(Denver Post, Feb. 26) "An empty taxi drove up to 10 Downing Street,” joked Winston Churchill about the man who defeated him for prime minister in 1946, “and out of it stepped Clement Attlee.” Droll, but Attlee laughed last. Nothing succeeds like success.
Detractors who grumble that there is “no there, there” in John Hickenlooper’s remarkable political winning streak, have to admit the same thing about his long-running popularity as Mayor of Denver and now Governor of Colorado: voters just like the guy.
The latest indication of Hick’s undiminished moxie was an odd little news item the other day, in which Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, hinted at a 2014 gubernatorial bid – but only if Hickenlooper, the Democratic incumbent, were to decline a second term as did his predecessor, Bill Ritter. To which the Gov’s office replied, in substance, fat chance.
The upcoming TBD Project, 120 townhall meetings around the state with private funding of $1.2 million, shows again how Hickenlooper has raised amiable vagueness to an art form. He says TBD stands for “To Be Determined,” an open invitation for citizens to help set the state’s priorities – and bristles at the GOP gibe that it’s really code for “Taxed by Democrats.” The very idea!
Cruising toward halftime in his four-year term, the canny Hick is still not ready to roll out an agenda. No hurry, we’ll just travel the counties and see what folks scribble on our whiteboard. If Christo can take till 2015 to drape the river, the administration’s big push on education, transportation, corrections, and fiscal reform needn’t start yet either. Get reelected, then get serious.
On what record, you ask, would the governor campaign, given his underwhelming accomplishments to date? That’s the interesting thing about being Colorado’s chief executive. Constitutionally the position is so weak – the executive branch being split among four elected offices, the legislative branch having dominance on spending, and the voters controlling taxes and debt under TABOR – that an incumbent can win again just by managing the atmospherics and avoiding blunders.
It worked exactly this way for all of the successful governors in the state’s modern era (since terms went from two years to four in 1962). The Republican John Love and the Democrats Dick Lamm and Roy Romer each won three terms. Republican Bill Owens was easily reelected once and then term-limited. Democrat Bill Ritter, dogged by scandal and done after one, is the exception who proves the rule.
Don’t misunderstand: Love, Lamm, Romer, and Owens were all surehanded leaders and formidably skilled politicians. (Gov. Romer, of course, trounced me in our 1990 contest.) I’m merely saying that if you look for their monumental legacies or enduring policy victories, there weren’t many.
Romer did get DIA built, though Mayor Federico Pena’s name is on the approach road, and he passed the CSAP legislation, though education is little the better for it. Owens pushed T-REX to completion, though congestion persists, and he signed voucher legislation, though judges then annulled it. Lamm ran off the Winter Olympics – though before he became governor – and now we may host them anyway.
Governing our state or any other state simply doesn’t lend itself to transformative Obama-style grandiosity – which from my conservative viewpoint is a good thing. The Hippocratic caution in public policy, “First do no harm,” is hard enough to uphold. Deliver that and we’re grateful, would be the sentiment of most Americans in what is still a center-right nation.
Today’s superstar governors elsewhere – Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana – became such by tackling Augean messes, not by peddling utopian dreams. Colorado, for all its problems, is in no such crisis, thank goodness. If the empty gimmickry of John “TBD” Hickenlooper has an upside, that’s it.
