Seven tea party challengers are running against Republican incumbents in next year’s Senate primaries, and it’s entirely possible that every last one of them will lose.
But it doesn’t really matter: The tea party has already won.
Though the movement’s candidates are underdogs in most of the 2014 contests against the Republican establishment, the mere fear of conservative challengers has the grassroots chalking up victory after victory on Capitol Hill.
The tea party shut down the government over Obamacare, put immigration reform on life support, and is holding the farm bill hostage over food stamps. Hard-liners long ago torpedoed hopes of a “grand bargain” over the budget and debt limit. And in a sign that budget compromise with Democrats continues to be verboten, conservative groups from Heritage Action to FreedomWorks were rejecting a deal between Democratic Sen. Patty Murray and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan Tuesday — before it was even announced.
So even if Republicans facing primary challengers from the right are not in real danger, their rivals will keep bringing the heat, scrambling the potential for deals by a Congress already making history for doing so little.
“The tea party has racked up important victories electorally but also ideologically, and that pressure on establishment Republicans will continue,” said James Hartman, a Louisiana-based political consultant advising tea party-backed congressional candidate Rob Maness. “The compromises being blocked are absolutely favorable in terms of public policy. No, we don’t want tax increases. No, we don’t want Obamacare.”
The battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party expanded in the past week to include challenges against Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, bringing the total of GOP senators facing primary opponents to seven. All of the incumbents are favored to beat their opponents. But that doesn’t mean they’re free to cut any deals across the aisle; doing so would be risky in a highly polarized political climate that sees compromise as betrayal.
“Members of Congress are risk averse, and if they can avoid getting attention from the bullies, they will,” said Republican consultant John Feehery, a former Capitol Hill staffer.
Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, chairman of the board of the pro-immigration reform America Action Network, says he doesn’t see any Republican senators in jeopardy. But he acknowledged that what he called the “fringe of the tea party” will make it extremely difficult to reach agreements on a pathway to citizenship and other issues.
“Elements within the tea party are definitely pushing Republicans to the right really hard and pushing a purist approach,” he said. “If folks are saying ‘don’t compromise,’ that obviously makes it harder to find common ground.”
Some of the Republican insurgents, including House candidate Bryan Smith in Idaho and Senate candidates Chris McDaniel in Mississippi and Matt Bevin in Kentucky, were already calling on members to reject a budget deal to keep the government open after Jan. 15 — before the agreement was finalized. Their objection is that it would eliminate some of the spending cuts that were mandatory under the so-called sequester.
“The Ryan-Murray deal is a complete abdication of Washington’s governing responsibility,” said McDaniel, who announced his challenge to Cochran last week. This kind of incendiary rhetoric makes it harder for members to reach even a short-term agreement.
Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist called the sequester “the great accomplishment of the tea party movement” on Twitter – a sign, he said, that the tea party has succeeded in changing the culture in Washington and beyond.
“Earmarks were previously viewed as a sign of virility and power,” he added in an email. “They are now viewed as akin to shoplifting. That cultural shift in the GOP caucus is enduring.”
While conservative rivals will keep Republican incumbents on their heels, Brian Walsh, a former spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the primaries will ultimately strengthen the party.
“I think the lesson everyone drew the last two cycles is that Republican incumbents can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “To the extent that they win those primaries and fend off those attacks, the stronger the party will be in the future.”
Deputy Insurance Commissioner Rick Farmer reports he has a new job as head of the Workers Compensation Commission.
Writing on Facebook, Farmer relates, “I accepted a new position as the executive director of Oklahoma’s new Workers Compensation Commission. Will begin the transition from the Oklahoma Insurance Department immediately. Looking forward to the challenge. There is a lot of work ahead.”
“President Obama was caught committing a funeral faux pas — snapping a selfie during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British PM David Cameron,” wrote the New York Daily News. “The threesome smiled as the Scandinavian beauty held her smartphone out to capture the moment but Michelle Obama sat at a distance, as if in disapproval of the digital display.”
One of the many things I treasure about this country is our right to debate, discuss and discern what the founders of this great nation meant by “inalienable rights.” As we approach Christmas, stories of city officials stripping religion from holiday displays or schools axing “Silent Night” from elementary programs have once again spiked. The Founding Fathers did not intend our laws and Constitution to restrict, prevent or condemn our right to exercise our faith. They sought to protect it.
