Will Barrett Push Bobby To The Right? August 30, 2007Posted by fitsnews in SC Politics.
“GRESHAM FACTOR” COULD FORCE HARRELL TO BOLSTER HIS FISCAL CONSERVATIVE BONA FIDES IN 2008
FITSNews – August 30, 2007 – Oddly enough, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett could be the best thing that ever happened to fiscal conservatism in Columbia, S.C. – and Barrett hasn’t even cast a vote in the S.C. State House in over five years.
What gives, you may ask? Well, Barrett is one of House Speaker Bobby Harrell‘s most formidable potential opponents for the S.C. Governor’s Mansion in 2010, and the third-term Republican Congressman has a voting record that fiscal conservatives are nuts about.
Harrell, on the other hand, has been part of two of the biggest spending explosions in state history – first as GOP Majority Leader during the 1998-99 “Spend-A-Palooza” and then as Speaker of the House during its 2006-07 sequel, “Spend-A-Palooza II – Taxpayer Boondoggaloo.”
In Bobby’s defense, it hasn’t entirely been his fault.
With the so-called “Republican” State Senate under the thumb of a diminuitive socialist dictator and Harrell’s so-called “Republican” House of Representatives infested with Democrats-in-hiding like Joan Brady, Harry Cato, Richard Chalk, Dan Cooper, Bill Cotty, Davey Hiott, Keith Kelly, Lanny Littlejohn, Skipper Perry, Gene Pinson, Bill Sandifer, B.R. Skelton, Adam Taylor, Bob Walker, Bill Whitmire and Annette Young (just to name a few), protecting the taxpayer and promoting pro-growth, pro-business fiscal and economic policy is practically impossible.
No wonder Republicans in the S.C. General Assembly have abandoned the tax-cutting legacy of Ronald Reagan (and Bill Clinton, for that matter) and instead adopted the big government mantle of welfare staters like Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.
Of course, the spending juggernaut of the past decade has done nothing to improve South Carolina’s competitiveness or enhance the prosperity of its citizens. Our unemployment rate remains among the nation’s highest, our income levels are still well below the national (and Southeastern) average, our public schools remain the nation’s worst and our state government remains hopelessly stuck in a wasteful, inefficient structural rut of Nineteenth Century incompetence.
Not surprisingly, challengers to Republican incumbents in both the House and Senate are popping up by the dozens, but alone in the gubernatorial crosshairs sits Harrell – an inviting target for a Barrett candidacy built around the notion of actually cutting taxes (not just shifting them) and restoring some semblance of fiscal sanity to state government.
“Winning a majority among the electorate is vastly different than winning a majority in the legislature,” says USC political scientist Blease Graham. “You can’t lose the conservative wing – or have it not turn out. It makes emminent sense that Harrell has to shore up and validate his conservative credentials.”
Graham also noted that South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer could add an interesting wrinkle to the 2010 gubernatorial mix, citing how Bauer has “masterfully” positioned himself as a hero to South Carolina’s senior citizens, a demographic that turns out in droves on election day. Bauer, who at 38 has already won two statewide elections, is rumored to be favoring a run at the Fourth Congressional seat in the U.S. Congress, but his supporters are quick to downplay any discussion of his political future.
“Andre’s job isn’t about politics, it’s about helping people and pursuing a platform that makes sure their needs are being met,” said Curtis Loftis, Director of the Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging. “He wouldn’t be the effective advocate for seniors that he is if he wasn’t entirely focused on doing this job.”
Attorney General and former SCGOP Chairman Henry McMaster is also widely discussed as a possible 2010 gubernatorial candidate, but it’s Barrett’s record that offers the most distinct contrast to South Carolina’s growing base of “pocketbook” voters, especially when compared to the recent excesses of the South Carolina legislature.
“(Barrett) is just lurking out there with this sterling fiscal conservative record that Harrell would absolutely kill for,” said one GOP consultant who spoke with FITSNews on the condition of anonymity. “If Barrett runs, Harrell is automatically forced to assume a defensive posture on fiscal issues.”
Since his election to the U.S. House in 2002, Barrett has consistently earned high marks from national pro-business groups and taxpayer associations for his votes to cut taxes and end wasteful spending.
“When it comes to fiscal policy, anybody who tries to run to the right of Gresham Barrett will have to put on a good pair of shoes,” said Pete Sepp, VP of Communications for the National Taxpayers’ Union. “He has scored consistent “A’s” on our annual rating of Congress, which is based on every roll call vote affecting fiscal issues.”
Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, echoed that sentiment.
“Congressman Gresham Barrett has voted against every effort to raise taxes and for every effort to reduce our tax burden,” Norquist said. “Taxpayers do not have a better friend in Congress than Barrett. He is a solid advocate for taxpayers.”
Given the threat to his exposed right flank posed by a probable Barrett candidacy, there are some signs that Harrell is working to shore up his pro-business credentials. For example, when longtime Harrell antagonist Gov. Mark Sanford suggested recently that he might use his executive power to enforce pro-business guidelines for workers’ compensation claims (something the legislature didn’t do), the Speaker’s Office signaled its approval.
Additionally, some conservative Representatives tell FITSNews that Harrell is not only working closely with them, but that he might actually be better positioned among pocketbook voters than we like to give him credit for.
“As a fiscal conservative, I don’t think leadership is the problem,” said State Rep. Mick Mulvaney. “The problem is we have difficulty selling fiscal responsibility in our own party.”
Harrell’s personal voting record has always been decent enough, although many of his critics claim that his “yeas” and “nays” don’t necessarily reflect the direction in which he’s leading the House.
Harrell spokesman Greg Foster defended the Speaker’s record, saying that his boss worked to stave off tax hikes during lean budget years and has consistently earned high marks from fiscal conservatives.
“In 2000 when Speaker Harrell became Chairman of Ways and Means, our state – along with most of our nation – was experiencing budget shortfalls,” Foster says. “When most all of our neighbors in the Southeast were raising taxes to cope with their shortfalls in revenue, (he) helped lead the effort to stop any tax increase from happening in South Carolina. The South Carolina Association of Taxpayers has recognized his fiscally conservative track record in the past by giving him the ‘Friend of the Taxpayer Award’ several times, most recently in 2005 and 2006.”
Foster added that Speaker Harrell “has carried his conservative beliefs with him to the Speaker’s office, where last year the House successfully pushed for the largest tax cut in our state’s history – a $221 million cut.”
Of course, last year’s tax relief package included only $81 million in job-creating income tax cuts out of a budget surplus of over $1.5 billion. As a result, state spending growth grew by double digits for the second consecutive year under Speaker Harrell’s tenure.
Not surprisingly, Harrell’s ratings have been a bit schizophrenic of late.
Just last week, for example, the Speaker earned a “C” grade from the S.C. Club for Growth on its 2007 legislative scorecard. Last month, however, the S.C. Business and Industry Political Education Committee (BIPEC) awarded him a perfect “100” on its most recent legislative scorecard.
Count on Harrell to tout the latter ranking in future gubernatorial literature, but don’t be surprised if the former ranking gets slipped into the bloodstream by those attempting to brand him as a closet Democrat.
The question now seems to be whether Harrell’s past is prologue, or if the increasing likelihood of a legitimate threat from the right on fiscal issues forces him further in that direction himself.