Saturday, April 17, 2010

Report from the 2010 Pennsylvania Leadership Conference

For the first time in several years, now that my service on my local school board is complete, I was able to attend the annual Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, the annual gathering of conservative activists in the Keystone State. A project of the Pennsylvania Leadership Council, the conference is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association and was co-sponsored by Let Freedom Ring and the Constitutional Organization of Liberty.

United States Senate Candidate Pat Toomey was among the speakers, as well as the two major Republican candidates for Governor, Attorney General Tom Corbett and State Representative Sam Rohrer. Major speakers included political consultant Dick Morris, pollster Kellyanne (Fitzpatrick) Conway and former Governor and U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh.

Morris, the keynote speaker, discussed voter disapproval of the overspending, borrowing and taxing of the federal government under Democratic leadership, as well as the federal takeover of more and more of the economy. He noted that the U.S. had controlled 30% of the economy at the start of the Obama Administration, which increased to 35%, but would rise to 40% because of the federalization of health insurance. “Socialism is a statistic,” because it is a measure of government control of the economy, Morris said, and the 40% federal government share, which he compared to some of the Western European economies, represents socialism. He stated his belief that President Barak Obama’s goal in increasing spending was to force the Republicans to raise taxes, which they will not.

The former advisor to President Bill Clinton recalled how Clinton was in negotiations with the new Republican majority in Congress in 1995 to balance the budget. The plan being discussed was intended to balance the budget with spending cuts by 2008 (note: otherwise, the Clinton Administration, despite its so-called “deficit-reduction” tax increases, had predicted $200 billion budget deficits indefinitely). House Speaker Newt Gingrich insisted on a reduction of the capital gains tax rate from 28% to 20%, to which Clinton agreed. Morris confirmed the theory I put forth in earlier posts that it was the Republican Congress that led to the balanced budget, not only because of the spending cuts, but because of the tax cuts, as he noted that revenues increased dramatically because of the capital gains tax cut and the budget was balanced in just 18 months!

Morris predicted a Republican takeover of both houses of Congress in November, with the GOP winning at least 52 Senate and 228 House seats (for a majority of at least +2 and +10, respectively). The political destiny of the U.S. “is in Pennsylvania’s hands,” Morris declared, as he predicted that Pennsylvania would elect Toomey to the Senate to replace Democrat Arlen Specter, and that Democratic Representatives Dahlkemper, Altmire, Murphy, Carney, Kanjorski and Holden would all be defeated and the GOP would win the open seat formerly held by Democrat John Murtha. The former liberal Democrat observed that “there is no such thing as a moderate or conservative Democrat” in Congress because no matter how conservative he might be, he is pledged to vote for Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker or Harry Reid for Senate Majority Leader. “No other vote matters,” Morris said, because it is the vote that determines the legislative agenda.

Morris said that the value of the Tea Party movement was both to energize the Republican Party and to cleanse it. He urged the support only of Republican candidates who take the Americans for Tax Reform pledge not to raise taxes. Morris called for an end to congressional earmarks. He refuted Obama’s contention that he inherited a $1.3 trillion budget deficit for 2009, noting that the deficit was $600 billion, plus the $700 billion TARP program, which was a loan, of which $500 billion has been repaid with interest, which Obama has spent.

Morris explained how a Republican Congressional majority could defund the federalization of health insurance without even repealing it, first by restoring its cuts to Medicare and second, because the act is an authorization bill and not an appropriation bill, the Congress can reject any appropriations to implement it.

Kellyanne Conway revealed interesting polling data: She affirmed that “women’s issues” are the same as men’s issues; women are equally concerned about economic issues; Whereas the 2008 elections were about the attributes of individual candidates, the 2010 elections would be about issues; Jobs were the main issue of voter concern; Despite the liberal belief that people would like the federalization of health insurance once they understood it, they object to the costs and are opposed to the federal mandate to buy health insurance. Like Morris, she urged people to run for public office, as free market conservatives believe in competition. Conway cited statistics about Tea Party activists that dispelled the liberal stereotypes; she found that they are mostly female and educated better than average, for example. Also like Morris, she explained the advantage of using communication technology to advance conservatism instead of through the media. Conway emphasized the importance of framing the issues as “conservative vs. liberal,” instead of “Republican vs. Democrat,” and observed that liberals no longer even want to be called by that name, preferring to be called “progressive,” which she urged conservatives not to use. Conway advised Pennsylvania’s conservatives to support the democratic election its judges over proposals to let the Governor appoint them. She is confident of significant conservative gains in the 2010 elections.

As always, there were numerous policy panels, including ecnomic and fiscal issues, education and marriage, some of which I was able to attend. One panel of particular interest to me was entitled “Beyond Corruption: Transparency, Accountability and Reform.” Columnist Chris Freind observed that because of corruption, citizen access to government is denied and there are increased costs to the taxpayers and businesses. He called for more sunshine to deter corruption. My good friend, Joseph Sterns, of the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania noted the state Constitution declares the people to be sovereign, but does not enumerate the means, such as referendum and initiative. He explained that constitutional amendments may be approved by referendum, but only after the General Assembly has approved the proposed amendment in two consecutive legislative sessions. Because of the corruption in Pennsylvania, Sterns called for a limited citizens’ constitutional convention (See State Representative Curt Schroeder agreed with Sterns and discussed Pennsylvania’s lack of proper oversight of gambling and also lamented the lack of proper judicial discipline. Representative Doug Reichley expounded on Freind’s comments about no-bid contracts, including for Democratic Governor Ed Rendell’s own law firm for legislative advice even though the state has lawyers employed for that purpose. He called for an end of the abuse of such “emergency” contracts and for a requirement that that requests for proposals be sought for contracts for services above $100,000.

Former Governor Thornburgh stressed the individual over big business, big government and big labor. He objected to the imposition of uniformity despite the diversity of the states and declared that because state government is closer to the people, it is wiser than the federal government. Thornburgh emphasized the need for smaller government and lower taxes and called for a federal balanced budget amendment and line item veto, tools he used to balance Pennsylvania’s budget and cut taxes. The former U.S. Attorney General under Presidents Ronald and George H.W. Bush expressed support for toughness on crime, including public corruption, for which he called for greater transparency, and on terrorism.

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