A few years ago, while on a trip to Romania, I visited a small Baptist church in the rural town of Timisoara. As I waited in the back of the church with the pastor, I noticed the photos of pastors hanging on the wall and asked him if Christian services were allowed under the country’s former communist regime. “Oh, yes,” he assured me, “we could worship as long as it stayed within the four walls of the church. If we went outside to tell what we learned, we were persecuted.”
As if on cue, a small elderly woman walked up to me, held out her hands and took mine between them. With tears in her eyes, she whispered “I love America.”
This frail woman had never been to our country, she didn’t know its laws, she was unaware of its politics, but there she was – crying and expressing thanks. She and the pastor understood something that many of us take for granted – America represents opportunity, values and the freedom to practice our faith outside of the four walls of a church.
Publicly practicing our religion is something we should not fear in this country, and yet I’ve read story after story about a toy drive shut down because the beneficiary was a Christian children’s charity or a school banning Christmas music at its “winter” program even though the Courts have upheld their inclusion in school productions. This year, the U.S. Air Force Academy made “So help me God” optional in its oath after threat of a lawsuit, and just last month Costco department stores were forced to apologize after their supplier labeled Bibles as fiction.
We’re not living in China or Iran or North Korea, and we do not face the same harsh punishment for practicing religion, but we must stand up for our faith and we need to be vocal about our concerns.
Our Founders’ commitment to freedom was built on fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and religion. These liberties were of such importance they were included in the First Amendment, not the fifth or sixth. It is understood that these rights are inherent and unalienable and do not come from a constitution or laws or any government, but from God.
When religious liberty was first debated on the House floor in the late 1700s, representatives expressed concern that the wording of the First Amendment could lead to the abolishment of religion altogether. James Madison, the principle author of the Bill of Rights, assured them that the First Amendment simply meant that Congress should not “establish a religion” or in effect endorse a particular denomination at the expense of others, or “enforce the legal observation of it by law.” That it represented freedom to believe and freely exercise our faith unencumbered by government mandate or restraint.
So, let us not forget during this Christmas season as we celebrate with our families, our cities, our schools and our places of worship that religion is not a silent practice confined to four walls, but an opportunity to live out our faith in the public square.
The Red Ryder BB gun was made famous in the 1983 film “A Christmas Story.” (Courtesy of Daisy Outdoor Products/Daisy Museum)
Not only could you “shoot your eye out, kid,” you might also go to jail for owning that BB gun in certain states.
New Jersey and other jurisdictions make little or no distinction between Daisy’s classic Red Ryder BB gun immortalized in the film “A Christmas Story,” and real guns. They must be registered and are subject to the same laws as any firearms.
“In all honesty, kids who are charged are looking at mandatory jail time,” said New Jersey attorney William Proetta, adding that under the state’s Graves Act, a conviction could lead to prison time. “The only defense is to request a waiver but if that’s not granted, young kids can get a felony charge and their lives are basically over.”
“In all honesty, kids who are charged are looking at mandatory jail time.” – William Proetta, New Jersey attorney
Virginia, which treats the rite-of-passage toys as firearms if they are used during criminal conduct, and other municipalities also heavily regulate BB guns. But New Jersey goes the farthest, according to Proetta.
New Jersey’s strict Graves Act gun law covers possession of a BB gun right alongside serious gun control measures outlawing sawed-off shotguns, filing serial numbers off of guns or using firearms to commit crimes. Violating the act can bring a minimum three-year prison term and steep fines.
And the law is enforced. As recently as October, a man was arrested in New Jersey for shooting an airsoft gun at a rubber duck for target practice, in his own yard. Idyriss Thomas, 22, was arrested in Glassboro, N.J., after police responded to multiple 911 calls from neighbors who reported seeing a man with a gun. Once police determined the gun was unlicensed, Thomas was taken to jail and charged with unlawful possession of a weapon. His family posted a $2,500 bond.
“I didn’t realize that what I had in my hand would cause the events that happened today,” Thomas told Philadelphia’s WPVI. “I had the airsoft gun in my hand, playing with it, taking shots at a rubber ducky – not harming anybody.”
Proetta said that depending which county in New Jersey a hearing is held in, a judge will issue a waiver on the Graves Act, or allow charges to be downgraded. But they don’t have to.
“Courts will work closely on each case,” Proetta said. “But in a few counties like you could face some serious charges.”
