Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Take it to the floor

I was glad that yesterday, Tennessee House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower finally stood up and was counted favoring an important Republican idea: Tax relief for working families. Like other press agents and members of the conservative blogosphere, I received the press release from the House Republican Caucus yesterday outlining Republican ideas for tax relief.

“Our revenue growth is such that we must provide some tax relief. Now is the time.”

--Representative Harry Brooks (Knoxville)
Assistant Republican Leader

“With the extra revenue our state is receiving, the money should be returned to the people, not spent to expand the size of government.”

--Representative Beth Harwell (Nashville)
Republican Whip

“As Democrats debate how to spend your money, Republicans are trying to figure out the best way to return extra taxes back to the people. I’d hate to be a Democrat trying to explain why with $1 billion growth the Governor still needs more taxes.”

--Representative Brian Kelsey (Germantown)
Republican Floor Leader

“When debating a $27 billion budget, we must be extra cautious to ensure we make decisions based on facts, not political spin. The fact is we have an extra $1 billion—plenty of money to provide tax relief.”

--Representative Jimmy Eldridge (Jackson)
Caucus Vice-Chairman

“For years we were told that taxes had to be raised because times were tough. It seems to follow that we should lower taxes when times are good. Too bad government never recognizes the second.”

--Representative Mike Bell (Riceville)
Assistant Floor Leader

Tennesseans, my constituents, have overpaid taxes by almost $1 billion. I don’t know about everyone else, but I know when I overpay a bill, I expect a refund.”

--Representative Chris Crider (Milan)

“I don’t care how much money special interests spend to try to influence the budget. Even the best spinsters can’t rebut the fact that we have $1 billion in growth and the people deserve some of that back.”

--Representative Joey Hensley (Hohenwald)

Mumpower himself had some real gems in the press release:

“In a year of such unprecedented growth, we should be talking about providing some type of relief to all Tennesseans by giving them a break on the sales tax on food,” stated Leader Mumpower. “Food is an absolute necessity. It’s time we stopped talking tax increases, and began running government efficiently and effectively plan for the future.”

“As someone who is in the grocery store once a week, I see how hard it is for hardworking Tennessee families to make ends meet,” he added.

Standing up and saying all of this in a press conference and via a press release is important. These are statements that I have heard many Republican leaders say, but never in as public a way nor with such a unified voice as now. Getting the message out to the public that there is an alternative to control by the same old people and the same establishment is something that must happen if the GOP is ever to reach a majority.

It is important to remember, however, that the mark of an effective legislative party leader is not what he or she says in a press conference and/or press release. Leadership puts out tons of press releases and holds a myriad of press conferences. That is something that must be done, but press conferences and public statements alone do not win majorities. I challenge Leader Mumpower to translate these very important ideas into debate on the floor of the House. As regulars might have figured out
, I often sit down and watch committee hearings and floor debates. Usually I watch the recorded version because I rarely have time to sit through the live one (especially in sessions late in the year such as these), and I can fast forward through the milk of the session and get right to the meat, thus enabling me to observe who is debating and who is singing kumbuya with the Democrats. We have real fighters, we have real debaters, but they seem to be few.

If Jason Mumpower is concerned that by standing up and taking the majority to task in a very hard and passionate way that he may burn bridges on the other side of the aisle, then I submit that this is not his problem, it is the problem of members of the party opposite. If neither he nor other members of the Caucus think themselves capable of divorcing their personal friendships with members across the aisle from what they are duty-bound to do as members of a minority trying to reach a governing majority, then they will never get an effective majority at all.

For the Democrats' part, they are so consumed with power that any Republican that stands up and fights on the House floor for principles is deemed to be a rabble-rouser and isn't one who "builds relationships." What that really means is "they don't accept that we run the show." Conservatives and Republicans shouldn't accept that Democrats run the show-that is not acceptable. Republicans should be running the show and should be fighting tooth and nail to insure that they are worthy to be the governing majority in the House. If, on a personal level, some Democratic legislators can't accept that some of their Republican friends have a duty to bring a majority about, and they can't separate personal relationship from legislative duty, then they are the ones with the problem.

There is a difference between developing friendships across the aisle and working on areas where you can agree and doing what you know to be right in spite of what the majority says. We should work with the Dems where we can work together, but fight hard on the floor for what is right. Do not merely jockey to be in Naifeh's good graces.

I am not Newt Gingrich's biggest fan, but Jason Mumpower would do well to remember that Gingrich brought the Republicans to a majority in the federal House in 1994 as much with good speaking and debating and hard floor fights as with good campaigning. He knew how to make the two work hand-in-hand.



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