Why I would support Susan Stimpson against Bill Howell

November 12, 2014

There are whispers up in Stafford that former Board Chairman Susan Stimpson is considering a primary challenge against Speaker Bill Howell. At present, that might seem odd, but by Primary Day her victory (if it comes) could very well be the best news Republicans have.

As Board Chairman and Member, Stimpson built a record that earned my endorsement for Lieutenant Governor in 2013 (details here). That race was run in the shadow of Bob McDonnell’s transportation tax hike (or, as I’ve called it, Plan ’13 From Outer Space), and it is that tax hike that has led me to hope Susan runs and wins…but not for the reasons most think.

Contrary to what many believe, the argument over that tax hike isn’t quite over, in part because the tax hike itself hasn’t been fully implemented. Given the latest from Mr. Leahy, we can be pretty certain that the wholesale tax on gasoline will increase this January. Given the near complete lack of price elasticity for gasoline below $4/gallon (above that price and it’s a very different story), that means gas prices will jump in January as Republicans argue amongst themselves about whom to blame for it (the leadership of the General Assembly or the leadership in the House of Representatives).

In other words, 2015 will dawn to see Republicans arguing amongst themselves and trying to deflect blame for yet another tax increase…and voters in “off-off-year” elections have been very cruel to tax-hiking Republicans. In 2007, voters reacted to the Republican-drafted HB3202 by handing the State Senate to the Democrats and cutting the GOP’s House majority in half. Four years later, most of Virginia simply went status quo – except for Spotsylvania County, which turfed three incumbent Supervisors in the midst of a local tax revolt, padded up a huge margin for Bryce Reeves in the process, and thus flipped the State Senate practically by itself.

How will these voters – the most continuous, and thus the most knowledgeable, of the electorate – react to another Republican tax increase? To ask the question is to answer it…unless Republicans themselves show they’ve gotten the message. In other words, if Bill Howell doesn’t retire on his own, Republicans in eastern Stafford will have to do it for him.

That may sound ruthless, in no small part because it is. I’ve crossed swords with Howell in the past; that didn’t stop me from noticing when he steered his caucus away from a tax hike in the summer of 2008. I also think his effort to stop Medicaid expansion is underestimated.

However, the Senate majority is at stake again, and we can’t risk voter anger over the last phase of Plan ’13 From Outer Space. Susan Stimpson would be an excellent Delegate, and her nomination would show Virginia voters that the Republican Party is ready to move on from its recent tax-hiking past.

That’s how I see it.

Tax issue helped Republicans expand the wave election (too bad Virginia Republicans took it away from Gillespie)

November 5, 2014

Disaffection with the president was a major driver for Republican success in last night’s election – of that there is no doubt. That said, the extent of success was greatly helped by…wait for it…taxes.

We begin with the epicenter of the tax argument: Kansas. Governor Sam Brownback’s tax reduction were supposed to be his own worst enemy – a political millstone that might not only drag him down, but Senator Pat Roberts, too. Instead, Roberts won going away, and Brownback not only won re-election, but came within 100 votes of an absolute majority (a Libertarian nominee took 4% of the vote). AP (via the Lawrence Journal-World), explains why in their exit poll analysis:

TAX CUTS: Roughly half of the voters said that tax cuts Brownback pushed had mostly helped Kansas, while about two in five said they had hurt.

So the tax cuts broke roughly 10 ten points in Brownback’s favor, contrary to the conventional wisdom…not that this is any surprise to me.

In the rest of the country, the tax issue popped up in referenda. John Hood (NRO – The Corner) has the details:

It’s worth noting also that conservatives won all of the nation’s big fiscal-policy referenda this year, beating a gas-tax hike in Massachusetts and business-tax hike in Nevada, while winning tax limitations in Tennessee, Georgia, and Wisconsin.

Note the states listed: Massachusetts also elected a Republican Governor. In Georgia, both Republicans (Purdue for Senate and Governor Deal for re-election) managed to avoid runoff and win outright (yet another “surprise” for the chattering classes). Finally, of course, Wisconsin re-elected Governor Scott Walker with unexpected ease.

Finally, there is Maryland, where I must spend two nights a week for work. As such, I saw every add Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (D) put up in his race to succeed his previous running mate, Governor Martin O’Malley. Brown’s ads ran the gamut of positive and negative, hard-hitting issue ads and soft-touch personal ones. By contrast, I only saw one ad for Republican Larry Hogan – an ad that tried to squeeze in all of O’Malley’s tax increases in 30 seconds (practically one per second), along with a promise to give taxpayers a rest if he (Hogan) won.

In fact, Hogan did win.

Similarly, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn used major tax increases to keep his state government afloat. Despite being in the president’s home state, Quinn lost to Republican Bruce Rauner last night.

