“No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session”.

- attributed to NY State Judge Gideon Tucker

Friday, April 2, 2010

Scooped by Rep. LeMunyon

I've been roughly framing a post like this for over a week now.

Thus, I was a bit crestfallen to read James LeMunyon's Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday, entitled A Constitutional Convention Can Rein in Washington.

He beat me to the punch. But with more data than I have, so it's probably a good thing that this piece follows his.

LeMunyon wrote,

"The U.S. Congress is in a state of serious disrepair and cannot fix itself. It has reached this point over the course of many years—in fact over many decades. Regardless of the party in power, Congress has demonstrated a growing inability to effectively address the major issues of our time, including soaring federal debt and the extension of federal authority to states and localities.

The only effective remedy is constitutional reform to rein in congressional excesses and abuses. But Congress can't be expected to propose amendments to fix itself, as it has an inherent conflict of interest.

The remedy is in Article V of the Constitution, which permits a convention to be called for the purpose of proposing constitutional amendments. Any proposed amendment then would have to be ratified by both houses of 38 state legislatures (three-fourths of the states). This entails 76 separate votes in the affirmative by two houses of the 38 state legislatures. (Nebraska, with its unicameral legislature, would be an exception.)

Interest in calling a first-ever Article V convention is growing at the state level. A petition for such a convention passed the Florida Senate last month, to propose amendments requiring a balanced budget and to restrain the growth of the national government. If approved by the House, Florida would be the 20th state with an active call to do so. In the Virginia House of Delegates, I introduced a resolution (H.J. 183) calling for a constitutional convention to restrain the national government as well. Requests by two-thirds or 34 states are required for a convention to be called."

Generally, I agree with his contention that Congress can't be trusted to act against its own self-interest. The only exception I could foresee would be for the existing Republican House leadership to issue their own version of Gingrich's Contract with America, this time including promised Constitutional amendments involving term limits, spending, the commerce clause, and others. Perhaps as in this post.

However, even then, they may not go far enough.

I wasn't aware of the existing momentum in as many as 20 states to call for a convention.

LeMunyon reasonably argues that it would be hard for any fringe group to manage to pass a radically-altered Constitution over the objections of as few as 27 state legislatures.

Instead, he observes,

"Fear of a runaway convention presupposes a profound lack of confidence in state legislatures. It presumes that a majority in 76 legislative houses in 38 states would seriously consider, for example, amending or deleting the Bill of Rights. It presumes that only an elite class of Americans with Washington-based power can get it right when it comes to the Constitution. It presumes that the provisions of the Constitution are something imposed on the people, possibly against their will, rather than a limited grant of authority by the people, supported by the current generation of Americans and amendable to reflect 21st century realities.

It is a mistake to dwell on hypothetical and unfounded concerns about the outcome of a runaway constitutional convention. We instead should focus on the immediate reality of a "runaway Congress" and its accumulation of debt far beyond the ability of Americans to pay. "

This last passage really encapsulates the key point of LeMunyon's, and my own argument. Regardless of party affiliation or, more likely now, party independence, many educated, engaged voters can see that a Constitutional rewrite is actually less risky than surprisingly recent, rapid destruction of our Republic by the spending of an out-of-control Congress and administration.

Electing new members of Congress hasn't worked for decades. Presidents of both parties become imperialistic. Our courts have overstepped the bounds of the Constitution.

I honestly think these continuing risks are greater than that of a large group of state legislators, with over 200 years of history, and 100 years of determined Federal power creep and shredding of the Constitution in the name of Progressivism, doing more damage by amending the Constitution.

As a colleague reminded me recently, it seems many Americans forget that the federal government is not a party to our Constitution, but, rather, a product of it.

The states, now 50 in number (not 57, as in the world according to Wonderboy), enacted the Constitution as a pact among themselves. They can, and should, feel free to change that agreement as they see fit, according to the current Constitution's provisions.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Is Gingrich Preparing To Run For President?

For several years, I've wondered if Newt Gingrich was contemplating a run for president. He's been a frequent guest on numerous Fox News programs, giving him a pretty reliable, consistent perch from which to keep his public profile high.

He also has been busy for years with a public policy foundation, and now has a few websites devoted to various issues.

But something about his recent appearances, and the health care bill fight, lead me to believe that Newt has, privately, pretty much decided to take the plunge next year.

First, he's lost a lot of weight. Gingrich was never trim, but after resigning the Speaker's post, he really ballooned. That was way back before 2000.

In the decade or so since, initially out of the limelight, Gingrich bulked up. Even a year ago, he was pretty portly.

Recent photos have him much trimmer in the stomach, and his face is noticeably thinner.

His remarks concerning the current administration and Democratically-controlled Congress, have taken on a more august, presidential tone.

As a former Speaker of the House, and the first in decades to have brought down a powerful sitting Speaker of the other party, and reversed that party's large majority, Gingrich has unique, valuable federal government experience.

Much more so than the typical Senator who runs for president. Certainly far more than Wonderboy or, really, even McCain. As Speaker, Gingrich was second in line for the presidency, and responsible for running the House, which has the real power of the purse in our government.

