This week’s Courier Herald column:
Republicans running for office always feel they are in a safe zone when quoting Reagan. The Reagan presidency remains the modern high water mark for the conservative movement. A quarter century after Ronald Reagan left office, many Republicans seem to be channeling another Reagan with their contemporary execution of conservatism. Too many in the party position themselves with respect to governing with a slogan from former First Lady Nancy Reagan, and have internalized her anti-drug message of “just say no”.
It is for this reason that a guest opinion piece from Georgia’s GOP nominee from the 11th Congressional District to the Atlanta Journal Constitution seems a bit noteworthy. Barry Loudermilk ran his primary and runoff campaign around the idea of “Constitutional Conservatism”. Many equate this form of sloganeering to mean that he would be a Congressman in the realm of departing 10th district Representative Paul Broun, a “Just Say No” Republican.
Loudermilk wrote the piece as a response to the AJC’s Jim Galloway, who had previously written that Loudermilk was seeking to join the House Transportation Committee but would likely seek to dismantle the highway trust fund and return most transportation responsibilities back to the states. All of this comes on the heels of a recent visit from former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who told the study committee on transportation funding that Georgia lacks clout on the transportation issue in Washington as no one in our delegation sits on a transportation committee in Congress. Flordia, by contrast, has six members – and the influence that goes with that level of representation.
The significance here is not that Loudermilk seeks to help fill that void. Buddy Carter, the GOP nominee from Georgia’s first congressional district, has also thrown his name in the hat. Instead, it is the clear marker that Loudermilk laid down in the response that demonstrates a different approach from one who has been painted into the “just say no” wing of the Republican Party. He articulates a clear and defined constitutional role for Washington on transportation issues.
Loudermilk states “Conservatives in general, and even so called Tea Party conservatives are not against transportation spending. Indeed, interstate commerce is one purpose of interstate highways and byways, and is one of the things the federal government is actually supposed to spend our tax dollars on.”
He balances the clear role of the federal government with criticism for the ways that Washington has been run, citing the IRS, NSA, and VA as examples as to why Americans “have lost confidence in their national government.” He asserts that “restoring that confidence can be accomplished by replacing those responsible for wrecking it and bringing in those with new fresh ideas to resolve our growing list of problems.”
These are fairly subtle words to the passing observer, but when was the last time you heard a movement conservative talk about restoring confidence in the Federal government? It appears that Loudermilk is staking out a new path. One that continues to assert that the federal government has grown too large and too powerful, yet one that also understands that limited government does not mean no government. Unlike the rhetoric where many within conservative ranks playfully accept the title of “anarchist”, Loudermilk clearly acknowledges the role and need for a federal power – along with the desire to fix, not eliminate, roles and responsibilities.
The discussion started by Secretary LaHood was one of clout in Washington. The words from Loudermilk demonstrate that he understands there are many ways clout can manifest itself – or not.
Some have demonstrated clout from the “just say no” wing by being obstructionists. That has also shown to be a short term, zero sum game. Republicans are looking to take a majority in the Senate this fall, with eyes on the White House two years later. Stopping bad legislation works as a minority party tactic. Majority parties must govern.
Loudermilk’s campaign rhetoric has made clear that he will not be an automatic “yes” vote for House leadership positions – including the vote to re-elect Speaker Boehner. His Op-Ed response indicates he should not be considered an automatic “no” vote on anything that spends money, asserts a federal role in state affairs, or may otherwise call for a complex and difficult solution.
Clout in Washington comes in many forms. One of them is to make sure your vote is never taken for granted, for or against. Loudermilk understands this, and is positioning himself accordingly.