If you like your politics to be relatively quiet and predictable, you might spend your time learning about the Democratic candidates in Ventura County.
By the same token, a couple of local districts are being courted by two very different Republican candidates. Assemblyman Jeff Gorell of Camarillo is considered to be a moderate Republican who claims that his reputation is strongest in working with, and not against, Democrats. But that claim of bipartisanship ends with Gorell’s opponent, incumbent Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, in the race for the 26th District.
“My experience and my record for working with both Democrats and Republicans to achieve results are what best qualify me to represent the people of the 26th [Congressional] District. … Unfortunately, the incumbent embodies everything that is wrong with Congress. She [Brownley] is engaged in the most partisan and dishonest political campaign Ventura County has ever seen,” Gorell said in an email.
Jacob Dusseau, Brownley’s campaign manager., however, stands firm about Gorell’s politics.
“Jeff Gorell has a disturbing habit of saying anything to further his political ambitions. He said he wasn’t a lobbyist, then clarified that he didn’t register as one. He said he supports a woman’s right to choose, then admitted his legislative record was anti-choice. Just this week he sent out a campaign mailer criticizing the same Tea Party he supported in one of his prior campaigns for political office. It’s no wonder Jeff Gorell wants to change the subject.”
In the corner, the election takes a strange turn to the right as a result of new primary rules. Having lost to Rep. Julia Brownley in the 26th District in 2012, former state Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks, is now running against state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley, in the 25th District. Both are Republicans. But there is no concern that voters will be unable to distinguish one from the other. Knight is the more traditional Republican while Strickland seems to naturally follow the Tea Party template of extreme conservatism combined with unquestioning obedience to his party bosses. His political agenda is losing strength as the American people have been shown in recent polls to have turned their backs on the Tea Party. Additionally, traditional GOP members have come to resent having their political goals fail due to the minority Tea Party and its ability to prevent enough votes for passage of anything.
Although midterm elections are usually dull, this year’s cycle is ramping up some very unusual candidates and positions nationally.
Angry Americans in Glass Houses
You’ve probably heard all about how Americans are sick of political hyper-partisanship, tired of accusations and threats and, above all, disgusted with the inability of Congress to accomplish anything at all. The past session of Congress was the least productive in history. Now, with a midterm election just a few weeks off, the ranting and finger-pointing are kicking it up a notch.
Yet these Americans who are so critical of their own elected representatives may have to do a bit of catching up on the most basic foundations of our government. A poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found that more than one-third of respondents, 35 percent, were unable to name even one of the three branches of government. About the same percentage, 36 percent, successfully named the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
A recent Gallup poll found a full 89 percent of those questioned believed that the economy is the most important issue facing Congress. Seven in 10 said the troubles with the economy reflect “the inability of elected officials in Washington, D.C., to get things done.”
Although minority Republicans have flexed their strategic political muscles by blocking progress by the President since 2008, only 25 percent of survey respondents said they were members of that party, the lowest rate in 25 years. In fact, during the 2012 election, Democrats received 17 million more votes than the Republicans.
The Tea Party is losing acceptance by Americans. A Gallup poll in May noted that support for the Tea Party within the Republican Party had fallen to 41 percent; and among all Americans, support stood at 22 percent.
A party divided
The Tea Party sprang into existence in February 2009 fully formed, like Aphrodite emerging from the sea foam. Just not as pretty. Funding for this new group sprang from the deep pockets of the Koch brothers, Charles and David.
The fraternal billionaires were reported by Forbes to be personally worth at least $20 billion each. The Kochs, whose father co-founded the John Birch Society, are Libertarians. But they embrace only the portions of libertarianism that clear the way for even more profits. They use their fortunes to support the issues of fewer government regulations, less taxes and freedom to poison the earth as they wring out even more profit by polluting the environment. You might say they are pursuing a policy of pro-Koch libertarianism.
The Tea Party is not an organized group with a single voice. It began with a staged event but has since morphed into a popular philosophy for others who are either disaffected or extreme conservatives. They say they believe in unifying ideas such as smaller government, more freedom and that government deficits will destroy the country. They do not seem to feel that most rules apply to them and they strategically use their limited numbers to block Congress from getting any legislation passed. This strategy has made many enemies for the Tea Party.
Sean Rossall is the vice president of media for consulting firm Cerrell Associates in Southern California and he said there really are serious divisions within the Republican Party.
