I visited Wisconsin last Monday to attend the swearing in of the new Republican Governor, Republican Speaker of the Assembly and Republican Senate Majority Leader, among others. I first went to work for a Republican in the Wisconsin state legislature in 1987 and I’ve been involved with the political and governmental process there for the last 23 years. The inaugural ball Monday evening was like a high school reunion for me to catch up with old friends who have been engaged in the battle for Wisconsin’s government for years. It’s fantastic to see good friends whom I greatly respect assume leadership roles through all levels of state government.
The first two acts of Governor Scott Walker were to call a special session of the state legislature to pass a jobs program that reduces taxes and fees on government, eliminates bureaucratic red tape that is stifling job growth - and also to walk a letter over to Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen that provides him with the authority to join the legal challenges to Obamacare on behalf of the State of Wisconsin. All in all, a good day’s work.
But on Tuesday, the real work began. Now it falls on Governor Walker and new Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and his brother, Scott Fitzgerald the new Senate leader to not only craft and pass a economic development jobs program, but necessarily deal with what is expected to be over a $3 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes. From the looks of things, the challenges faced in Wisconsin will be seen across much of the country.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), spending pressures have opened up a budget gap of over $26 billion in the states for 2011, with an expected shortfall totaling over $82 billion in 2012. Much of the Obama “stimulus program” was actually simply an opportunity for the federal government to borrow more money and bailout state governments across the country. The loss of those one-time funds, slow revenue growth and spending pressure (often from state programs that are unfunded mandates from the federal government) make addressing these budget challenges particularly perilous.
So now that conservatives have worked to successfully impact elections and deliver the US House of Representatives and as many as 19 state legislative houses to Republican control, many conservatives are now focused on holding the US House in 2012, winning the US Senate and defeating President Obama (as they should be). I would suggest, however, that there is a lot more for conservatives to do if we want any prayer of building on the electoral successes of 2010.
I think the job for conservative activists now is primarily two-fold. First, as many are already doing, it’s important to hold Republicans accountable. The recent election results were not so much a positive affirmation of Republican leadership, than they were a rejection of Democrats. There is no shortage of conservative commentators, bloggers and tweeters willing to hold those who ran for office as conservatives accountable for their election promises.
You need to know that conservatives must do more than hold Republicans accountable. An equally important priority will be to loudly and proudly stand with conservative leaders and Republicans who do act in a manner consistent with the conservative promises made during election campaigns. There is a reason that spending generally doesn’t get cut in Washington or in state capitols across the country. It’s because whenever government creates a new program and funds it with your tax dollars, it creates a constituency. It creates a soon-to-be-entrenched special interest.
Each of those government programs and every corporate and social welfare program has a constituency that depends upon that funding for its livelihood. Paid lobbyists work to secure more funding. Well-oiled public relations machines support the continued expansion and funding of these programs. And rest assured if Republicans across the country have the guts to make the kind of cuts that Governor Walker promises in Wisconsin and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) promises in Washington, there will be blood-curdling screams and well-articulated attacks on Republicans making those cuts. The mainstream media will give disproportionate attention to those cuts. It will be ugly.
Republicans will be portrayed by Democrats, by special interest groups, by talented public relations firms, the mainstream media and paid astroturf activists as evil and mean-spirited defenders of the rich. They will be accused of destroying education of our youth. They will be accused of kicking Grandma off her health care and on to the curb. They will be accused of declaring war on public employees, on police and fireman and on poor, struggling working families. And many folks targeted with this public relations assault will begin to believe it. They will indicate in increasing numbers that they are not comfortable with these mean-spirited Republicans.
That is why conservative activists, Facebookers, bloggers, tweeters, commentators and pundits must stand up loudly and proudly and fight this effort. They must stand up and support and encourage elected officials with the courage to face this onslaught and still make real cuts. At the end of the day, elected officials generally do only what the people encourage or allow them to do. If they stand up for conservative values, it’s the primary responsibility of conservatives to have their backs.
This post originally appeared on Pundit League. Readers may follow the author of this piece on Twitter @PositiveEnerG.