THIS IS HOW YOU SAVE THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
By Bill Sizemore
May 24, 2004
Republican State Representative Vic Backlund is a virtual icon in his Keizer, Oregon legislative district. He is a well-known small businessman, and for years has been active in local community life from clubs to politics to youth sports. Backlund is a likeable guy and everywhere he goes in his hometown, a suburb of the state capital, people wave and call him by name.
However, Rep. Vic Backlund has had a dirty little secret. He is a RINO; one of those Republicans who often votes like a Democrat; one of those “moderate” Republicans who sees things from government’s perspective more often than from the taxpayers’ perspective.
Unfortunately for Rep. Backlund, his little secret got out. On May 18th, in a toughly fought Republican Primary, Vic Backlund lost his bid for reelection to one Kim Thatcher, a political unknown. Consequently, Mr. Backlund will not be returning to the state capitol next January. He will be staying home.
Doing to other “Republicans in name only” what was done to Vic Backlund is how you save the Republican Party from itself. This is the cure for the “squish disease,” which today infects elected Republicans in epidemic proportions.
There’s a valuable lesson to be learned from seeing how things unfolded in the Backlund race.
In January of 2003, Oregonians were asked to vote on a rather large income tax measure, which had been placed on the ballot by state legislators, who claimed that they needed a few hundred million more taxpayer dollars to balance the state’s budget. Voters didn’t buy the legislature’s story and soundly defeating the tax measure.
Democrat members of the state legislature decided that the voters had made a mistake when they rejected their previous tax increase, and with the support of several prominent Republicans, including Vic Backlund, passed another tax increase, an even larger one; this time not bothering to refer the decision to the taxpayers for a public vote.
After all, legislators already knew what the people would say, if asked, so they decided to forego the asking altogether and just take the money.
Incensed by the legislature’s deafness and outright arrogance, several taxpayers groups, led by the Oregon arm of Citizens for a Sound Economy, collected more than twice the number of signatures required to force the issue to a public vote.
In February of this year, the legislature’s billion-dollar tax increase was soundly defeated; even losing by a large margin in liberal Portland and Multnomah County.
Usually, that’s where the story ends, but not this time. Conservative activists started itching for some payback. They wanted to send a message to all of the Republicans in the state legislature that Republican legislators were not going to get away with voting for huge tax increases, especially when voters had just said “No” to a smaller one.
Activists started looking for key Republican legislators to use as object lessons; politicians they could challenge in the upcoming Republican primaries to communicate to other Republicans that the “crime” of raising taxes doesn’t pay. Interestingly, however, high profile Republicans to use as examples started becoming scarce.
By the strangest of means, three of the highest profile RINOs were removed from consideration by Oregon’s liberal Democrat governor, Ted Kulongoski. How could a Democrat governor protect RINO Republicans, you ask. Good question.
Believe it or not, three of the most high profile Republicans in the state legislature, all of whom had voted for the tax increase, were appointed by the governor to high paying state jobs, either running state agencies or sitting on state boards or commissions.
The governor made four major appointments, all within a short period of time, and to the surprise of almost everyone, he gave three of the four plum positions to well known, sell-out Republicans.
Clever guy, that governor. By appointing three prominent Republican legislators to high paying state jobs, the governor accomplished two things: First, he removed from elected office three well-entrenched Republican incumbents, thus giving Democrats a better chance of winning those legislative seats next election. Second, he protected all three of them from potentially humiliating primary defeats.
Why would a Democrat governor want to protect Republicans? The governor knew that in the future he would need the votes of other liberal Republicans to pass bills he supported, and didn’t want to give conservatives the opportunity to use the three who had just helped him as object lessons.
No one knows for sure if the appointment of Republicans to high paying state jobs was payback for them giving the governor the votes he needed, but it surely looked that way, and it was rather strange that the Democrats in the legislature didn’t complain a bit about all those plum jobs going to members of the opposition party.
When the dust had settled, however, not all of the RINOs had been protected. One major Republican player was still exposed. Republican Vic Backlund, the popular small businessman from Keizer, had voted for the tax increase and still had to run in the May Primary. And he had an opponent. Backlund was the perfect subject for a Republican object lesson.
Conservative activists targeted the race, helped raise money for Backlund’s unknown opponent, Kim Thatcher, and made a big issue of his vote for the billion-dollar tax increase. When the primary votes were counted, Backlund was history and a lot of people took notice.
This is how you save the Republican Party.
You don’t spin your wheels trying to start a third party. You don’t give up and not vote anymore. You roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of recruiting conservative candidates to run against liberal Republicans and take them out in Republican primaries.
If you want to save the Republican Party from its own squishy leadership, you have to recruit conservative candidates and help them raise the money they need to run good campaigns. You have to send a message to all sell-out Republicans that there is such a thing as discipline in the Republican Party. Even if you don’t win every race, the message is sent and received: Vote like a Democrat and you will be challenged next primary.
Granted, the party itself probably won’t lend a hand. Establishment Republicans tend to protect incumbents, as Bush did recently by campaigning for Senator Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania. Rather than taking the chance that the seat would go Democrat in the Fall, which indeed is more likely when Republicans put forward a truly conservative candidate in a moderate state like Pennsylvania, Bush played it safe and campaigned for liberal incumbent Arlen Specter, one of the worst RINOs in the U.S. Senate. It was a disgusting thing to behold.
But even that defeat taught the RINOs and us a valuable lesson, because the race turned out to be a real squeaker. Even with a Republican president actively campaigning for a well-entrenched Republican incumbent, conservative challenger Toomey almost won.
Back in Oregon, however, the challenger did win and consequently one well-unknown Republican icon will not be returning to the Oregon state legislature. His vote to raise taxes cost him his seat. More importantly, other Republicans in the Oregon legislature have been sent a clear message that even popular incumbents can be removed from office if they vote like Democrats.
This is how you save the Republican Party.
You use the primaries and inject into the process the discipline that party leaders refuse to exercise. As I explained in another column “Why Republicans Cave In,” Republican leaders are more interested in maintaining a majority in the House and Senate than they are doing anything with that majority. It is up to the rest of us to override their self-interest and insure that there are real conservatives running in every Republican primary and that they have what they need to win.
There is much validity these days to the claim that it is hard to tell the difference between Republicans and Democrats. However, that is not because there aren’t plenty of good conservative Republicans in the Congress and in state legislatures across the country. It is because there are not enough of them to control the agenda. There are not enough of them, because conservative Republicans do not discipline liberal Republicans in Republican primaries.
All across this nation, RINOs like Representative Vic Backlund of Keizer, Oregon, have a well-guarded secret. Much of the time, they vote like Democrats. Politicians like Vic Backlund would like very much to maintain their little secret. They know that if word ever gets out that they vote like Democrats, they will be lucky to survive the next Republican Primary.
If we want to save the Republican Party, the way is clear: We have to start playing hardball in the Republican primaries.
© 2004 Bill Sizemore - All Rights Reserved
Bill Sizemore is a registered Independent who
works as executive director of the Oregon Taxpayers Union, a statewide
taxpayer organization. Bill was the Republican candidate for governor
in 1998. He and his wife Cindy have four children, ages eight to thirteen,
and live on 36 acres in Beavercreek, just southeast of Oregon City, Oregon.
"After all, legislators already knew what the people would say, if asked, so they decided to forego the asking altogether and just take the money."