“We’re at a period in time that we’re more politically gridlocked and divisive,” Rossall said. “Redistricting has made races less competitive. Term limits as well have made safe districts. The party has views that don’t necessarily align with moderate Republican views, and that makes it really hard to be effective when you have a vocal minority that can railroad and really steer the conversation.”
Rossall said the conflict within the party cannot go on indefinitely. “While it is important for every group to have a voice, be that majority or minority, this is throwing checks and balances out of the window. There will be a tipping point that is reached.”
Historically, the Republican Party has been the party of discipline. Members would do whatever they were told to do and the world saw a political powerhouse speaking in one voice. The Democrats, on the other hand, have often appeared to be utterly disorganized, fragmented, chaotic and unable to communicate their political messages. The reversal of roles has been confusing to the American public, who thought they knew the difference between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. Now, the Democrats appear to be the more stable party.
Rossall said liberals and progressives within the Democratic Party do not present the same kind of friction as is seen in the Republican Party.
“The Democratic Party has its own series of members who are more on the fringe with their ideology and folks who are more to the center. I would say that liberals are probably more to the left. It may be a distinction without a difference.”
The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans is at the core of the growing political divide. Democrats say the vast difference in pay and benefits between the employees and the CEOs has created the ever-increasing economic disparity. Some of the very few at the top are ignorant of the burdens being piled on workers who feel they never get a chance to get ahead.
An example of such ignorance: Republican candidate for governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner made $53 million in 2012. That worked out to $25,000 an hour if he worked 40 hours a week. Yet he called for a reduction in the current minimum wage from $8.25 down to $7.25.
Impeach! Sue! Shutdown!
Some Republicans have asserted that the president should be impeached. They have neglected to say what actions would rise to the level of impeachment. That seems to be unimportant to former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
“It’s time to impeach,” Palin wrote last summer in an Op-Ed published by Tea Party-infused Breitbart, “and on behalf of American workers and legal immigrants of all backgrounds, we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment. The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he’s not impeachable, then no one is.”
Speaker John Boehner, R. Ohio, said he disagrees with the talk about impeachment. He presented his opinion in an Op-Ed published by Politico Magazine last summer. “President Obama faces a choice: He can work with Congress to deal with the tough issues, or he can go it alone and cement a legacy of increased polarization, partisanship and lawlessness.”
This, as Boehner initiated a lawsuit against the president for what the Speaker called overreaching his executive authority.
In July, President Barack Obama responded to the threat of a lawsuit. “Sue him. Impeach him. Really? Really? For what? You’re going to sue me for doing my job? OK. I mean, think about that. You’re going to use taxpayer money to sue me for doing my job while you don’t do your job. I’ve got a better idea — do something.”
That lawsuit ran into a buzz saw when the lawyers quit.
The talk about impeachment and a lawsuit are just a way of dancing around the real question: Will Republicans in Congress threaten to shut down the U.S. government if they do not get everything they want? They did just that earlier in Obama’s presidency. Boehner said there would be no shutdown because just the mention of it prompts campaign money to rain down from Democratic voters.
Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconson, told Business Insider that Republicans will not initiate such an action.
“No, there will not be a government shutdown,” Ryan said. “If there is a government shutdown, it’ll be because the Democrats brought it about.”
The painful display of Tea Party obstructionism against anything that Obama supported disturbed Republicans along with Democrats. Gorell said he is committed to bipartisanship and is opposed to hyper-partisanship.
“I oppose the overly partisan actions of groups like the Tea Party and MoveOn.org,” Gorell said in an email. “I do not support extreme actions like the shutdown of the federal government. I have not allowed any political organization to affect my ability to work in a bipartisan manner.”
You may have heard one phrase that has risen above the voter grumbling and that is, “I’m just not going to vote. I am going to sit this one out.” Understandable but, on a practical level, that is the same as giving the other side, whoever that may be, your vote.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, sees big changes ahead for the Republican Party. “I think Republicans will not win [the presidency] again in my lifetime unless they become a new GOP, a new Republican Party,” Rand said last February in an interview with radio host Glenn Beck. “And it has to be a transformation. Not a little tweaking at the edges. There are many people who are among all these disaffected groups, who really aren’t steadfast supporters of Obama or an ideology. I think they are open to listening but we need to have a better message and a better presentation of it.”