(Centennial Fellow) During the campaign for ratification of the U.S. Constitution James Madison, wrote to John Randolph in 1788 extolling the concept of Federalism - saying that "this system allows each state to indulge their own governmental peculiarities, while at the same time by their example offering instruction to all other states regarding good practices to be emulated and bad ones to be avoided."For over two centuries Madison's words have proved wise and prophetic as the individual states have served as vibrant laboratories of democracy exporting countless good practices to their neighbors.In the category of "bad ones to be avoided" today one can find no better cautionary tale than New Jersey as I was reminded on a recent mission to the Garden State on behalf of the Centennial Institute.Whether seen from afar or even more so up close, New Jersey is in thrall to an absolute "perfect storm" of political incompetence, and corruption, union greed and obstructionism, nepotism, over the top judicial activism, educational dysfunction, and financial chaos.Think of the very worst such excesses ever seen in Colorado; multiply these a hundredfold, and you begin to grasp the depth of New Jersey's pathology. As a candid official in Jersey City told me while I was there for a recent policy conference: "We've been so bad for so long, that people hardly notice, or think it’s like the weather- Nothing to be done about it."Governor Chris Christie thinks something can and must be done about it. It is a measure of the state's desperate condition when an aggressive, "in your face" Republican can not only get elected, but also win support for reform from an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. You know things are bad when private sector unions join Christie in opposing the excesses of public sector unions.For readers craving specifics regarding the above indictment, I recommend two excellent sources whose well documented case makes my own criticisms seem mild.The first is Steven Malanga, senior editor at City Journal whose lengthy article appears in the Winter 2012 issue of that publication, and was recently excerpted in the Wall St. Journal ("New Jersey's Judicial Road to Fiscal Perdition").Malanga details the phenomenal over-reach of the New Jersey Supreme Court beginning in 1976 when they forced the state legislature to institute an income tax to fund education spending by ordering the shut-down of all New Jersey schools until the legislature complied.In 1985 the Court ordered the legislature to fund all urban school districts at the same level being spent in the state's wealthiest school districts, and further ordered yet more "supplemental" spending to offset the "additional disadvantages" of urban students.In 1998 the Court ordered the state to provide pre-school education for all 3 and 4 - year-olds in all urban districts where per pupil spending is as high as $30,000 per student per year.In the last twelve years alone, the state has sent over $40 billion dollars to its urban districts yet their student achievement levels have not improved, and remain among the worst in the nation.The second source is an award winning documentary film entitled "The Cartel", which has been favorably compared to the much better known education classic "Waiting For Superman".The "Cartel" in question is the national syndicate of American teacher unions. While the particular focus is New Jersey, what you see here is in essence to be found in every state. The educational dysfunction, political manipulation, financial malfeasance, and general obstructionism of teacher unions may vary from state to state but it is only a difference of degree, not of kind.The film brilliantly illuminates how the scam works: the unions apply their immense resources of money and manpower to elect friendly school boards and other state and local politicians. They then negotiate contracts with those who they have elected. Unsurprisingly the contracts are generous which brings the unions more members, and more money to buy more politicians. And so the judicially enabled cycles continues and metastasize over decades- employees doing very well, children very badly. Poignantly the film shows us the faces, voices, and tears of the parents and children who are being cheated out of the one thing they most need to save their lives; Education. And they know it. Their frustration is palpable, as is their powerlessness.As you watch the children on the screen your hearts will break but you're probably thinking "Oh, that couldn't happen in our state." Wrong! It is happening all across the land. The unholy triumvirate of runaway judges, greedy unions, and manipulative politicians is everywhere undermining the foundations and the future of the Great American Democracy.If you look you will see it. If not, recall those ancient words: "None so blind, as those who will not see"
William Moloney's columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Washington Times, Denver Post, and Human Events.
(CCU Faculty) Last November, New Jersey and Virginia, two states with Democratic Governors, elected Republicans to replace them. In Virginia, it was an open seat, while in New Jersey, the incumbent John Corzine was defeated.
As the administrations of Governor Christie of New Jersey and Governor McDonnell of Virginia begin to take shape, there is great hope for education reform from these new Republican governors. Each Governor-elect has picked a supporter of school choice plans to head his department of education.
In Virginia, Gerard Robinson has been selected to serve as the next Secretary of Education. Robinson has been serving as the Director of the nonprofit Black Alliance for Education Options (BAEO). Seeking widespread reforms, the BAEO’s mission statement emphasizes that they seek to: “increase access to high-quality educational options for Black children by actively supporting parental choice policies and programs that empower low-income and working-class Black families.”
