The cat fight on the right in Minnesota's First Congressional suggests that Mike Parry's campaign has abandoned an earlier talking point about appealing to "Reagan Democrats" in favor of wooing the base for the primary.
Right now, the sparring centers around raising the gas tax--or any tax--or anything that the Taxpayer League might construe as a tax out of the corner of its eye.
Parry's team attacks Quist for a Reagan-era gas tax increase. Never mind that Reagan, the president those fabled Democrats voted for himself compromised on tax increases in the era when Quist voted for the tax increase.
Indeed, as Sheldon Richman pointed out in an 1988 Free Market: The Mises Institute monthly:
In 1982 Reagan supported a five-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax and higher taxes on the trucking industry. Total increase: $5.5 billion a year.
Was Richman exaggerating? Apparently not: in A short history of America’s gas tax at the Washington Post, there's this:
In late September 1982, Ronald Reagan was asked whether he would support a hike in the federal gas tax. “Unless there’s a palace coup and I’m overtaken or overthrown, no, I don’t see the necessity for that,” Reagan quipped. Yet a few months later, Democrats had posted big gains in the midterm elections, and an exultant Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, delivered a speech in Washington arguing that the gas tax needed to go up — from 4 cents per gallon to 9 cents per gallon — in order to bankroll a “massive reparation of the nation’s bridges and roads.”
By December, Reagan had relented. The new gas tax would fund highways, bridges, and mass transit and was predicted to create 320,000 jobs. Reagan argued that it wasn’t really a tax, anyhow, but a “user’s fee.” [emphasis added] What’s more, Reagan told reporters, “we’d be doing this if there were no recession at all.” Better not to think of the new five-year, $27.5 billion bill as a jobs program, Reagan explained in his weekly radio address: “We simply cannot allow this magnificent system to deteriorate beyond repair.” . . .
Quist has a point when he explains his 1986 vote in the context of the times. The attempt of the Parry campaign to paint him as a tax-and-spend liberal feels absurdly desperate. Parry's frame also sets up both candidates to run from the hard right in the general election--without the freedom to appeal to those "Reagan Democrats" who, like Quist, might linger in the district.
So, if a gas tax vote in the 1980s isn't evidence of secret Pelosi fetishes, and the Taxpayers League is--as Golnik's press release insisted--a hopelessly corrupt special interest financially beholden to tribal gaming, what standard are starched conservatives to use?
One measure is the Legislative Evaluation Assembly of Minnesota, a hard right crew operating since 1972. Bluestem's sniffing around them in revealed a whiff of Moonie influence, but that seems no barrier to our friends on the right.
Bearing in mind that we're comparing different decades of apples--but measured by the same fruits--how do Quist and Parry compare using the LEA's scoring?
Weighted for time served, Parry received a 56 percent ranking in the 2010 scorecard (p. 7 in online pdf). In 2011, he did better, garnering an "Honorable Mention" (p. 1) and score of 88, for a career average of 74.
And Quist? The old scorecards aren't up, but in April he wrote in Why Allen Quist is the Consistent Conservative:
The only way to get an accurate picture of a legislator’s record is to look at a broad range of votes that describe the pattern showing who a legislator is. The organization that best does this in Minnesota is the Legislative Evaluation Assembly, or LEA.
The LEA rates legislators based on the following guideline (.pdf):
"LEA bases its evaluation on the traditional American principles of constitutionalism, limited government, free enterprise, legal and moral order with justice and individual liberty and dignity."
Based on this guideline, Allen Quist was given the top LEA rating as one of its "Honorees" each of the six years he was in the Minnesota Legislature. He has six Honoree plaques from the LEA.
Only 4% of Minnesota legislators were awarded the top LEA rating in 2011. Most legislators never receive a top LEA rating. Allen Quist received the top LEA rating every year he served in the Minnesota House.
Honoree is the top level.
Does this make Quist the most conservative of all, winner of the precious ring both men fight to possess?
Bluestem draws a different lesson from the Republican infighting: both men are out of touch with the independent and moderate voters who form the bulk of the voters--swing voters especially--in Southern Minnesota. The elephant pissing contest offers them little--and the extremes that Quist and Parry now go to win it only make both men less appealing to voters.
It's great blogger fodder--and Bluestem is grateful for the content--but campaign killing politics. Congressman Walz, on the other hand, was the point man in moving the House conferees to get it done on the Transportation Bill. The Hill reported in House votes to instruct highway conferees to finish by Friday:
Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) introduced the motion to instruct this week, and urged support as a way to recognize that Congress as a whole needs to do its job better. The resolution was debated Tuesday.
Republicans have hinted for weeks that the conferees might not make their June 30 deadline, when current authorization for federal highway spending expires. In that case, Congress will likely agree to another short-term extension to allow the talks to continue.
It seems to have worked. On July 6, CNN reported in Obama signs bipartisan transportation, student loan bill:
President Barack Obama signed on Friday a transportation funding and student loan bill which passed Congress last week in a rare election-year compromise between Republicans and Democrats.
In an unusual show of bipartisanship, members of both parties were on hand for the White House ceremony, including members of the administration, Congress, as well as state and local governments.
"This is an outstanding piece of business. And I'm very appreciative of the hard work that Congress has done on it. My hope is that this bipartisan spirit spills over into the next phase," Obama said, encouraging members to pass larger infrastructure measures and "start doing more to reduce the debt burden that our young people are experiencing."
As for raising the federal gas tax in the 21st Century? That's a different debate, although the job-creator haters and commie dirty hippies over at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sound like tax-and-spenders on a federal gas tax increase:
“These guys and gals are all doing this because they’re afraid to face the fundamental issues of where we get the revenue," [President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber Tom] Donohue said. "We haven’t had an increase in the federal fuel tax in 18 years.”
The federal gas tax is a primary means of funding highway construction and maintenance. The problem is that it is not indexed for inflation, so while road repair costs creep upward, the gas tax stays the same. The tax was last increased in 1993 to $0.184, meaning that drivers are paying more than a third less into the Highway Trust Fund than they were at the beginning of the Clinton administration.
And now they're talking about something more:
Donohue warned that fuel taxes alone can no longer fund the nation's long-term infrastructure needs. "The bigger challenge lies ahead—devising a predictable, sustainable, and growing source of dedicated, user-fee-based funding to ensure we have adequate resources to maintain the world's greatest infrastructure system for decades to come," he said.
It's truly startling: building infrastructure costs money, regardless of what the Republican dead-enders quarrel about in their primary kerfuffle.
Photo: Ronald Reagan, gas tax raiser.
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