I will say that Ronald Brownstein’s recent column in the National Journal is a bit better than what we’ve been getting lately from the hordes of DC pundits attempting to analyze Arizona. In particular, I liked this bit at the end:
After Arizona’s tax revenues plummeted with the housing market collapse, Brewer backed a temporary 1-cent sales-tax increase to limit spending cuts. But even so, since 2008, the GOP majority’s commitment to squeezing government has produced the nation’s third-largest reduction in per-student K-12 spending; the largest percentage reduction in per-student support for public higher education; and the biggest public tuition hikes. No other choices capture as starkly the contrasting priorities of a ruling GOP coalition that still receives almost all of its votes from whites (many older, rural, and exurban) and a minority population that now represents the clear majority of students in Arizona’s public schools.
It’s refreshing to see a conservative admit outright that Arizona Republicans have slashed public education funding (instead of doing the Goldwater Institute song and dance about how the schools are really funded quite generously if you look at all these charts and squint) and that the cuts are ideological and not fiscal in purpose.
Brownstein’s main thesis is that Arizona’s politics operate along fault lines of age and race, with the older whites voting overwhelmingly GOP and the Democratic base being younger and browner. I take no issue with that assessment. What I do dispute is this:
Since the GOP took unified control of the governorship and both legislative chambers in 2009, the party’s populist wing has moved forcefully, if often haphazardly. Arizona’s social conservatives have passed a law banning abortion after 20 weeks (later blocked by the courts); the 2010 “show your papers” law aimed at identifying and detaining illegal immigrants (also mostly overturned); stringent new voting restrictions (which the Legislature recently repealed amid public pressure); and the law Brewer vetoed last month that would have expanded legal protection for business owners who denied services to gays or others on religious grounds. Days after Brewer’s veto, state House Republicans defiantly voted to authorize surprise inspections at abortion clinics.
The Arizona business community has chafed at some of this (especially the immigration law). But Republicans have maintained the managers’ loyalty with an aggressive small-government agenda of lower taxes, less regulation, and tort reform.
With the “religious liberty” bill, this entente, at least temporarily, collapsed.
Reflecting the influence of social conservatives, all but three Republicans in the Legislature initially backed it. But activists like Angela Hughey, cofounder of One Community, a gay-rights group, have made enormous inroads in recent years at organizing business leaders, particularly around Phoenix, behind their cause.
Arizona has no statewide law prohibiting discrimination against gays, but since February 2013 more than 850 businesses, employing some 400,000 people, have signed her group’s “Unity Pledge” promising such protection in their own workplaces. Business leaders then revolted against the religious-liberty bill, with the state’s growing high-technology sector most ardently warning it would undermine recruitment. Now activists are mulling a legislative push for a statewide nondiscrimination bill in 2015 and a same-sex-marriage ballot initiative in 2016—each of which would divide the GOP’s managerial and populist wings. “This issue is not going away,” Hughey insists.
Local business leaders are also resisting populist conservatives trying to derail the Common Core educational standards. But Democrats are correctly dubious that the business establishment will ever fully abandon a GOP coalition delivering the small-government agenda it prefers.
Glenn Hamer, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, captures the cross-pressures when he says Republicans “absolutely” risk losing the state through their views on immigration and social issues and that the movement toward equal protection for gays (including same-sex marriage) is “unstoppable.” But one breath later, he declares that the GOP majority has “done a fantastic job” on the chamber’s core economic concerns.
It takes an incredible amount of naive optimism to believe – as many establishment people do – that there are two discrete wings of the GOP (“managerial and populist”, as Brownstein puts it) and that everything will be okay if we just make the unwashed Bible thumping yokels, AKA the populist wing, go away. That’s not likely since the reality is that there is a whole lot of overlap between those “managers” and “populists”. The people pushing the myth of the war for the soul of the GOP hardest are people like Glenn Hamer, who are selling the idea that putting elections even more in the hands of rich people than they already are will solve the problem since it’s a given that wealthy business people are sensible.
Sure they are. Consider the the 31st wealthiest member of the US House of Representatives, a man who shrewdly made his fortune in oil. A business leader! Why, surely he must be a hard-nosed pragmatist eager to roll his sleeves up and get sensible things done for the country, but is tragically hindered in doing so because the Tea Party populist wing of the GOP won’t let him. Hmm, not really since the guy I just described is Trent Franks. The wealthiest member of Congress, a self-made businessman worth a whopping $355 million, is none other than that mild-mannered business-focused moderate Darrell Issa.
