Tom West: Local GOP needs to go back to the drawing board

Last week, playing God, I had a few suggestions for the Democrats. This week, a friend asks, why not do the same for the Republicans? Ever aiming to oblige, I shall, but not without a few reservations. It's always dangerous to kick the winner whe...

Last week, playing God, I had a few suggestions for the Democrats. This week, a friend asks, why not do the same for the Republicans?

Ever aiming to oblige, I shall, but not without a few reservations. It's always dangerous to kick the winner when it's up.

Nevertheless, if I ran the GOP, I'd forget about all those helpful commentators who are warning the GOP not to "overreach." Those are not their friends. Those people don't want Republicans to overreach, because they don't agree with them on the issues.

However, it is true that a little finesse is in order. This time, at the federal level, the Republicans have no Bill Clinton with whom to contend. The GOP can do pretty much what it wants. Thus, it can't hide behind alleged Democratic malfeasance any longer.

The question is whether or not the Republicans are any more focused on the issues today than they were when they impeached Clinton four years ago. The impeachment effort failed because the American people recognized that it was based in partisanship more than in any threat to the Constitution.


If they are, they will go forward with their national security efforts, protecting the nation as best they can from suicidal extremists, from biological and chemical terrorists, and from snipers and other evil-doers. That comes first before fixing the economy, and until the Democrats get on board, it remains a winning issue for the GOP.

At the same time, the Republicans need to recognize that if the economy isn't better by November 2004, their stay in power will be short. They don't need to abolish the death tax to do that; they do need to accelerate the tax cuts that have been spaced out into the future. The economy needs the stimulus.

Other important issues such as a prescription drug plan for senior citizens, reforming Social Security and education take a back seat to the immediacy of security and the economy.

At the state level, Gov. Tim Pawlenty needs to prove what got him elected: that $3 billion can be cut from the state budget without raising taxes. Unlike President Bush, Pawlenty is not in complete control. The DFL controls the state Senate. Still Pawlenty needs to be bold with all of his proposals.The Department of Children, Families and Learning needs to be reduced in size. To monitor local education efforts should take no more than one state employee for every 10 school districts. Reporting requirements need to be streamlined so that what dollars are available for education go to pay teachers and otherwise improve the classroom experience.

Similarly, what do we really get from the Department of Trade and Economic Development? We need someone to keep the brochures updated, to respond to inquiries, but do we really need to send the governor to China or Cuba? Show us some tangible benefit or stop doing it.

At the local level, the message to the GOP is simple: You're not much more viable as a political force than the Greens or the Indies. Only one area Republican, Harry Welty, got so much as 30 percent of the vote. That's the definition of a landslide.

The problem for the GOP in northeastern Minnesota is not that people are so liberal. The DFL has both conservatives and leftists. The problem is that the economy is so shakey, so historically boom-and-bust, that the people here believe they need a strong government to help protect them whenever business goes sour. The result, of course, is that the economy turns down sooner here than elsewhere, and stays down longer before recovering.

The GOP needs to come up with a convincing vision of economic growth that Northlanders will buy into. They can try Pawlenty's tax-free zones, they can analyze whether taxes are too high, and they can become the low-tax party. They need to continue hammering on the fact that the DFL is now the minority party statewide, and that the flow of pork northward is going to dry up without political diversity. But first, they need to find more candidates who make a name for themselves in local government positions. Welty and Marcia Hales did that, but Welty couldn't even win the party's endorsement. Until the GOP unites on the central fact that it is tired of losing and does some serious brainstorming to come up with a consistent, winning vision -- one that determines the winning coalition of interest groups that they need from gun owners to pro-lifers to environmental moderates to whomever -- it will continue to be a few isolated voices in the wilderness.


The Republicans ran as visible a campaign as they have in a while around here. Senate candidate Justin Krych ran as a conservative and polled 26 percent. Hales and Welty ran as moderates and garnered 20 percent and 38 percent respectively.

If I were Welty, I'd sit down with the local GOP leadership and determine what needs to be done to get them on board with his campaign. Abortion is an issue -- he's pro-choice -- but if I were him I would remind the party that if one pro-choice Republican keeps the party in the majority, it will help the pro-lifers more than a pro-choice Democrat.

As for Krych, he's young. He needs to get involved in local non-partisan politics, serving on a board or commission or two and developing his network throughout the community. If Pawlenty cuts $3 billion, the upward pressure on property taxes at the local level will be huge, and plenty of new political careers will be spawned by holding down local government spending.

And Hales? She ran a good campaign as a moderate and got 20 percent of the vote. Two years ago, Allan Kehr, running as a conservative, got 24 percent of the vote in the west half of the city. The last non-DFLer to win there was the Budgeteer's own Dick Palmer, who ran as an Independent in 1970. All of that suggests that the next time a Republican wins in West Duluth will be when the DFL goes out of existence. Don't bet on it in this lifetime.

Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at .

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