A Plan for Legislative Republicans

Are you hoping for a Republican resurgence in Oregon in 2008? If so, Republicans are going to have to start now to describe a clear difference between themselves and the Democrats along with a reason to vote Republican.

Several years ago the Republican legislative leaders met to try to stem the continuing erosion of their majority in both houses of the Oregon legislature. The featured speaker at that gathering was a political consultant from back east recommended by Sen. Gordon Smith. The key message from this consultant was that if you want to get elected as a Republican in Oregon you need to refrain from mentioning any issues that have defined the Republican Party for years — individual responsibility, tax reform, government accountability, opposition to abortion on demand, etc. Instead, the consultant urged that candidates to talk about safe subjects which would not offend, which would not define stark contrasts with the Democrats — in other words, run as Democrats but just not as radically liberal.

There was no formal decision to follow such advice but, from the lack of any definitive agenda by Republican legislative leaders, it would appear that candidates defaulted to the advice. Oregon is a default Democrat state — in other words, lacking any reason to vote Republican, voters will default to the Democrats. With no clear reason to vote for Republicans in 2004 and 2006 voters did just that. The result is that not only do the Democrats control every statewide office, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, but now both house of the legislature and in the case of the Senate, by a two-thirds majority.

To date, no such reason to vote otherwise has been offered for the 2008 legislative election either.

A review of the Oregon Republican Party platform is not encouraging. The state party platform spends an inordinate amount of time on social issues and matters that are most appropriately addressed at the federal level. No plan is advanced for immigration reform or for improving school performance. Only one sentence is dedicated to tax reform. No commitment had been made to resist imposition of new taxes as Oregon’s economy turns downward in the looming recession.

Failure to address decisively the current problems facing Oregon will ensure that Republicans remain in the minority. A continuation of such aversion to conflict will eventually doom the Republicans to irrelevancy.

Following are three proposals that will draw stark differentiation with Oregon’s liberal Democrats, address current critical problems in Oregon and resonate easily with a majority of Oregon voters.

1. Illegal immigration. Adopt an aggressive employer sanctions law similar to the one in Arizona that revokes the business license of any employer knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant. The employer sanction law should be followed by a law that prohibits the use of any state funds to provide health, welfare or educational services to illegal immigrants. If you remove the incentives for illegal immigration, the flow of illegal immigrants will diminish significantly.

In a state with limited financial resources and stagnant economic growth, the limited resources of the state should be directed to those lawfully here and should not be diminished by distribution over a larger number of people who are not legally here.

2. Tax reform. Increase the amount of income exempt from taxation to the level of Oregon’s minimum wage. Currently those with the lowest incomes in Oregon pay more in Oregon state income tax than in federal income tax. Exempt one-half of capital gains from state income tax. Re-couple depreciation schedules with those used in the federal income tax system. Exempt from the inheritance tax those portions of an estate that pass to the benefit of a spouse or direct lineal descendants.

Every tax proposal should be viewed as to its near and long term impact on Oregon’s economic performance. Elimination of taxes on income below the minimum wage will provide an immediate and continuing economic stimulus — unlike the recent federal stimulus package — and it provides symmetry between tax policy for the state and wage policy imposed by the state. Reform of the capital gains tax and improving the depreciation schedules will encourage investment and growth in business that, in turn, provides new jobs. Reform of inheritance tax ensures that families will not have to borrow money to pay taxes in order to preserve a family business, particularly small main street businesses and farms and ranches.

3. Education reform. Pledge to fund K-12 education at whatever level necessary to improve performance to a level in the top quadrant of national performance. Couple any increased funding with a program to enhance performance by teachers, administrators and students which includes:
ï‚· Merit pay based on teacher performance
ï‚· Elimination of tenure for the bottom ten percent of teachers based on performance evaluation.
ï‚· Exempt teachers accused of sexual crimes with students from any union disciplinary process thus speeding the process for termination.
ï‚· Provide for prompt removal of school administrators in failing schools and transfer of administration to other neighboring schools.

The battle continues as to what is necessary to improve Oregon’s education performance. Currently Oregon continues to decline in performance vis-à-vis other states and, as a result, against other nations. For the past twenty years, the public employee and teachers unions have ruled the day with demands for increased funding. The past legislative session increased funding for K-12 by over $1 billion dollars — eighty-five percent of which was used to pay for increased teachers’ salaries, health benefits and retirement. While some new teachers were hired, neither student teacher ratios nor academic performance were improved materially.

If the policies pursued by the education community (principally the public employee unions) have failed for twenty years it is time to demand performance improvement as a prerequisite to increased funding. None of the ideas proposed are new and yet none have been tried in Oregon. It is time to demand accountability.

It isn’t necessary for Republicans to specifically embrace these proposals but it is necessary for them to promote bold solutions to Oregon’s continuing problems that will never be addressed by Democrats.