Again, anger and disaffection with the president was the big driver here, but voters especially rewarded Republicans where they could also take advantage of the tax issue…

…which makes one wonder what could have happened in Virginia had Republican Ed Gillespie not had the headwinds of tax-hiking Republican Bob McDonnell to face.

I’m just sayin’.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon

Remember Tax Cuts? They’re Baaaaaaaack.

October 3, 2014

Everyone in politics knows about that guy (or gal), the one who keeps banging on about taxes: they should never be raised; they should be cut at the first opportunity; government spending cuts can always be found in the budget; tax cuts are political winners; tax increases drive away voters like the plague; tax increases never bring in the revenue their supposed to raise anyway; tax increases discourage spending cuts, etc.

Of course, I am that guy. So I couldn’t help but notice that while Republicans in Washington are increasingly skittish about proposing tax reductions (the state capitals are another story), center-right politicians in the rest of the Anglosphere are grabbing them with both hands – and reaping the rewards.

Just last month, in New Zealand, National Prime Minister John Key asked voters for a third term with “promised tax cuts” while his Labour opponents proposed a new capital gains tax (Bloomberg via Sun-Sentinel). The result: the highest popular vote level for the National Party in over 60 years, and (pending special ballots) the Holy Grail of politics – an absolute majority in a proportional-representation election (Economist).

Meanwhile, just this week, British Prime Minister David Cameron launched the (unusually long due to fixed election dates) 2015 campaign with a promise of two separate income tax cuts. Less than two days later, YouGov (one of many pollsters in the UK) reported that Cameron’s Tories took their first lead in its poll in over two and a half years (Telegraph).

Finally, even our neighbor to the north is getting in the act: Prime Minister Stephen Harper is moving up his planned tax reductions by about six months (National Post).

Granted, in each of these nations, the center-right is actually in power, and thus have been better able to keep spending in check (at least since 2010). Still, it is yet another reminder in this era of near-record mistrust of government effectiveness (and not just here in the US), letting the people spend their own money is a powerful way to rebuild trust and support.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift

Bob McDonnell is a WHAT?!?!?!

September 5, 2014

Reactions to the Bob McDonnell verdict our pouring in, and there’s one in particular (from many of his defenders) that I find completely flabbergasting.

The ex-Governor’s defenders are calling him a “man of integrity.” My jaw hits the table each time I see that.

Folks, Bob McDonnell spent all of 2009 insisting he would not raise taxes. He blasted his opponent (Creigh Deeds) for even considering it, and rode the issue to a landslide win in November of that year.

In the last year of his term (as it happens, last year) he broke that promise in spectacular fashion, ramming through the largest tax increase in at least 40 years.

Even then, he skirted the truth. He insisted the tax hike was for relieving commuter congestion, but in fact his top priority was actually a parallel road to US 460 that wasn’t needed for traffic relief – and which the Army Corps of Engineers said he couldn’t build anyway (Bacon’s Rebellion).

So please, spare me the “man of integrity” nonsense. If you want to complain about the federal decision to prosecute McDonnell (as opposed to other Virginians) or the bizarre nature of the “honest service fraud” statute, that’s one thing.

But Bob McDonnell was no angel.

Dear Virginia Senate Republican Majority: Don’t mess it up again with another tax hike

August 20, 2014

With Ben Chafin’s election, it is now official. After seven months, the Republicans have a majority in the Virginia Senate once more. As one would expect, a number of my friends are crowing.

Unfortunately for me, recent political history is screaming in my ears. It makes my optimism about a fully Republican-controlled Virginia legislature extremely cautious.

For those unaware, the Republican Party first had a State Senate “majority” in 1998 (although the 21st vote was actually the Lieutenant Governor); they held it for ten years. This is the record of that decade…

  • Holding up budget amendments in an attempt to reverse the progress of the Gilmore car-tax cut (2001)
  • A referendum in Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia for tax increases (2002 – thankfully rejected by the voters)
  • A proposed tax increase that was twice what Mark Warner wanted (2004)
  • A proposed gas tax increase (2006)
  • A proposed statewide tax increase in response to the HB3202 debacle (2007)
  • Enacting HB3202 anyway (2007)

Somehow, the party was shocked – shocked! – when voters showed them the door and returned the State Senate to the Democrats in November 2007 (on a night when those without a tax-stained record did quite well, thank you very much).

Four years later, after Governor Bob McDonnell won a landslide victory by promising not to raise taxes, the GOP managed another 20-20 split. Once again, the Lieutenant Governor give them control…and within a fifteen months, the Republican-controlled State Senate passed a McDonnell-proposed tax hike (known in this corner as Plan ’13 From Outer Space). The nominee to replace McDonnell – Ken Cuccinelli – tried to defend and oppose it at the same time.