Thus, the recent shift in his tone brings his considerable knowledge, as a PhD in history, to bear in a more reasoned, effective manner.

Of course, there are still two major questions that even conservatives need Gingrich to answer, before he can probably gain their trust and votes. Loosely phrased, they are:

1. How can we believe you have changed from the person who cheated on his wife who was dying of cancer?

2. How can we believe you've matured after your temper tantrum on Air Force One during the Clinton years?

If Gingrich is serious about running, he has those replies worked out by now. It would be understandable and acceptable for him to simply state that he's learned from his mistakes, attribute them to a first brush with power and fame, and say that he's moved on from those errors.

Maybe he can get some quality time with Tiger Woods this weekend in Augusta to get some help with the details?

In any case, if I felt Gingrich had adequately handled those two issues, there is literally no single candidate I'd personally prefer to win the Oval Office in 2012 than Newt Gingrich. His command of the broadest sweep of national policy issues, his prior experience as Speaker, and as the guy who orchestrated the 1994 GOP takeover of the House, make him an invaluable resource to lead our country.

Further, I believe he's not, at heart, a Federalist. He'd be the one President you could trust to work to limit federal power and begin Constitutionally enshrining a repeal of the last hundred years of Progressive shredding of that document.

Because he wasn't my Representative, I tend to forget that Gingrich did manage to win election campaigns. He's not a stranger to that.

Seeing him on the national GOP stage, running for president, would be a treat. I can't imagine anyone, including Hickabee, even coming close to Gingrich's command of facts and history, policy prescriptions, and sensibility.

Two years ago, I'd have thought this was a joke. Even a year ago, I didn't think he could win.

Now, I do.

And that's no April fool.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More On Christie's NJ Budget Cuts

Yesterday's post attracted some attention, including being linked on some other blogs and websites in NJ.

According to some press accounts, Christie's poll numbers fell on the news of his cuts.

Given the shocking numbers contained in the Wall Street Journal article, from which I quoted in yesterday's post, it's rich to read another Journal piece, specifically related to Christie's plans.

In last Wednesday's Journal, an article noted,

"Unions representing police officers and firefighters have said hundreds of their members would likely retire earlier than intended with passage of the bills, which could become a public safety issue."

So typical of union leaders to issue empty threats.

Like these older retirees won't be immediately replaced with fewer, younger, less expensive workers? With defined contribution pension plans, rather than defined benefit plans?

How will that compromise public safety? Sounds like it's going to immediately enhance public fiscal safety!

The teacher friend to whom I referred in yesterday's post was shocked to learn that none other than JFK was responsible for allowing state and municipal workers to unionize. She didn't understand the implications, until I explained that the change meant government union members then had reasons to vote for candidates who promised more union jobs and lusher benefits.

In effect, candidates ran on platforms of favoring union members over the voters who would pay for the benefits. Of course, when government workers were represented by a union, it became easier for them to vote in a bloc for labor-oriented, usually Democratic candidates.

It's quite believable that, in the very short term, many voters are against Christie's cuts. Some are government union workers. Others, many others, have family or friends who will be affected. Still others probably are scared that services will decline.

Well, here's a message to all of them, and especially the last group. New Jersey has literally been living on borrowed time and money for decades. Kean and Whitman contributed to this mess, just as Florio, McGreevey and Corzine. They all lied to voters about the affordability of a growing governmental budget and government employment levels.

Now harsh medicine is required, and people are balking.

I recall the initial months of Ronald Reagan's first budget cuts. He wasn't universally popular at first. But as the economy got moving and inflation abated, he was justly accorded credit for the results.

I'm sure Christie will be, too, in time. But before then, a lot of unnecessary state and local workers will feel the pain of job loss, and coddled voters will have to learn to live with state and local government service levels they can actually afford.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Jersey's Governor Christie Begins The Budget Cuts

New Jersey's public employee unions have begun their firestorm of protests over newly-elected Governor Chris Christie's budget cuts.

As the Wall Street Journal noted, these aren't cuts in the growth in items in outgoing governor Corzine's last budget, but several billion dollars of absolute cuts in spending.

Not surprisingly, this means programs which involve and fund state and local government employees. Unionized employees.

On that note, the Journal's lead staff editorial on Friday provided instructive details on the average compensation, nationwide, of public-sector versus private-sector workers.

The editorial observes,

"According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 1998 to 2008 public employee compensation grew by 28.6%, compared with 19.3% for private workers. In the recession year of 2009, with almost no inflation and record budget deficits, more than half the states awarded pay raises to their employees. Even as deficits in state capitals widen and are forcing cuts in services, few politicians are willing to eliminate these pay inequities that enrich the few who wield political power.....

This means that for every $1 in pay and benefits a private employee earned, a state or local government worker received $1.45."

The piece goes on to state that public employees earn about 1/3 more than their private sector counterparts, but also receive 70% higher benefit levels.