A spokesperson for Rogers, Ark.,-based Daisy, told FoxNews.com that while the company disagrees with BB gun regulations like that seen in New Jersey, the company makes every effort to uphold the law.
“In our opinion and the federal government’s, our products are not firearms as there is no combustion in the chamber,” Daisy spokesman Joe Murfin said. “While we disagree, we respect a state’s law for whatever reason they may have one.”
Barack Obama is facing poll numbers that are now in the same territory as President George W. Bush’s following Hurricane Katrina.
The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute released numbers on Tuesday showing that just 38 per cent of registered voters approve of the job Obama is doing as president, with a whopping 56 per cent saying they disapprove.
The president has lost his landslide electoral edge among young voters, too, with a negative 41–49 per cent rating among 18- to 29-year-old voters. His once formidable support among Hispanics has also evaporated: They now support him by an historically small 50–43 per cent margin.
Worse for Obama’s fast-approaching legacy-building years, the public believes he is not ‘honest and trustworthy,’ by a 52–44 per cent score. A smaller majority, 51 per cent, said he lacks ‘strong leadership qualities.’
Respondents said by a 41–38 per cent gap that they would vote for a Republican over a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives, the first time this year Democrats have had a winning posture in the Quinnipiac poll.
Friendlier shores: Barack Obama got a rousing ovation from a crowd attending the official memorial service for late South African president Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, a change of pace from Americans who are losing faith in his policies.
Majority Leader? Mitch McConnell, the leader of the U.S. Senate’s GOP minority, would run Congress’ upper chamber in 2015 if the public’s feelings about who should run the Capitol hold up.
And 47 per cent of voters said they would like to see Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress. The GOP can achieve that outcome if it holds the House and picks up seven Senate seats in November 2014.
Fully half of independent voters – those aligned with neither the Democratic nor the Republican party – said they would back a Congress completely under Republican control.
‘President Obama could be pretty lonely during his last two years in office if voters decide they want Republican majorities in the House and Senate,’ said Quinnipiac University Polling Institute assistant director Tim Malloy.
But Congress hasn’t had an easy ride either: 74 per cent of voters disapprove of the way Congressional Republicans are doing their jobs. A smaller 67 per cent group says Democrats in Congress are also falling shirt of the mark.
Exhibit A: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is presiding over a health insurance overhaul that has drawn catcalls and sighs from the public as its website flails and its sticker shocks hit home.
Pollsters interviewed nearly 2,700 voters between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9, asking their opinions after a spate of positive news hit TV broadcasts and Internet news portals about jobs and the economy.
The results suggest the staying power of Obama’s unpopular health insurance overhaul and his administration’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran.
Even Democrats are beginning to doubt the president who famously promised hope and change: 18 per cent of them now say they’re no fans of Obama’s work in the Oval Office.
Malloy called the news ‘a rousing chorus of Bah! Humbug! for President Barack Obama as American voters head into the holidays with little charitable to say.’
That includes his handling of specific issues. While Obama enjoys a 50–41 per cent positive rating for his handling of terrorism, that’s the only issue Quinnipiac polled where he comes out on top.
He’s under water on the economy, 37–59 per cent, 34–62 percent on health care and 42–49 per cent on foreign policy.
Iran, too, is making Americans uncomfortable. Just 40 per cent of registered voters say they approve of the White House’s approach to the Islamic republic, whose expanding nuclear program is the subject of a deal brokered in November by the U.S. and five other nations. A larger 48 per cent group disapprove.
Americans are less disapproving of the agreement itself, by a 44–46 margin, and a 45–37 plurality say it will make America ‘less safe.’
Making nice with the mullahs? Secretary of State John Kerry got a grilling in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, defending the Obama administration’s decision to pursue a nuclear pact with Iran.
The only good news for the White House is that Americans support Obama’s pitch to raise the minimum wage nation-wide.
Fully 69 per cent support hiking it by at least some amount, with 27 per cent opposed. But the pollsters offered their interviewees three separate choices of how much to raise the minimum wage, compared with only one option to leave it alone.
GOP lawmakers cite economic studies that show minimum wage hikes have corresponded with job losses, particularly among low-skilled and minority workers, as companies let people go in order to comply with wage hikes without spending more money on human resources.
