinary events of 2009 culminating in the recent elections and the imminent climax of the proposed health care revolution give abundant evidence that a decisive turning point in our nation's history is at hand.

In the day following his narrow election in the tumultuous year of 1968 Richard Nixon told the story of the little girl who asked him to “Bring Us Together”. While that mission didn't end too well for Nixon, nonetheless that little girl's three words represented an enduring aspiration and expectation that Americans have for all their Presidents.

In 2004 a relatively unknown Barack Obama electrified the Democratic convention by insisting that there should be “ no blue states or red states, but only United States of America” Four years later candidate Obama-aided by the Perfect Storm of an unpopular war, a more unpopular President, and an apparently collapsing economy- with rare eloquence offered Americans the shining vision of a “post-partisan America” where old wounds racial and otherwise would be healed and the country would be “positively transformed”.

That vision and the visionary that inspired the nation on that sunny January Inauguration Day seemed almost too good to be true. And so it has proved.

Barack Obama's first year approval ratings though still respectable have fallen further faster than any other President in over half a century. Support for his ambitious agenda has plummeted even more precipitously. Instead of the promised “post-partisan” America our body politic is more polarized than at any time since the Vietnam /Watergate era.

The frighteningly unprecedented explosion of deficits, and the national debt so threatening to future generations and the vast societal redesign inherent in both Obamacare and Cap and Trade is not the “positively transformed” America that people thought they were being promised in the 2008 campaign.

Only events of the next twelve months punctuated by the mid-term elections will accurately measure the forces of political disaffection now clearly moving across the nation. Nonetheless current polling reveals growing majorities opposed to the “extreme makeover” of healthcare, seeing the country as on the “wrong track”, and deeply concerned about runaway spending and debt.

All this spells certain trouble for those who currently rule the political roost. What is equally certain is that just one year ago no one foresaw this extraordinary turn of events.

William Moloney's columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, U.S.A. Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun , Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post.