In December 2004, with the Montana GOP licking their wounds and facing the least amount of political power in Montana state government they have had in decades, it was inevitable that the Republicans would roll out a clever strategy to bring Montana voters back in the fold.
Their answers seems to be the "Handshake with Montana," a series of "substantive issues"that they promise to pass should Montana voters give them back majorities in the Montana Legislature. If successful in regaining power, it appears to be designed to also bully Schweitzer into either signing the legislation or face a demanding pool of voters demanding why.
Perhaps you are drawing similarities between the "Handshake" with the Dick Armey- and Newt Gingrich-inspired "Contract with America," a successful effort by Republican candidates to push "reforms" in government in the 1994 mid-term congressional campaign. The "Contract" itself was
worded in a way to include somewhat popular, broadly worded reforms while avoiding divisive issues. Though political scientists have argued about the effectiveness, a number have deemed it a winning strategy.
The "Handshake" seems very similar.
Looking at the list, there is nothing here that seems like it hits to the core of our truly divisive issues: the environment, school funding, economic growth. Rather, it makes a number of simple promises that it is hard to argue against (my favorite: "punish sexual predators," because, you know, Democrats are against that…).
Not surprisingly, a search of Montana newspapers yielded little informative journalism, let alone analysis on these proposals. Mike Dennison does detail the Montana Democratic Party response to the Handshake after the GOP announcement at the beginning of March. A search of blogs suggests it hasn't been well-covered in the Montana blog community either.
I think it's time to take this on and discuss them now before the push becomes louder in September and October. In coming weeks, Intelligent Discontent will analyze these proposals. I hope that our conservative readers will step forward and help fill the empty rhetoric with specifics. My guess is that nobody has answers to our questions.
Let's begin first with "Smaller Government."
The Handshake says first…
"We will invest Montana's current excess revenue with common sense, and set aside all remaining funds for emergency use only. Current surplus: $227 million."
Common sense government? Sign me up! What on Earth does that mean? Does this mean you will use the surplus to help build back K-12 funding that was cut during the 90s? What about health and human services funding cut during your reign? Again, masterful in its rhetoric and notably short in details.
Next, it says…
"We will pass legislation dealing
with excessive surpluses. In the future, if we collect too much in
tax revenue ($220 million +), we will return the excess."
A refund? Again, sign me up! But, again, what does that mean? Who does the refund go to? Will you dole out tax credits to business and relocating corporate entities? However, more importantly, this doesn't really discuss the nature of surpluses. We often have a talk of a "surplus" when the government has monies built up that it wasn't expecting. However, that rhetoric rarely takes into account fiscal realities. What programs have been cut in the past? What innovative ways could we
invest in sustainable energy or educational initiatives? What programs are current on the chopping block that shouldn't be?
And…will a surplus exist AFTER you fund other suggested changes properly? Details later…
We need to start attacking these promises NOW. It is too late to wait for the Montana press to start asking for details on these vague, no-brain promises.