In Part One of this series, we looked at some national failures of bipartisanship. There was the bipartisan Community Reinvestment Act which set the stage for the big economic crash of 2008 and our country's current Great Recession by forcing banks and other lenders to make subprime mortgage loans to unqualified borrowers.
After that came the quickly repealed and very bipartisan Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988. Here, a Republican president and a Democrat dominated Congress wanted to be seen as "doing something" by "teaming up" to provide new medical benefits for the elderly which would be financed entirely by the elderly; paid for by a little known surtax on elderly incomes.
Our story of failed bipartisanship continues here at home in the islands during 2005 when a Republican governor, a Democrat mayor, and a Democrat dominated state legislature joined forces to enact a giant 12.5% increase in the general excise tax in order to pay for a rail transit project that is the epitome of fraud, waste and abuse. The resulting local effects that will be caused by this harmful, job-killing tax hike and the wasted billions in tax dollars for a "train to nowhere" will plague the residents and employers of Hawaii for a long time.
In the eight years spent by conservatives and traffic relief advocates fighting the wasteful rail debacle, it is easy to forget that a calculated manipulation under the guise of bipartisanship is precisely what got us into this mess. Most notably, that former Governor Linda Lingle manufactured this giveaway of precious tax dollars to politically powerful special interest groups using phrases such as "home rule" to justify giving counties (only Honolulu, really) the authority to impose a whopping tax increase which she could have stopped dead in its tracks eight years ago using her veto pen.
For a brief moment back then, Governor Lingle said she would veto the Rail Tax, leading some to believe that "Linda Lingle was back." However, after assuring and re-assuring conservatives and Republicans and employers both publicly and behind closed doors that she would not support the 12.5% tax hike, Lingle shocked everyone by going 'bipartisan' at her press conference held exclusively with Democrats to announce that she would allow the tax bill to become law without her signature and retreat from her veto threat. Speaking bipartisanly, Lingle exclaimed: "I don't want it to be that anybody won or lost. It was a compromise that everyone felt good about." This led Republican Senator Sam Slom to correctly call this ". . . a complete sell out of taxpayers and the working people."
Touting the role that bipartisanship played in her decision to join Democrats in the 12.5% tax increase, Lingle proudly boasted: "I hope it teaches everyone involved in politics not to get personal in the positions you take, not to get too hardened in the positions to a point where it becomes a matter of pride and you just can't back off." Adding insult to injury, Lingle proclaimed that her big taxing, big spending approach to Republican governance would reap political benefits for the party's candidates: "I think the leadership I try to provide should be a positive for everyone running as a Republican. I think it should be a real net gain in the upcoming election." If the facts matter at all, it should be pretty clear that the trend in Republicans in office is on the decline and has been for 15 years. See chart HERE.
It should be noted that mostly unknown, unheralded Republicans in the state legislature back in 2005 stood rather firm against the rail tax, as the conservative wing of Hawaii Republicans objected strongly to this very un-Republican levy on every single transaction on the island of Oahu in order to misdirect funds into the hands of Democrat power elites. To their credit, Senate and House Republicans voted "No" against the tax.
But despite Republican losses and Lingle's disastrous 25% loss to Mazie Hirono, the intense desire to appear 'bipartisan' and to 'work across party lines' continues with those who are currently sitting in the state house. Based on their unanimous support for a massive increase in the state's budget, this new mix of GOP legislators serving in the State House have found a way to embrace government bloat and waste as long as they can get funding for their districts and a handful of inane vice-chair positions on a few committees.
While Democrat House Speaker Joe Souki is probably very proud of Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson's House Republican Caucus for proclaiming the new state budget as "fiscally conservative", it strains credulity to call a $2 billion increase anything but wasteful, reckless and fiscally irresponsible, especially with the incredible amount of debt the state carries. [Please watch HIRA's video about the budget below.]
"Going to the middle" doesn't just happen here in Hawaii. Let us remember national figure Scott Brown who ran as a conservative in the 2010 special election to replace Ted Kennedy and received more support from grassroot organizations and the Tea Party, than he did from the RNC. Conservatives thought he would be a game changer and a breath of fresh air from the establishment Republicans which dominate the U.S. Senate. However, Brown was about as conservative as Olympia Snowe and supported liberal legislation such as Dodd/Frank plus other appalling spend and tax bills that continued to "kick the can down the road". You couldn't have been any more bipartisan than Scott Brown, who tried to showcase his 'independence' and 'moderation'. Not surprisingly, Brown failed to retain his seat two years later against Elizabeth Warren who, in many people's opinion, was not that impressive a candidate or campaigner. Scott Brown pulled a 'bait and switch' on the people of Massachusetts and the nation then paid a steep political price.
Trying to appear bipartisan not only harms the re-election chances of Republicans. It also dooms candidates who haven't been elected. Gabriel Gomez, the GOP poster-child candidate in the 2013 special election to replace then-Senator John Kerry now-Secretary of State Kerry, lost by double digits to Congressman Ed Markey, a man who voted to raise taxes 271 times. Gomez is everything Republicans wish for in a candidate: Latino, son of immigrants, bilingual, Naval Academy graduate, stellar military service, nice family, and businessman. However, he tried to fool Massachusetts voters by jumping on the bipartisan wagon. For instance, Gomez supports gay "marriage" even though he is Roman Catholic. He supports the Toomey-Manchin gun control bill, he supports the Gang of 8 immigration reform proposal, and he even calls himself a "green" Republican. Since Republicans voters were basically being presented with a choice between two candidates with socially liberal Democrat values, those Republican voters did not bother to come out with their support . . . even though Gomez was considered by many to be fiscally conservative. Another case of "Why Bother?" And another example showing what happens when you don't distinguish yourself from your opponent. Result: You Lose.
Such bipartisan 'selling out' stands in stark contrast with Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who had the courage to repeatedly face off with Democrats and powerful special interest groups in order to deliver the positive change which has actually transformed the overpriced, unproductive status quo of Wisconsin government into something more beneficial and less detrimental. Hawaii desperately needs a Scott Walker in order to correct the balance of power from government employee unions back to taxpayers. But for right now, it seems we have a surplus of "me too" Republicans who haven't quite figured out a way to make the people of Hawaii actually prefer Republicans over Democrats rather than merely tolerating Republicans.
Part Three of HIRA's "Bipartisanship Gone Bad" series coming soon . . .