REAL ID and a Sweep for Democrats in New Hampshire

There are many explanations for the strong result Democrats got in the election yesterday. Focusing on New Hampshire, there is a neat correlation between support for the REAL ID Act and defeat at the polls yesterday.

Jeb Bradley was one of “several Washington officials … urging state senators to support Real ID” when the state legislature was considering a bill to reject it. He was defeated by Carol Shea-Porter, a surprise victor who enjoyed little help from national Democrats. Here’s Shea-Porter speaking at an anti-REAL-ID rally.

Representing the Second District, Charlie Bass was an original co-sponsor of the REAL ID Act, and he touted that fact on his Web site. His replacement is Paul Hodes. Hodes is not a full-throated critic of REAL ID, but he did tell AP, “I do not favor creating a new central federal database using the permanent images of these documents… . A piece of paper is not the solution to securing our borders from terrorism. We need to better coordinate our existing law enforcement databases and watch lists.”

The Republican leadership of the state senate gutted and killed New Hampshire’s bill to reject REAL ID earlier this year. In a debate Monday, Republican Senate President Ted Gatsas said “There’s no question REAL ID makes sense.” Ted Gatsas will no longer be Senate President. Democrats took control of the New Hampshire State Senate for only the second time since 1911. Gatsas’ re-election bid was too close to call overnight, but it now appears he narrowly beat back his Democratic opponent.

As to REAL ID opponents, Governor John Lynch was re-elected. Voters gave control of the New Hampshire Executive Council (an additional legislative body that would have to approve the acceptance of federal funds for implementing REAL ID) to Democrats for good measure.

Of course, many things influence the outcome of elections, but REAL ID has been fiercely debated in New Hampshire this year. It’s not a coincidence that the party on the wrong side of the national ID issue was voted out of power.

Bipartisan Baloney

Pundits and politicians are calling for bipartisan hugs and kisses between the red and blue teams with the new closely divided Congress. The parties will need to work together and stop the bomb-throwing we are told. The Washington Post today says that the Democrats should resist the temptation to act “highhandedly and unilaterally.”

That’s nonsense. In a closely divided legislature, partisanship and attacks on the other team are the logical course for both parties. Because both parties know that either House or Senate could easily switch back over in 2008, they will do their best to deny the other side any legislative victories. The GOP’s strategy now will be to show that the Dems can’t get anything done, so they block, filibuster, and veto. They are the opposition in the House, so their job is to oppose.

The Dems will use their chairmanships and control of the House floor to schedule partisan hearings and votes to try and make the Republicans look bad any way that they can. The most important thing for Nancy Pelosi will be to hold onto the majority and line up some divisive issues to hammer on to help the party’s 2008 presidential nominee. Note that she won’t be scheduling votes on tax hikes anytime soon, because that would immediately revive the GOP and jeopardize 2008.

You can get “bipartisanship” if the legislature is lopsided and the minority thinks that they will be the underdog for a long time to come. In that case, the minority knows that they will have to be nice to the majority to get any of their own priorities accomplished.

Whether any of this is good or bad for the country is another issue. I like a divided and gridlocked legislature, and I like ideologically polarized parties because it gives voters cleaner choices and helps strengthen party brand names.

Fiscal Results Mainly Bad

As a think tank that follows state ballot initiatives noted: “Voters seemed to be in a fiscally expansiive mood” [pdf] yesterday.

Caps on state government spending were rejected in Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon. The best chance for passage had been Maine.

As usual, voters fell for the ruse of voting for tax increases when they are called “bonds.” Californians imposed $43 billion in tax hikes on themselves and the next generation of young people by approving multiple bond offerings.

There was some scattered good news. California rejected a proposal to raise energy taxes. And South Carolina voters approved a cap on property tax increases.

For further reading on the generally unhappy fiscal results, read here.

Will Democrats Become the Party of Educational Liberty?

The swing vote has swung. As I write this on November 7th at 10:30pm PST, the Democratic party has taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives and seems headed for victory in the Senate as well.

