Winning in the Polls, Not in Governing

Paul Jacob
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Posted: Apr 23, 2017 12:01 AM
Winning in the Polls, Not in Governing

Were Democrats the sole cause of our governmental problems, solutions would now be underway. Republicans control all three branches of the federal government. And yet neither Utopia nor common-sense “good government” are on track.

At the state level, Republican dominance has set the country’s all-time high-water mark. The Grand Old Party controls more governorships, 32, than at any time since 1922, nearly a century ago. Furthermore, Republicans enjoy the majority in a whopping 67 state legislative chambers out of 99 total — the most ever for one party. In 32 states, the GOP controls both chambers in the legislature and, in 24 of those states, a Republican also sleeps in the governor’s mansion.

Plus, not counted as a GOP state is Nebraska, where the Republican governor works with a “non-partisan” unicameral legislature peopled mostly by Republicans — though no party label is next to their names on the ballot.

Not that there haven’t been policy victories won by these Republican bodies . . . but it is surprising — and more than a little depressing — how few. And how many times a progressive agenda has triumphed, instead.

Could the Republican Party be part of the problem?

In 2013, when Republicans garnered a legislative majority in my former home state of Arkansas, for the first time since before the century before this century, there was the promise of needed change. But my hope soon turned to horror, as the newly-minted GOP legislature assaulted the state’s term limits law, attacked the ballot initiative process, and saluted Obamacare by expanding Medicaid.

It’s hard to find a much more rock-ribbed conservative Republican state than Idaho. Yet, several key legislative accomplishments in the just completed legislative session were tossed into the garbage by the state’s GOP chief executive.

While the legislature cut the sales tax on groceries to help the people, Gov. Butch Otter swooped in with his veto pen to protect big government’s revenue stream.

One commentator excoriated Otter for giving libertarians “the double bird salute” by vetoing two other bills — one reforming unjust civil asset forfeiture and the other easing pernicious regulation of cosmetology — wondering if the governor had been spoiling “to make libertarians mad.”

That’s not exactly fair, however. Sure, the two blocked bills did appeal to libertarians. But they also appealed to conservatives — and even common-sense liberals. Both passed with bipartisan support.

House Bill 139 would have reduced the number of training hours for a cosmetology license and allowed folks to fix hair at special events like weddings without a government license.

“The fact that many lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, liberals, moderates and conservatives, are working together to advance legislation in the interest of economic opportunity and prosperity,” argued Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, “is a thing of beauty for a profession that’s all about beauty.”

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Those who run cosmetology schools probably like more mandated hours and folks in the profession might wish for less competition. Governor Otter said as much, complaining that HB 139 was written “without input from interested parties or due regard for the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

Just how dangerous is a bad haircut?

Putting safety in context, Hoffman explained that the current mandated hours of training for a cosmetology license “is more than is required to become an EMT in Idaho.”

Gov. Otter also vetoed HB 202, the civil asset forfeiture reform, at the behest of “law enforcement” — the very interested parties who gain from taking people’s stuff without bothering to charge or convict them of a crime. Respect for law and order begins with respect for the law. Permitting government to seize people’s property in such a lawless manner violates two bedrock conservative principles: property rights and the fundamental idea that one is innocent until proven guilty.

You might wonder why the governor can’t simply be overridden. After all, the legislation reforming civil asset forfeiture and the bill easing regulations that block employment in cosmetology both passed by wide margins.

According to the Gem State’s constitution, the governor has ten days after legislation reaches his desk or, at the session’s end, ten days after the legislature adjourns to decide whether to sign or veto a bill. If he vetoes after adjournment, it cannot be overridden — unless the legislature comes back into session.

Only the governor can call legislators back into session, which is exceedingly unlikely if a new session would entail a veto override.

Idaho is one of only six states where legislators can’t override a veto after adjournment. Still, the problem’s simple enough to solve: legislators could propose a constitutional amendment changing the process.

Senator Steve Vick did just that, in 2014 and again in 2016. But though his amendment garnered the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate, the House never took it up. He plans to reintroduce it next year.

Seems to me there’s another constitutional change needed: term limits for the governor. A 2015 poll found a whopping 84 percent of Idahoans favor such limits. Yet, legislators may be squeamish, knowing that those same voters (by that same margin) also want legislators term-limited.

“Sometimes it is amazing,” Idaho Politics Weekly’s Bob Bernick explained, “how elected officials can just ignore the will of voters.”

Seems the political battle lines that matter are between the voters and the big government establishment. And Republicans are too often part of — or seek to dominate — that establishment. Not dethrone it and limit government power.