Republicans Face a Choice in Virginia

Here is a guest Op-Ed I had published in Saturday’s Suffolk News-Herald:

Republicans and conservatives throughout the country are near giddy as they survey the prospects for the 2010 elections. As the policies of President Obama and the mobbed-up Congress of Nancy Pelosi become more exposed, the American people are running from them in droves.

All predictions are that the GOP will have a banner year and may reclaim a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. And while the odds are that Harry Reid’s Democrats retain their Senate majority, it is certain to be much more narrow a margin.

But scratch the surface of this euphoria and a nagging fear is prevalent. What if, the fear whispers, the Republicans take back the majority and immediately revert to the same weak, vapid, self-destructive behavior that characterized the Republican Congresses that so repulsed the public before? Have they really changed? Are they willing to boldly do those things necessary to save the Republic?

Early signs coming out of Virginia are not encouraging. In 2009, Virginia elected a Republican governor by a landslide. The vote was as much a repudiation of Obama and his socialist policies as it was for the victor, Bob McDonnell. The GOP saw a large increase in their numbers in the State Assembly. If ever there was a mandate, McDonnell and the Republicans have it.

The outgoing governor and now Democrat National Chairman Tim Kaine left a huge fiscal mess. McDonnell has had to face a $4 billion shortfall. But, any new Republican Congress in 2011 will face an even more daunting situation. So, how McDonnell addresses the gaping deficit can tell Americans a lot about how many inside the GOP will deal with Obama’s $1.5 trillion deficit next year.

Three items in the McDonnell approach to the budget clearly show a lack of courage and resolve, and demonstrate that the establishment GOP may not have learned a thing from its brief time in exile.

First, while joining in on the attack of the spendthrift Democrats, McDonnell has gone hat in hand to those very same left-wing Democrats begging for federal money. Seeking to avoid cuts or any meaningful restructuring, McDonnell has allied himself with Obama on extending federal bailout funds to the states.

Second, in the ultimate dodge and weave, the McDonnell administration is calling for allowing local governments to underfund pension obligations. This is a complex area but the bottom line is that he is letting the Commonwealth and local governments use pension money for current consumption, thereby greatly underfunding the state employee pension system.

Any notion of addressing the monster of public employee legacy costs is a pipe dream. The McDonnell team is just kicking this can down the road for the next Governor. But as the obligations grow and the amount of invested funds is reduced, we will quickly reach a point where massive amounts of tax money will be required to meet the commitment to public workers. Nowhere is there a mention of putting the public employee pension system on a sustainable path, real reform that is vital to both the public employees and the taxpayers.

And third, a time of such fiscal austerity is also an opportunity to rid ourselves of the wasteful, needless baubles of Big Government. But McDonnell appears unwilling to do that.

Numerous public polls have shown a big increase in the number of Americans who identify themselves as conservatives. But those same polls have shown that there has been at best no growth in the number of people who self-identify as “Republican.” The most recent actions of the McDonnell Administration explain why.

Unless the GOP finds its true soul and commits itself to taking bold action, its stay in the halls of power will be very short-lived. And if tossed aside again by an increasingly frustrated and angry public, Republican majorities will not be seen again for a generation or more. Tentative, meek actions are not what the American people want nor are they what the country needs. It is time for the GOP to decide if they want to be America’s natural majority or its fading memory.

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