Somehow, the party was shocked – shocked! – when voters showed the 2013 GOP ticket the door, which also put the State Senate back into the hands of the Democrats in January.

Now, Republicans have the 21st vote once more.

I sincerely hope that the party has learned its lesson…and not f*ck it up with yet another tax hike that reminds the voters why  they took power away from it, repeatedly.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon

The Virginia Medicaid battle is suspended, but not over

June 10, 2014

Based on the Richmond Times-Dispatch report, a budget deal is in sight (via Bull Elephant):

The Senate will convene Thursday to enact a two-year state budget that will have about $700 million less in new spending than when the General Assembly adjourned its regular session March 8 without approving a budget because of a bitter political battle over expanding health insurance coverage.

To hear Medicaid expansion backers tell it, everybody was willing to pass a “clean” budget, and came to that conclusion just last week. Never mind the whole Puckett resignation fracas. Take that as you will.

However, the battle over Medicaid expansion is not over. It will likely continue to be fought in the General Assembly (either in this special session or a new special session), and lest anyone forget, Medicaid expansion still has the support of 22 senators.

In other words, we need to continue to make the argument that Medicaid expansion is bad for the state, bad for taxpayers, and terrible for its would-be beneficiaries.

House Speaker Bill Howell et al have done decent work keeping this nonsense at bay so far. They deserve our thanks, but we also deserve, and expect, that they keep up the fight.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon

State Senator Phil Puckett resigns; deck chairs on Titanic to be re-arranged

June 9, 2014

Richmond is all agog over the resignation of State Senate Phil Puckett (Richmond Times-Dispatch), which grants the Republicans a temporary majority in the State Senate, pending a special election which the Republicans are favored to win. According to the RTD, Puckett’s resignation paves the way for his daughter to be elected to a judgeship, while he himself could land on the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

All eyes (in Richmond) went immediately to the budget, where according to the Constitution (emphasis added):

No bill which creates or establishes a new office, or which creates, continues, or revives a debt or charge, or which makes, continues, or revives any appropriation of public or trust money or property, or which releases, discharges, or commutes any claim or demand of the Commonwealth, or which imposes, continues, or revives a tax, shall be passed except by the affirmative vote of a majority of all the members elected to each house, the name of each member voting and how he voted to be recorded in the journal.

Normally, that means 21 out of 40. Given that we only have 39 at the moment, 20 should actually work…for the State Senate to pass the budget until the special election. In the grand scheme of things, though, there is a lot less than meets the eye. Here’s why.

First, not every Republican State Senator supported the Republican budget: Walter Stosch (Dave Brat’s patron), John Watkins, and Emmett Hanger all voted with the Democrats to add Medicaid expansion to the budget. In theory, party unity could convince them to change their minds, but there’s no guarantee of that.

Second, there is still the Governor: If one wanted to hand Terry McAuliffe the perfect excuse for a budget veto, coaxing a Senator’s resignation with the promise of appointments for himself and his daughter would be it. I’ll admit, a veto is unlikely, but this deal is excellent ammunition for Election Day 2014, 2015, and 2017.

Speaking of…

Third, even if the GOP wins the budget battle, the fight of Medicaid will go on, and this will make it harder to win: According to Christopher Newport University (poll), the Republicans were actually winning the debate on Medicaid expansion. That might, and probably will, change if T-Mac can now claim perfidy from the opposition. This allows Terry McAuliffe – Terry F–king McAuliffe – to run as Mr. Clean, and the Democrats to present themselves as the Clean Team in 2015 and 2017.

Odds are this will even damage our recent nominee for U.S. Senate – Ed Gillespie, the consummate Virginia Republican insider.

We may even see the Republicans cave on Medicaid expansion just to neutralize the issue in 2015.

Fourth, the State Senate is the poisoned chalice of recent times. Let’s say the GOP does win the special election and holds all 21 seats next year, which I’ll admit is still likely despite the above (or because of the previous sentence). Let’s take a look at the fate of the party controlling the state senate after the last six midterm elections (1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011). In all six cases, the party lost the ensuing gubernatorial election. In five of them, they lost House seats and a majority of the statewide races. In three, they lost all statewide races, and in two they lost the senate itself.

Now, one could say even that might be worth it if a Republican Senate would mean greater momentum for limited government, but that just isn’t so…

Every Republican-controlled State Senate in the 21st Century has enacted a tax increase: That’s right; there was the referendum of 2002 (defeated by the voters), the Warner tax hike of 2004 (which, at $1.5 billion, was only half what the State Senate originally wanted), HB3202 (largely overturned by the courts), and Plan ’13 From Outer Space. If anything, it has been minority status that forces Republicans to behave.

Given all of the above, I can’t help thinking that this victory is meager, if not pyrrhic.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


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