In New Jersey, Governor Christie has named former Jersey City Mayor and two-time candidate for Governor Bret Schundler to be his education commissioner. As mayor and candidate, Schundler has been a vocal advocate for education reforms, including support for school vouchers, charter schools and merit pay for public school teachers.
Representatives from the teachers’ unions in New Jersey are quoted in the New York Times, stating that Bret Schundler is “the antithesis of everything we hold sacred about public education.” The nomination of neither Robinson nor Schundler to head these state education departments would have occurred had the democratic candidates succeeded last November. Teachers’ unions have based their support for democratic candidates on opposition to vouchers, charter schools and school choice.
Hopefully, these republican administrations will be able to implement real school reform in these states by allowing citizens to make choices about the schools their children attend. School choice plans that give parents and their children options encourage competition, which in turn demands improvements in quality, while at the same time seek reductions in cost.
“If a foreign power had done this, we would consider it an act of war.” So said a national blue-ribbon panel, outraged by bad education policies. I say the same about Colorado Democrats’ economic mismanagement. Bill Ritter’s tax-hike threat this week is the latest absurdity.
Now that Obama’s socialistic interventions and massive stimulus have failed to cure the recession, policymakers in each state must look to their own toolbox for policies to revive prosperity. Gov. Ritter, his legislative majority, and their liberal allies are making all the wrong moves at the worst possible time. Deliver us.
There’s more than Republican rhetoric to back up my indictment. For witnesses I call Arthur Laffer, the father of supply-side economics; Stephen Moore, economist for the Wall Street Journal; and Jonathan Williams, fiscal analyst for the American Legislative Exchange Council. They’ve authored “Rich States, Poor States,” the ALEC economic competitiveness index for 2009.
The book’s findings should both please and worry Coloradans. For the decade through 2007, our economic performance ranked 10th among the states, based on personal income growth, employment growth, and population growth. ALEC’s data belie the lament that fiscal restraints are “strangling Colorado” (Susan Barnes-Gelt in a recent TV debate) or that tax cuts would make this “a state we want to leave” (reader Robert Schmidt after my Aug. 2 column on the car-tax backlash).
Mr. Schmidt can move away if he wants, should Initiative 10 with its reduction of income, vehicle, and phone taxes pass next year. But most people tend to vote with their feet in the other direction. Laffer, Moore, and Williams report that in the 10 states with lowest personal and corporate tax rates, population grew more than twice as fast as it did in the 10 states where tax rates were highest. “Strangling” indeed.
Overall, it’s clear our state was doing something right since 1997, despite shifting party control in the General Assembly and Governor’s office. Colorado families benefited hugely from what Laffer and his colleagues call the “shocking power” of tax and regulatory policy to lift or depress prosperity. Why now, of all times, amid a global economic downturn, would the Ritter crew decide to push every policy lever into full dive?
The “Rich States, Poor States” index puts Colorado 2nd nationally in terms of favorable economic outlook to keep gaining wealth and population, based on a scorecard for 15 variables. Eight of those measure taxation. The others look at debt burden, public employee burden, workers’ compensation, minimum wage, right to work, the liability climate, and fiscal guardrails such as TABOR.
The big-government zealots now in power could not be more backward in their handling of these levers if they were using a checklist. Democrats have raised property taxes and car taxes. They boosted the minimum wage via the 2006 ballot and blocked right to work via the 2008 ballot. They also tried an energy tax and a TABOR-buster in 2008. They’ll seek more debt and taxes for RTD in 2010.
They’ve added over a thousand jobs to state payrolls in each of the last two budgets, deficit woes notwithstanding. This spring they attempted to raid the workers’ comp agency, Pinnacol, and they’re prepping for another try this summer. Our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, lauded by Laffer, is Dracula as far as Ritter is concerned. Reelect him next year and it’s gone the year after, he has said. Legislators are prepping for that as well.