Democrats ran, and won, largely on voter dissatisfaction with the status quo. But political honeymoons are shorter than Hollywood marriages. Before too long, Democrats will have to show that they bring something to the table beyond the fact of not being Republicans. They will have to prove that they can once again become a party of ideas – and good ones, at that.

Short of a miracle, they are not going to come up with any political silver bullets in the foreign policy arena. It’s doubtful that anyone could. That leaves domestic policy. As it happens, though, a growing number of state and local Democratic politicians are already showing compelling leadership on an issue of importance to every parent, child, taxpayer, and business in America: education.

In recent weeks, several prominent Democrats have thrown their support behind education tax credit programs that would bring real school choice to families that have little if any such choice today. In NJ, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan – both Democrats – are among the “new and powerful backers” of a scholarship donation tax credit. The proposal would allow businesses to donate money to private scholarship-granting organizations which in turn would provide tuition assistance to low-income families. Yet another high-profile NJ Democrat to come out in favor of the policy is popular Newark mayor Cory Booker, who sent a letter to state legislators urging them to support it.

They aren’t alone. Elliot Spitzer, NY state’s new governor-elect (D - landslide), has also come out in favor of education tax credits.

These endorsements will most likely be characterized as departures from the party’s recent anti-school-choice stance. Much more importantly, they represent a return to its historical principles and policy solutions. Democratic U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan championed an education tax credit bill back in the early 1970s, and it very nearly passed. He later mourned the political calculus that caused his party to spurn school choice, saying:

I do not think that the prospect of change in [education] is enhanced by the abandonment of pluralism and choice as liberal ideas and liberal values. If that happens it will present immense problems for a person such as myself who was deeply involved in this issue long before it was either conservative or liberal. And if it prevails only as a conservative cause, it will have been a great failure of American liberalism not to have seen the essentially liberal nature of this pluralist proposition.

School choice was rejected by Democrats because the party was so beholden to public school employee unions, and because some Democrats were fearful, according to Moynihan, of educational pluralism. But in blue states such as New Jersey and New York, absolute obeisance to union demands is not essential to Democrats’ political survival. And over the course of the past several decades, Democrats have consistently voiced support for educational diversity, and praised more humanized, child-centered approaches to learning. Both are far more compatible with a system of parental choice than with the factory-like public school monopoly we have today.

And support for school choice through education tax credits is not without its own appealing political calculus for Democrats. What other single policy could promote the loyalty of the libertarian swing voters who have just helped Democrats to power, while also meeting the demands of inner-city voters who have been clamoring for school choice.

Democrats, in other words could very easily steal the school choice issue from Republicans. Best of all, they wouldn’t actually be stealing it. Education tax credits were a Democratic idea more than thirty years ago. The torch has been passed from Moynihan at the national level to current state party leaders. Now it’s up to them to spread that fire of educational liberty, or let it fizzle out. And more than their party’s future depends on their decision.

Where There Is Too Much Vision, The People Perish

As the country heads to the polls, that old debate about whether it’s rational to vote is getting rehashed at Reason and the Volokh site.  I intend to regularly exercise my right to complain, but as a disenfranchised DC’er, I’m rather less tempted to pull the lever (touch the touchscreen?) than I’d ordinarily be.  I always find it disturbing when you exit the booth and they give you a little “I Voted!” sticker, like they do when you’re seven years old and they want you to show the world that you didn’t have any cavities.  If this is a civic duty, let’s at least try to make it dignified for the grown-ups.  Either that, or bring back Tammany and the kegs of rum. 

On the Cato homepage, we have a number of useful links on the merits of divided government.  Meanwhile, on today’s Washington Post op-ed page there are dueling columns over which party should be condemned as the party of “no ideas.”  E.J. Dionne says it’s the GOP.  Michael Kinsley wades through the pablum of “A New Direction for America,” the Democrats’ campaign manifesto, and suggests it’s the Ds. 