Almost one year ago, Senator Clark Jolley asked me to assist him in bringing an end to what appeared to be a practice of legalized corruption. Having worked with Jolley on numerous modernization and efficiency measures, I have learned to pay close attention to his concerns. He frequently proposes cost saving and efficiency reforms, and his proposals are taken very seriously by the Legislature. Jolley had received reports from whistleblowers who exposed extremely disturbing abuses and he wanted to work on legislation to stop the practice.
Jolley’s request started an intense one-year saga to remedy one of the worst abuses of the taxpayer dollar that I have seen. That saga continues to this day.
Let me tell you about this horrific abuse known as sole-source specing.
Voters within a school district or municipality approve a massive bond issue calling for the construction of new buildings without realizing they have just contributed to legalized corruption. Flush with cash, the benefiting governing board hires design professionals to specify which materials are to be used in the new project.
The designers present the governing board with grandiose plans that highlight the inclusion of expensive features. It’s all too easy for gullible board members to approve these plans because they are after all spending other peoples’ money. These designers then draw the specifications so tightly that only one supplier can provide the expensive features. In this way, competition is eliminated and the supplier can charge exponentially more than would otherwise be paid because the competitive bidding process has been eliminated. In some cases, the project designer may actually allow the sales engineer for a product manufacturer to write the specification so that only that one product qualifies.
Sole-source specing has long-term implications. Not only do sole speced items cost more in the first place, but the cost can re-occur. For example, a few years ago, the state issued bonds to build a costly new data center. The data center features what appear to be expensive, sole-source speced lighting fixtures which create a futuristic ambiance in the hallways.
Now those lights are going out and need replacing. However, replacing the lights will cost many thousands of dollars and state officials will be forced to simply allow the lights to die. The taxpayers are still on the hook for the bonds and debt interest that paid for the expensive and soon to be non-functioning lights. Payments will continue to be made on the bonds even though the lights will soon be no longer functional.
After engaging in multiple interviews with construction professionals, I have come to the conclusion that sole-source specing appears to be prevalent within Oklahoma government construction contracting. This really hit home as I realized that one of the local House District 31 school districts recently issued a large number of bonds and was participating in sole-source specing. This wasteful and corrupt practice simply had to be stopped.
I was committed to doing whatever I can to assist Senator Jolley in bringing this to an end. On February 4, 2013, Senator Jolley filed Senate Bill 630 and on February 5, I signed on as the House author of the bill. This bill, if approved, was designed to stop much of the sole specing abuse.
In next week’s article I will describe the effort to win approval for this legislation and the behind-the-scenes story of how special interests are still attempting to preserve the abuse of sole-source specing.
New Jersey Senator Diane Allen, incoming Chair of the National Foundation for Women Legislators, announces the appointment of Oklahoman Jody Thomas as Executive Director.
The 75 year old organization provides educational resources to elected women at all levels of government and recently hosted it’s Capital Forum in Pentagon City, VA just outside Washington, DC.
“Jody brings a wealth of experience to NFWL,” said New Jersey state Senator Diane Allen, Chair of the group. “Her management skills combined with her fundraising abilities makes her a perfect fit. We’re excited to have her on board and are looking forward to the future,” she concluded.
Ms. Thomas has previously served as National Finance Director of two presidential campaigns, has managed several issue-oriented groups and a vast array of special events, including National Woman’s Heart Day campaign, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Angels Gala, Angel Flight America Galas and National Rehabilitation Hospital Victory Awards.
Formerly, Thomas was a partner at Sagac Public Affairs for six years managing clients such as the American Nurses Association, American Medical Association, Wine & Spirits Wholesalers, AdvaMed, Edison Electric Institute, Property & Casualty Insurers and VeriSign.
For eight years she managed all fundraising and political activity for Oklahoma Congressman J. C. Watts.
She was appointed by President George W. Bush as Director of Public Liaison for the Office of Personnel Management.
“I am so honored to have the opportunity to serve such a respected organization,” said Thomas. “We are looking forward to another 75 years of elected women!
While Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders waited for the completion of an independent study on state employee pay, House Speaker T.W. Shannon approved more than a quarter of a million dollars in annual pay increases for his staff.
Figures released by House officials on Monday show about half of the 117 full-time House employees received raises totaling more than $280,000. The pay hikes for 52 House employees ranged from about 2 percent for a housekeeper to more than 30 percent for three staff attorneys. The salary figures initially were requested by the Tulsa World.
Pay hikes for most state workers have been delayed while a $200,000 study was being conducted on employee compensation.
Shannon spokesman Joe Griffin said the increases resulted from a separate House study.