The outgoing Republican president of Colorado’s Senate digs through the entrails of the Democrat election victory there and identifies some themes that look eerily familiar to Ohio conservatives.
It was motivation, above all, that powered this Democrat victory. Democrats were driven and hungry from decades in the political wilderness. Republicans were complacent and soft from too long in power. Their motive for winning was to get in there and do things. Ours, it often seemed, was merely to stay in there. These attitudes translated into discipline and unity for Democrats, indulgence and disunity for Republicans. GOP factionalism was endemic and fatal.
The message gap was a consequence of this motivation gap. Democrats talked about making Colorado a better state, about not letting Republicans cut cherished programs, and about the GOP’s supposed obsession with “gays, guns, and God.” Republicans talked about … what? Other than denying their charges and hurling some back, we pretty much punted. Republican candidates picked their own issues locally. Churchill would have called it a pudding with no theme.
Our campaign had what one analyst termed a sort of Nixon-Ford tiredness and blandness. I had considered, back in 2003, framing a conservative Contract with Colorado to provide a single, statewide framework for all 75 state Senate and House races. But after sizing up the competing intra-party fiefdoms and tensions, I decided not to start that fight. Mea culpa; I should have fought.
“A Nixon-Ford tiredness and blandness” pretty accurately describes our own Governor Bob Taft, scion of a powerful old Ohio family and a politician whose strongest claim to conservatism seems to be the (R) appended to his name. He opposed the recently-enacted concealed carry legislation, opposed the gay marriage ban, and didn’t earn himself the nickname “Governor Tax” by accident.
Three Republicans have announced their intent to replace Taft when term limits force him to step down in 2006: State Auditor Betty Montgomery, State Attorney General Jim Petro, and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (toward whom I’m leaning at the moment, since he’s been burnishing his conservative credentials).
Ohio Republicans need to find a bona fide fiscal and social conservative to take Bob Taft’s place. Once we have that candidate identified, we need to round up support early, before our tired and unimaginative party leaders anoint someone more “safe.” Pushing a bland pudding with no theme on Ohio voters isn’t going to get Republicans elected to state offices. Just look at what happened in Colorado.
Then we need to identify districts with retiring or vulnerable Representatives and Senators in both parties, and cajole some conservative businessmen, military vets, and civic leaders to step forward and run for office. A truly conservative Legislature will cut our high tax burden and rein in spending, while returning our government to the pro-family and tough-on-crime stance that Ohio voters obviously want.
Party discipline matters, but party survival’s more important. The Ohio GOP has gotten fat and lazy. It’s time to clear out the deadwood before the Democrats do it for us. My Senator lives two streets away, so I’ll start the grilling here. Who’s with me?