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking: Oh, come on Donna, you’re just cherry-picking a couple of wackadoos! Most wealthy business people are sensible centrists! Actually, the Roll Call list of the top 50 richest members of Congress is quite useful in this regard. On the list you will see some moderates and centrists, as well as some members who could be described as liberals, but you’ll also see members who are fire-breathing righties. The richest members of Congress are all over the ideological map, just as rich people in the general population are.
In Arizona there are plenty of successful business people who are the kind of fiscal conservative/social moderates the pundits dream of, but there are also some wealthy liberals. And Arizona is also home to a boatload of wealthy right wing crackpots. I still submit that your average successful white male Republican businessman in this state is more likely to be a Fox News and Limbaugh spouting true believer than the working class white guy who changes his oil. It takes a certain amount of financial comfort and leisure time to cultivate the kind of angry paranoid fervor over imaginary threats that grips the right wing base.
And let’s consider Mr. Hamer, the head of the AZ Chamber, who is held up Brownstein’s article and elsewhere as the exemplar of the “managerial” Republican. Now, it is true that in the current role Hamer’s in he has to prioritize the interests of big businesses in the state, and those interests don’t always align with those of the GOP conservative base (see: SB1062 and the Medicaid expansion). But make no mistake, Glenn Hamer is a right wing operative pushing a very radical agenda. It’s rarely mentioned these days that he was the executive director of the Arizona GOP back in the early to mid-2000s, which was the time when the state party was taking a sharp turn into immigrant and LGBT-bashing and becoming severely anti-choice. It was during Hamer’s tenure that Cathi Herrod and CAP really started hitting their stride. Anyone remember how Glenn Hamer, as executive director of the AZ GOP, was always trying to be the voice of reason and push the party in a more sane direction and totally stood up to the likes of Herrod and Joe Arpaio? Yeah, I don’t remember that either.
Hamer does like to pretend he’s the reasonable antidote to Cathi Herrod these days, but he also likes to write things, which often reveal his true colors. I haven’t subscribed to it but, for some reason, I was mailed a copy of Greg Patterson’s, AKA the Espresso Pundit’s newsletter, which appears to be a summary of his blog posts plus interviews and ads. The March 7th edition featured a guest column by Glenn Hamer on the dangers of Obamacare. While it may look on the surface like Hamer is, reasonably, urging restraint on Republicans trying to undo elements of the ACA in a way that would harm his business clients, he simply cannot help but sound a lot like your Birther uncle sending out chain emails as he rails against the health care law.
The central problem with this law is that, under the guise of making insurance more accessible and affordable, the Act has done basically the opposite. First, it mandates that insurers provide more expansive coverage and fundamentally changes the way insurers calculate premiums. For example, insurance companies can no longer exclude those with pre-existing conditions or charge more for consumers with chronic conditions. They must allow dependents to stay on their parents’ plan until the dependent is twenty-six years old and the difference in price they may charge a young person vs. an older person is strictly limited.
Pre-Affordable Care Act, health insurance looked like most other types of insurance; premiums were calculated based on various factors that can predict the likelihood a person will access certain benefits (e.g., age, existing medical conditions). Now, all insurers must provide ten “essential health benefits” regardless of the likelihood that a person will utilize any or all of these benefits. This has the effect of increasing premiums and other costs for the young and the healthy, while decreasing costs for the old and the sick.
The Act attempts to pay for all of this by levying at least a dozen different taxes on employers, as well as a tax on healthcare innovation by taxing the sale of medical devices. Premium costs will increase for the young and the healthy, while employers’ ability to create jobs decreases and companies are taxed out of creating innovative new products.
Bottom line: the implementation has been rocky, to put it in polite terms. As a result, Americans are more skeptical about the law than ever, with 50 percent reporting an unfavorable opinion. The insurance companies didn’t ask for this law, and they have tried to navigate it in the least disruptive way possible. But the President keeps changing the rules in the middle of the game. The administration has authorized 19 delays, amendments and repeals to the law, creating a playing field with more seismic activity than San Francisco.
Ha ha! Did you see what he did there with that San Francisco reference? I’m wondering if he debated with himself over going with that or “…a playing field with more surprise attacks than Benghazi!” Folks, if it walks like a reactionary and quacks like a reactionary, it’s a reactionary, and the Republican Party today is a wholly owned subsidiary of the radical reactionary movement. There is no magic “managerial” solution. The difference between the “populist” and “managerial” wings of the GOP is one of tactics, not substance. Nothing’s going to get better until they are gotten the hell out of office. I wish I could say when that’s going to happen.
Oh, and can we please stop letting this joker get away with acting like he was blind-sided by SB1070? For about the 10 millionth time I find it necessary to point out that the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, under the leadership of Glenn Hamer, helped to write SB1070. This is getting really old.