Ideas can be overrated, though.  I’d certainly like to see either or both parties run on libertarian ideas, but failing that, a nice mix of gridlock, investigations, and scandals is preferable to a robust “vision thing” based on either perpetual war or muscular redistribution, which is what the “idea-heavy” wing of each party offers.  Mencken marked the end of the Coolidge administration by saying, “There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.”  For Mencken, this was praise.  He was on to something. 

Are the Bush Tax Cuts Really in Jeopardy?

Deroy Murdock has a piece on National Review Online about the threat of tax and spending hikes under a Democratic Congress.     

The threat seems to me exaggerated.  Yes, Democrats would love to raise taxes.  But just because Charlie Rangel would be House Ways and Means chairman doesn’t mean tax hikes are a foregone conclusion.  I actually think President Bush would remember where he stashed his veto pen if his tax cuts were really in jeopardy and it’s unlikely the Democrats will have a veto-proof majority in Congress. (Mark the day: I’ve finally said something complimentary about the president!)  That’s assuming a bill raising taxes even passes out of the House in the first place, of course.  After all, 15 Democrats did vote to extend the capital gains and dividend tax cuts earlier this year.    

On government spending, the same logic applies.  The Democrats are just not likely to have enough votes to get everything they want.  The 30-plus fiscally-moderate Democratic members in the Blue Dog caucus will also have more clout in a closely divided Congress.  The back-bencher GOP members who have always fought against profligate spending – Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Pence of Indiana, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, et al – will still be around and have more pull in this scenario, too, especially in the wake of the inevitable post-defeat purge of the current leadership ranks.  Indeed, many Republicans who were quite fond of Big Government when they were pulling the levers might suddenly become budget hawks now that the “other guys” are in charge. 

So, such a scenario would probably not result in a reversal of current tax policy.  The ensuing gridlock would probably result in a slower rate of budget growth as it has in the past (which is something I’ve pointed out before).  The world wouldn’t end.  Indeed, it might actually look a little brighter – at least in the short term – for those hoping to see restraint in the growth of government.                

Voters Yawn over Global Warming

I’ve long argued that enviros don’t have anywhere near the electoral clout most people think and that no one is going to gain much political capital donning the garb of “Mr. Green Jeans.”  Today, the trade publication Greenwire (subscription required) agrees.  And believe me, these are the last people who want to make this argument.

CAMPAIGN 2006: Voters cool to climate issue in torrid midterm races

Darren Samuelsohn, Greenwire senior reporter

Five Northeastern Republicans facing fierce re-election battles turned just before the latest congressional recess to global warming in hopes the issue would boost their chances in their suburban House districts.

But the lawmakers apparently got little traction from climate change in a campaign dominated by voter concerns about the Iraq war, President Bush’s unpopularity and overall dissatisfaction with Republican leadership.

“It’s been very difficult for any of these incumbents whose problems are bigger than themselves, or whose problems have been themselves,” said Bernadette Budde, a senior vice president for the Business and Industry Political Action Committee. “They have had a hard time changing the subject.”

The five – Reps. Curt Weldon (Pa.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.) and Rob Simmons (Conn.) – cosponsored in September what some consider the most aggressive bill to date aimed at limiting heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. The bill’s lead sponsor is Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the presumed new chairman of the House Government Reform Committee if his party wins a majority of House seats.

“Doing it before Congress goes off to campaign is telling,” said Howard Reiter, chairman of the political science department at the University of Connecticut. He added that global warming is a nuanced subject that comes with an important caveat: It may require constituents to make sacrifices in their day-to-day lives.

“The problem with global warming is its incremental,” Reiter said. “It’s not as if there’s an immediate crisis people can see.”

Massie Ritsch, spokesman for The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign spending, said the recent media frenzy over climate change – from Hollywood-style documentaries to mainstream press coverage – did little to stir voters this year. “For all of the attention Al Gore’s movie got, it hasn’t stayed a major election issue,” he said.

The lack of voter interest in climate change is not due to a lack of effort from environmental groups ….

Reporter Michael Burnham contributed to this report.