But that's not all. A good third of the editorial discussed 'double-dippers,' teachers who retire, then are immediately rehired and begin building a second pension. The article mentions,

"Across the state, Ohio's State Teachers Retirement System paid out more than $741 million in pension benefits last school year to 15,857 faculty and staff members who were still working for school systems and building up a second retirement plan."

I had a long discussion this weekend with a local school system teacher about New Jersey's woes and Christie's budget cuts.

The teacher complained that large surpluses of unspent money in the educational system were being cut by Christie, which will require program cuts and, thus, teacher layoffs. She took a while to understand that those unspent funds weren't the property of the NJ school system- they are taxpayer funds allocated- by a prior, free-spending administration- but not yet spent.

She and her colleagues are angry with what they perceive as broken promises regarding teacher layoffs from Christie.

I finally had to drive home to her several times that there is now a very simple, clear metric that instantly illustrates the problem, and is comprehensible to taxpayers. That metric is the one appearing above in this post, used by the Journal editorial.

By simply comparing averages of private and public sector compensation, health and pension benefits, eye-opening differences become clear.

Thus, I told my friend, taxpayers really no longer care about the rates of changes in teacher, police or firefighter compensation and benefits. They notice the incredibly more lush deals the government, unionized workers receive.

When I put it that way, she understood why it was unlikely that her union's pensions would not take some sort of haircut between now and her retirement, nearly 20 years in the future.

In fact, she even agreed that, eventually, taxpayers will want government union employees' contracts to offer no better compensation, nor benefits, than the average of private sector workers in the state.

It's a very compelling argument.

She asked what I thought would happen if Christie is defeated after his first term, and replaced by another spend-borrow-tax Democratic governor? I asked her the same question, and she thought a moment. Then slowly realized the horrible implication and said she thought the state would veer closer to, and maybe into, bankruptcy.

This is why I think Christie will, eventually, make progress. The metrics on taxes and state-and-local worker compensation are compelling. There's no other way out for New Jersey but to cut taxes and spending. And much of that spending is going to have to come from government employees.

As I'm writing this, Democratic Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell is taking Christie, and New Jersey, to task for not raising taxes! He asserts that NJ will have to raise taxes, and notes a gasoline tax that hasn't been raised since 1989.

It's a typical attitude for a Democratic governor to expect citizens to just pay more taxes, rather than consider their income their own, and expect state government services for the least expense possible.

It's not only teachers. Christie has correctly identified the duplicative layers of county, township, and local governmental entities. They typically all have police and administrative personnel, budgets and regulations. Given some time, some of that spending and staffing can be pared back, with little to no effect on life for the average state citizen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Peggy Noonan's Misguided Rant

Peggy Noonan moved a little further around the bend toward total irrelevancy with her latest Wall Street Journal editorial.

Skipping the nauseating details of her weekend column, suffice to say she feels that there is too much passion and animosity in today's politics. She appeals for 'lower temperatures' in debates on key issues.

If only in this regard, Noonan is showing her total disconnection from the state of the US federal government and the peril in which the Constitution, and our Republic are in.

Ronald Reagan, for whom Noonan worked as a speechwriter, and her affiliation with whom basically launched her subsequent pundit's career, left office over twenty years ago. As successful as he was, Reagan didn't cement any of his changes in a sufficient manner to cause lasting effects in the federal government.

If you recall anything about Reagan's temperament, it was his blunt voicing of a conservative viewpoint while criticizing liberal ones.

Noonan is wrong. Even her old boss, if he were alive and still in possession of his mental faculties, would disagree with her concern over the passion and heat in today's political discourse.

Let's be honest here. Today's Congressional Democrats, and Wonderboy, are no longer attempting to honor their oaths of office. Every Congressman and Senator who voted for the health care bill, and Wonderboy, qualifies for impeachment. Only a Democratic majority impedes the just removal from office of the lot of them.

Back in Noonan's heyday, working for the Gipper, Democrats had many more centrists in their Congressional fold. Not so today.

Noonan can't seem to rouse herself from torpor to realize that today's federal Democrats are appointing communists and socialists to federal offices and legislating a march toward complete socialization of America.

We don't need less heat and passion. We need more!

Noonan is a relic of a bygone era of polite discourse and little difference between two quasi-progressive political parties.

For better or for worse, the left's takeover of the Democratic party and march to the extreme left this past year has, by contrast, sent the Republicans further right.

It's about time. In fact, it's past time.

Following on Reagan's time as president, this coming second wave of conservatism will hopefully have learned to thing bigger and have the concrete ready to pour around their actions, once in power.

It's not immediately obvious, but Ronald Reagan was the first non-progressive president since TR at the turn of the last century. In only eight years, with no Constitutional amendments or lasting legislation passed, Reagan's efforts resulted in 25 twenty more years of economic expansion and generally less bothersome regulation.

Imagine what a determined, impassioned next wave of conservative Congressmen and Senators, with a GOP president in 2013, can and will do?

But only if the fire and heat of anger over the Democrats' socialistic takeover of America is stoked white hot and unleashed in subsequent Novembers.