The Republican Party is in a precarious situation both locally and nationally. It faces chief executives in President Barack Obama and Gov. Mike Beebe who both have “favorable” impressions among the general public and unmatched bully pulpits. In addition, the 2008 election showed that the general public craves solutions to the problems families discuss daily at their kitchen tables.
The Republican Party must be the loyal opposition, but it cannot be branded as the party of “no.” It should not sacrifice certain bedrock conservative principles or imitate the Democratic Party. It should articulate conservatism in a manner that appeals beyond rigid ideological spectrums.
For example, labor unions are working feverishly to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, an undemocratic power grab that eliminates the secret ballot vote in union organizations and brings government bureaucrats into the workplace to set labor contracts. Special-interest legislation that threatens democracy and expands government intrusion warrants Republican opposition and should even garner “no” votes from Democrats.
The recent debate in the Arkansas legislature highlights the precarious situation of the local Republican Party. Beebe supported a much needed statewide trauma system. However, the funding source came, primarily, from an increase in the cigarette tax. Based on “anti-tax” principle, most Republicans did not support this legislation.
Governor Beebe and Democrats responded by saying something like: “Republicans are opposed to improving access to healthcare for all Arkansans.” We all know this argument is not true. However, perception is reality, and Beebe controls the bully pulpit.
The people want solutions. Ideas that will affect average Arkansans' pocketbook and daily life will rule the day in the next two election cycles. The issue matrix of a decade ago is no longer realistic. Republicans must continue to adapt.
Republicans must show they have common-sense ideas. Whether it is being for lowering income tax rates or reducing capital gains tax rates, these are proposals that resonate at the kitchen table. What taxpayer would not like to keep more of their hard-earned money.
There are also ideas to save Arkansas millions of dollars on health care costs and improve lives. Universal newborn screening should be expanded to test for rare and undetected diseases. This may require initial spending, or investing, by the state to upgrade laboratories. Some may see this as increased “spending” but it would save millions over time.
These practical ideas must be communicated to the people. Bold, practical ideas are futile if people do not know about them. Republicans must quickly embrace new social media (Facebook, Twitter). These virtual communities are where like-minded people communicate. More people are getting their news from Internet sources than ever before. Facebook grew by more than 5 million new users per week in January alone. Republicans must embrace tools such as these and speak directly to the people about the positive, practical things they are doing.
Republicans must again show the general electorate that they are a compassionate, non-rigid party that possesses refreshing ideas to move our state and country forward. Those ideas must be relevant, bold, and new. Count me in.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, Max Brantley gives the floor this week to Clint Reed, former Southeast Regional Political Director for the Republican National Committee and now a partner at Impact Management Group, a public affairs firm in Little Rock.