If Coloradans let this economic rampage continue, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and other highly-ranked states on the ALEC index will be quick to pounce. Our loss is their gain. Wealth will flow out of state as surely as water flows downhill. But what a fiasco, to sabotage our state’s competitiveness that way. What a shame.
(Wellfleet, MA - July 20) This is a small Cape Cod community –about 500 people when I was growing up- now part of Massachusetts’ National Seashore Park. It's also home to a few hardy souls with whom I shared the experience of a one-room school house presided over by a septuagenarian female teacher whose reproving glances struck abject fear in our young hearts. One of the advantages of encountering such old friends is that it is possible to discuss current events without hitting the high wall that these flinty New Englanders usually erect between themselves and nosy “outsiders”. Thus of a recent morning I enjoyed some illuminating conversation concerning Massachusetts politics- usually a good source of light entertainment if not moral uplift. It’s been a tough week for the state’s Democratic governor, Deval Patrick. On Monday the Democratic State Treasurer Tim Cahill announced he was quitting the party and signaled pretty clearly that he would run against Patrick as an Independent. On Wednesday Charles Baker, a prominent Republican businessman with deep pockets, announced that he too would challenge the incumbent. Illustrating a key reason for Patrick’s vulnerability was the discovery on Tuesday that the state’s budget gap- already 3.2 billion dollars- had worsened by an additional 200 million dollars owing to dismal June revenues. The basic cause of Patrick’s plummeting approval ratings and the consequent electoral challenges is no mystery: Taxes. With the concurrence of the Democrat controlled legislature Patrick has recently done the following: a. increased highway tolls by 25 %; b. increased Metropolitan bus and subway fares by 30 %; c. imposed a first ever tax on retail alcohol sales (two dollars on a fifth of Scotch. Ouch!); and d. –causing the most outrage- raised the already high sales tax by 25%. The use of weasel terms like “fee adjustments”, or “revenue enhancements”, or Patrick’s gem-“state income improvement measures” does not fool but does further infuriate a public that knows a tax increase when it sees one. Also significant is that all of those taxes are regressive in nature falling most heavily on those lower income groups that have traditionally been the foundation of the Democrats’ electoral base. All of this however is not just a Massachusetts story, but rather a template for states across the nation where Democrats are running things. The recession has put the Democratic Party under a harsh spotlight that has simultaneously exposed their deeply flawed approach to governance and their fundamental incapacity to preside over difficult economic times like the present. The recession undermines and ultimately makes counter-productive the Democrats favorite activity: Spending. It also impels them toward the only remedy tolerated by their ruling elites: The political Kool-Aid of Tax Increases. At the heart of the Democrats’ dilemma are three inherent defects that have long plagued their party: 1.They are constitutionally incapable of grasping the concept that lower tax rates can generate higher tax revenues (See Reagan,R., 1981); 2. They are politically incapable of any budget or policy initiative opposed by their union allies; and 3. Ideology makes them utterly blind to the fact that creating a “business friendly” climate is essential to any sustained economic recovery. Historically, political change in the U.S. begins at the state level before going national. An excellent example is Proposition 13- California’s 1978 tax revolt that prefigured the triumph of Ronald Reagan. A major reason for this pattern is that economically speaking reality bites earlier and harder at the state level. Economic make-believe can be sustained longer at the Federal level because it is a remote and artificial environment that prints its own money- a luxury unavailable to states where budgets must be balanced in real time. Accordingly political retribution is swifter at the state level. Gubernatorial approval ratings nosedive faster than the Presidential variety, but in the end both are reflective of economic malfeasance, and the populist backlash it generates. In 2006 Deval Patrick was an attractive, articulate outsider who preached a gospel of “Hope and Change”. His good friend Barack Obama even admitted in 2008 to plagiarizing a few of Patrick’s speeches.
No doubt friend Obama has noticed that Patrick’s “Hope and Change” bandwagon has collided head-on with “Reality and Disillusion”.
An increasingly restless nation waits to see what if any lessons our new President will learn.William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadephia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Rocky Mountain News.