Over the past week, many of us have written on the frustration felt by conservatives (especially fiscal conservatives) over the past few years. Some believe that the only manner in which to serve notice on the GOP that it cannot take conservative votes for granted is a massive walkout, a boycott of the 2006 midterms and perhaps even the 2008 presidential elections. Others, such as myself, believe that conservatives will marginalize themselves by doing so and will prove themselves incapable of being reliable partners in any kind of ruling coalition.
Today we have an example of what can be accomplished through active engagement rather than disengagement. In Pennsylvania, primary voters have unseated the two Republican leaders in the state Senate that gave the body an unpopular pay raise, joining thirteen of their incumbent House colleagues in getting the boot:
Angry taxpayers on Tuesday tossed out the two Republican Senate leaders who
helped engineer last year’s legislative pay raise, an issue that apparently cost
13 House members their jobs, too.
Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer of Altoona, and Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill of Lebanon County conceded to their challengers, becoming the first lawmakers in major leadership posts to lose a primary election in 42 years. The House defeats would be the most since 1980.
“We have had a dramatic earthquake in Pennsylvania,” said Jubelirer, a 32-year legislator.
The defeats of Jubelirer and Brightbill “will send shock waves throughout he political establishment for years to come,” said Mike Young, a retired Penn State University political science professor.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review calls this a political “earthquake”, as long-entrenched GOP incumbents have lost or are losing races to political neophytes. Brightbill lost to a tire salesman with only a single term on a city council on his resume, but who espoused fiscal responsibility and an end to government handouts. Jubelirer lost to a county commissioner who champions free markets. Another representative, Tom Lawson, trails a 21-year-old college graduate running for his first office.
The existing Republican leadership in Pennsylvania outraged fiscal conservatives with their pay raises and spending habits. However, instead of declaring defeat and retreating to their homes, these conservatives organized and found candidates for primaries — especially those for the leadership that betrayed them. They donated, raised more funds, campaigned, and ensured a strong turnout to counter the incumbent advantage.
And they succeeded.
Without a doubt, the Pennsylvania Republican Party got the message, along with the incumbents who now find themselves out of a job after the general election. It is entirely possible to turn the rascals out if conservatives remain committed to the cause. This can be replicated on a Congressional level with enough effort and organization. In fact, thanks to the reapportionment process, it actually carries less risk than one might fear. Solidly Republican districts will likely elect whichever GOP candidate wins the primary, so the argument that the incumbent somehow protects against the loss of a seat holds little water. That gives Republicans the ability to offer true choices in the primary elections, a strategy deftly employed by Pennsylvania conservatives.
And look how the press reacted! They have given fiscal conservatives a huge victory in the recognition they received for holding the line on spending. No one expected the conservatives to organize this well or this effectively, and it gives them momentum heading into the general election. The political story of this year in Pennsylvania will be the housecleaning performed on the state legislature, and it puts candidates of both parties on notice that conservatives have grabbed the momentum. Don’t be surprised if that changes the entire tenor of the debate on Pennsylvania public policy.
Conservatives can achieve these victories across the nation, especially in Congress, by working within the GOP to effect change. It requires engagement and organization, which may be less immediately satisfactory than boycotts and protests, but carries much greater potential for actual gain.