Friday, September 15, 2006

"The grassroots is tired of no action on immigration, pork-laden appropriations bills, and a lack of attention to ethics."

Can the GOP coalition survive immigration issue?


by William Lutz
Vol. 11 Issue 6
Lone Star Report
Copyright 2006

Since the 1980s, Republicans have won elections by bringing together business, social, and fiscal conservatives. Their interests differ, but are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Most grassroots Republican voters feel strongly about the immigration issue and want to see better enforcement and an end to government goodies for those who come here illegally. They resent paying taxes to fund services for those who have broken the law, support laws to make English America’s official language, object to the depression of wages that can result from unlimited immigration, and oppose granting legal status to those who broke the law.

The business community, by contrast, makes money from available, inexpensive labor. While big business does not control directly many votes, it does provide the bulk of the party’s campaign funds. A recent column in the Dallas Morning News supporting expanded legal immigration was signed by a Who’s Who of major Texas GOP donors.

The business community is taking the exact opposite position to that strongly held by most Republican voters. In the past, Republican leaders have massaged this issue by trying to avoid the topic altogether.

But the voters have made it clear this is a priority. So now the leadership of the Republican Party must decide: Whose side are they on?

Some of the party’s core leadership, from Karl Rove on down, want the party to return to the Eisenhower-Rockefeller days, where the party was the political arm of corporate America, and grass-roots conservatives who support smaller government and traditional values were thrown a few crumbs and expected to keep quiet.

They think GOP voters will show up to the polls and vote Republican because they have nowhere else to go. Any bumps along the road can be smoothed with a dose of campaign cash, poll-tested rhetoric, and slick campaign mailers, often sent by shady, anonymous front groups with names like “Americans for Job Security.”

There is a growing disconnect between the financial base and the electoral base of the party. The grassroots is tired of no action on immigration, pork-laden appropriations bills, and a lack of attention to ethics. In the 2006 GOP primaries, more incumbents than usual lost. More and moreRepublicans are talking about staying home in November or casting protest votes for Libertarians orindependent candidates.

The party has only itself to blame for this phenomenon, which has grown over time. Since taking total control of state government in 2003, for example, the party’s Texas leadership has given top billing to bills favored by its donors and key trade associations. Meanwhile, tuition at state universities has skyrocketed, local property taxes are still escalating out of control, large companies can get tax abatements and subsidies, toll roads are popping up everywhere, state spending continues to rise, and lawmakers created a new state agency whose primary function is making it more difficult for suburban homeowners to hold builders accountable in construction defect cases.

To make matters worse, real household income in Texas is down 10 percent since 1999, according to the Austin American-Statesman. No wonder Texans object to government policies, such as not enforcing immigration laws and providing free health care at hospitals, which encourage companies to bring in low-wage labor from abroad.

There are many good, honest Republican members of the Texas Legislature who really do understand that the party represents middle class families. They have worked hard to control college tuition and university bureaucrat spending, cap growth in property taxes, fight for pro-life bills, put a lid on pork in state government, and ensure that homeowners have some rights in disputes with builders. But they often have to make changes in these areas in spite of or with the reluctant acquiescence of the party’s leadership.

These brave Republican holdouts are trying to prevent the party from making the same mistakes that the Democratic leadership made in the 1960s and early 1970s. Democrats took for granted the conservative, rural base of their party and let the liberals call the shots. They ignored ethics. They assumed Democrats would always run Texas. Now we know differently.

Two factors created the dominance of the Republican Party in Texas: the switch in alliances of rural voters from Democrat to Republican and the growth of the suburbs.

Suburban voters want good public schools, low taxes, affordable higher education, traditional values, and tough-on-crime policies. Just because they can’t afford to hire lobbyists to represent them at the Capitol doesn’t mean they don’t have concerns.

The established business interests in the Republican Party hope the immigration issue will just go away. Some of the party’s elected officials have tried to change the subject — whether the state should reward illegal behavior with government goodies such as free health care and in-state tuition at universities — to border security.

But the frustration vented in the 2006 primaries is really the product of years of benign neglect of the party’s base.

No one in politics is bullet-proof. Sure, major realignments in politics develop over several election cycles, but realignments do happen.

The signatories of that Dallas Morning News column are trying to send a message to the GOP brass – ignore the concerns of the people who elected you. Stick with us. Our money will bail you out of any trouble you get in.

That’s the same philosophy the Texas Democratic leadership bought into back in the 1960s. And look where Texas Democrats are now.

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