The Flake Effect


Congressman Jeff Flake, representing Arizona’s 6th Congressional District, is notorious for his anti-pork crusading. How appropriate then that he should take a sear on the House Appropriations Committee to take his war on Earmarks to a whole new level in the belly of the beast itself?

If there is a such thing as a useful member of the loyal opposition, Flake is it. Jeff Flake is one of the most consistently conservative members to ever sit in the House. Have no illusions that I support Jeff Flake – I don’t. But he provides a vital public service with his principled stand against earmarking for which no one else seems to share the same passion. Please take a look at what he has to say on the subject (.WMV).

But when given the chance to nominate this notorious budgetary gadfly to a position at the heart of the budget process where he could have an enormous impact on the practice of earmarking, the GOP backed down. Flake had vowed to kill all earmarks that came within reach, including GOP earmarks, if placed on the Appropriations committee. Jo Bonner of Alabama, his chief rival for the post, did not make such a promise.

Jo Bonner got the seat.

You see, the Republicans love to talk a good game against those dirty, dirty earmarks (and make no mistake, I’m dead against them and I say "Go Flake!" when Jeff gets on his soapbox on the subject), but they couldn’t be arsed to curb them when in the majority, and they feel dependent upon them for re-election now that they are in the minority.

The GOP didn’t want Flake throttling the goose that laid the golden ballots.

Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune had this to say about the missed opportunity of a Flake on Appropriations:

"Flake’s appointment was widely
supported by taxpayer watchdog groups. Yet, the talk around the Capitol
was that Flake would put the Republicans at a competitive disadvantage
in reforming the earmark process, because he would have gutted GOP
earmarks immediately.

That’s right, Republican leaders were afraid of spending less first. That kind of thinking only makes sense in Washington, D.C."

This is the Flake Effect: a political party undermining it’s own most effective members and messages in the service of short-term political expedience.

The Flake Effect isn’t solely a GOP phenomenon – far from it, unfortunately.

Democrats, too, are suffering from an entire complex of Flake Effects: on the Iraq war, as they continue to fund it while pretending to oppose it and muzzling or marginalizing those who are really willing to go to the mat on the issue; on impeachment, as the leadership continues to deny the growing movement to enforce our Constitution rather than allow this administration to continue to shit on it; and on populist policies in every sector of the economy, from health care and taxes to financial services and trade, as Blue Dog Democrats and triangular DLCers continue to knuckle under to powerful economic special interests at the expense of the the long-term interests of the nation, and their party, as whole.

Those who initiate the compromises that cause the Flake Effect in both parties bruit their pragmatism and realism. They claim politics to be the art of the possible. They have forgotten the quality of leadership that separates the uninspired, and uninspiring, hacks from the statesmen and visionary leaders that a democratic nation needs to continue to progress and triumph, not just muddle through.

When our leadership consists of nothing more than lowered expectations, it is any wonder so many Americans are alienated from the political process? The true danger of the Flake Effect is the opportunity costs that style of ‘leadership’ imposes on society. Whenever we fail to achieve our promise as one of the most free and dynamic societies on earth, it is due only to our own short-sightedness and our leaders being caught in the trap of the Flake Effect.

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Michael founded as the Howard Dean presidential campaign blog for Arizona in 2003, and has been blogging ever since. Michael is an attorney living in Tucson with his wife Lauren. In 2008, Michael remade BlogForArizona into a collaborative project. Michael now is but one of the contributors to the blog and provides editorial and publishing direction in consultation with the Board of Directors and the other authors. If you want to keep up with the latest Arizona and National political news in an entertaining quick hit of news and opinion, check out the BlogForArizona twitter feed, which Mike curates under the hashtag #MB.


  1. Mike, the problem is they really don’t like him. And as one of his fellow anti-earmark colleagues said, he never applied to be on Approps because that’s a committee for people who want to spend money. Jeff Flake only wants to save money. A number of times there will be a vote in the House that passes with huge bipartisan majorities — 400+ in favor — and Rep. Flake will be one of a tiny minority (along with Ron Paul at many times) who votes against it. I’ve given about fifteen examples on my blog of the most innocuous programs that you’d think nobody could object to, that are passed with overwhelming Republican support along with unanimous Democratic support — and Flake will vote no. Examples include the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, the recent stimulus package, and Hurricane Katrina relief.

    Perhaps his voice against earmarks would be taken more seriously if he didn’t vote so often against what seems like ANY appropriation of government funds.

  2. I agree. Need I reiterate the “I don’t support Flake” disclaimer? It is trivial amounts, but a million here and million there and suddenly you are talking about real money. Not to mention that the earmark process is a failure of our political system just as surely as it is a lubricant for logrolling.

    Flake should certainly have an opponent who can take him to task and educate the voters about the cost of his crusade, but since the GOP seems to have decided suddenly that earmarks are the great Satan of the budget process, it seems beholden upon them to actually do something about it – like putting Flake on the Appropriations Committee.

  3. As I’ve posted on my blog, Rep. Flake’s obsession with earmarks comes with a price to his constituents.

    If you’ll forgive my cutting and pasting from my own post on this:

    Jeff Flake spends enormous amounts of energy and time that he could be spending on the people’s business in his idée fixe to eliminate earmarks.

    Of course, it gets him lots of time in the media so he can bad-mouth his colleagues and come off as pure and innocent and not as someone who never lifted a finger to help his constituents with funding for any needed projects in our district. (Rep. Bonner, who got the seat on the committee, obtained almost $17.3 million for 14 projects in his district.)

    While accountability would be nice and the system undoubtedly needs to be fixed, he is wasting his Congressional salary obsessing about trivial amounts.

    Por ejemplo, his latest “egregious earmark of the week” includes money for presidential libraries inluding this sum:

    • $750,000 for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York

    I can understand that Jeff Flake hates FDR for initiating programs like Social Security, unemployment insurance and workers protection that the Congressman wants to eliminate. But making a big deal out of $750,000?

    If Jeff Flake had been in Congress during the Great Depression, he’d probably be wasting his time investigating the cost of dog food for Fala.

    The $750,000 to the FDR library Jeff Flake is so upset about is what we spend on the disastrous Iraq war every seven and a half minutes — about how long it will take a brain-damaged “Make It Flake!” blogger to read this post.

    How much money of the two billion dollars we spend on Iraq every week is accountable to oversight?

    I’ve been to Hyde Park, and I trust the FDR presidential library to spend its funds a lot more than I do the idiots who brought us this misbegotten misadventure in Iraq.

    I understand that you admire Jeff Flake for this stand. He is certainly principled and at many times a thoughtful legislator.

    Maybe the Democrats of Arizona would prefer that this very conservative legislator (to the right of Tim Bee, certainly, on many issues) go unopposed for the third election in a row?