Monday, March 08, 2004

The Most Important Principles Are Those That Restrict Other People

More Arizona politics this week. The eastern wings of my old congressional district wound up in District 6 in the 2002 redistricting, and some of you even may recall that Stan Barnes ran in the GOP primary in my year of 1992. He might have beaten the incumbent but lost narrowly--so narrowly that the media reports about his non-affair (but still somehow inappropriate) relationship with a state senate staffer (Not even an intern! What was he thinking?) might have made the difference to the primary outcome. We'll see how these guys go after each other.

But I'm most interested in how term limits now is bad, bad, bad--now that they've served their political purpose for the Republicans. Yuck. Another bedrock GOP principle--which only other people have to observe.

Newspaper version available here.

The District 6 Race

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 7, 2004

Did you catch last week’s announcement by GOP state House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth, endorsing Stan Barnes in his challenge to incumbent Cong. Jeff Flake?

You don’t often see a prominent GOP officeholder endorse a primary opponent of a sitting congressman. “Fast Eddie” is ├╝ber-connected in GOP circles, and if the really big dogs were happy with Flake, it wouldn’t have happened.

There’s also that “Eleventh Commandment” business about not speaking ill of fellow Republicans. Also, anybody in the majority in D.C. should know how to pull strings and prevent stuff like this from happening. Flake, however, has made his name by not getting along with those in power.

The solidly GOP district means that Flake may have a safe seat in November, but he’s now in real danger in his September primary -- and GOP insiders aren’t that anxious to help, figuring that the primary winner will hold the seat for the Republicans.

We’ll get an old-fashioned East Valley political grudge match, knowing that in the end one of two Republicans will represent the district. Politics gets more vicious when the stakes are so low.

Especially because while Barnes couldn’t have guessed in advance, he picked the right year to challenge Flake. Why? Two words: gay marriage. It wasn’t planned this way; Bush was supposed to stay high above the fray, wooing swing voters with stuff like the Mars trial balloon and the steroids-in-sports business. But with conservatives awakening to the administration’s fiscal recklessness, Bush needed to toss some really red meat to the true believers, and announced his support for the constitutional amendment.

The irony here is that Flake, while he may have greater personal qualms, actually is a devout libertarian. He really does believe in a smaller government that shouldn’t be telling free people how to run their lives. He’s even taken on the Cuba travel ban, a GOP sacred cow for getting votes in Florida. He really shouldn’t support amending the Constitution to take away freedom and to impose a one-size-fits-all federal solution on the states.

Barnes, however, is a more natural politician and more laissez-faire personally, if you recall those 1992 news reports, and probably gets along better with all types of people than the more professorial Flake. But however easygoing his personality, with GOP primary roaring to save civilization by forcing Will to marry Grace, Barnes will have no problem joining Bush in bashing gays.

This election will a total reversal from the first time Barnes ran for Congress 12 years ago, when he opposed another GOP incumbent. Then, Barnes campaigned as “new blood” who would -- unlike the incumbent -- shake things up in Washington and refuse to kowtow to leadership.

Now, Barnes is campaigning against a supposedly ineffective incumbent who’s too busy trying to shake things up in Washington and refusing to kowtow to leadership. Whatever works, I guess.

It’s also ironic that Fast Eddie specifically said he supports Barnes because unlike Flake, who took a pledge to serve no more than three terms, Barnes “isn’t encumbered by term limits.” A few short years ago, Republicans hailed term limits as the most important reform possible. George Will even wrote a book called Restoration: Congress, Term Limits, and the Recovery of Deliberative Democracy. But terms limits isn’t on the agenda now.

These days, term limits are an “encumbrance,” a disqualification for office. They served their purpose of electing, and then reelecting, Republicans, and now they’re apparently worse than useless.

Just like with abortion and banning gay marriage, the GOP sure knows what makes a “bedrock principle” -- something that only other people to have to follow.

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