A Reform Agenda, a Path Forward for California Republicans

By Rep. David Nunes

Californians will soon face a Democratic super-majority in Sacramento determined to further increase spending, raise more taxes, and make the state even more hostile to business and entrepreneurship.

In Washington, D.C., we’ll find a Democratic president and his Senate allies striving to apply California’s self-destructive policies to the rest of the nation. As state and national Democrats move us toward the fiscal abyss, we Republicans must find a path to prosperity and communicate it to our fellow citizens.

The recent election clarified the challenges we face. The first of these is to effectively counter the mainstream media’s caricature of our party. Echoing their Democratic allies, media pundits have always demanded that we purge “extremists” from the GOP. While extremists were previously defined as people who took a conservative position on family values issues, now even fiscal conservatives – those who simply argue against tax hikes or for spending reductions – are denounced as dangerous “Tea Party zealots.”

And of course, if we oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, they say we’re waging a “war on women.” If we don’t want to subsidize solar panels for the homes of rich elites, we’re “poisoning the environment.” If we don’t want to confiscate private property to make room for an extravagant high-speed train to nowhere, we want children to “breathe dirty air.” Their playbook is so predictable.

Meanwhile, in reality, we’re the party fighting to preserve individual liberty from increasing government encroachments that threaten the foundation of our republic.

Ironically, Republicans could gain immense support from the group widely viewed as the most pressing challenge – Hispanics. We’ve allowed the Democrats to define us negatively to Hispanics and other minorities, and we should pro-actively make the case for conservatism directly to these communities. Crucially, we need to explain to these groups why becoming shackled to government, as the Democrats want them to be, is typically a direct route to poverty. We also need to demonstrate that despite all their demagoguery, Democrats want to keep the broken immigration system, which is politically useful for attacking Republicans. This is shown by the Democrats’ failure to reform immigration in 2009-2010, when they controlled the House, the presidency, and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Regardless of which groups we’re trying to reach, our efforts will have to overcome powerful opposition from public-employee unions. It takes a lot of money to get out a political message in today’s media market, and government unions have a seemingly endless supply of cash. Much of this money, of course, is taxpayer funds taken directly out of members’ paychecks and then used to pay for legions of foot soldiers for the Democratic electoral machine. The politicians who are elected with this support then obediently secure more money for the unions to use for pummeling Republicans, thus creating a fiscal death spiral.

It’s important to devise tactics and strategies to meet these challenges, but we should first concentrate on more fundamental issues of ideas and policy. No matter how great our outreach is, it won’t be effective if we’re promoting the wrong policies.

In conveying a message, we have a much harder job than our opponents do. It’s easy to be a Democrat, promising everyone that the government will take care of every want and need regardless of cost. Of course, that tendency got us where we are today. In California, towns are going bankrupt, our public pensions face hundreds of billions in unfunded liabilities, we have the worst credit rating of any state, and families and businesses are leaving the state in droves. Nationwide, we have a $16 trillion national debt that is growing by $1 trillion a year, and the government faces nearly $90 trillion of liabilities for entitlements and other programs. In short, both our state and national budgets are unsustainable.

The need for fiscal and individual responsibility, however, is a tough pitch to make as long as government checks continue to arrive in citizens’ mailboxes and public-employee dues keep funding big-government politicians – all while the media drink the Kool-Aid. To surmount these challenges, Republicans must have a clear and relevant message delivered with discipline, focus, and persistence.

*  *  *

In defining ourselves to voters, we need to clarify what exactly we stand for. During their 2012 convention, the Democrats summed up their big-government vision in a video that proclaimed, “Government is the only thing we all belong to.” We should have a clear opposing position. Here’s what I believe should be our party’s central vision:

We believe in the supremacy of individuals, their families, and their local communities – not the government. The government should not be revered, nor should it be expected to guarantee our happiness – it is a necessary evil that should exert authority over limited realms, especially national defense and international trade, as specified in the Constitution.

It follows that we Republicans oppose the centralization of power. Instead, we support a republic in which power is devolved to the most local level possible. To the greatest extent, federal officials should allow states to conduct their own affairs, while both state and federal leaders should allow counties, cities, school boards, and town councils to run their own communities as they see fit.

Finally, by advocating local control, Republicans defend family values. We support family-friendly community initiatives – creating parks, developing pre-school and after-school programs, and the like – at the local level, where these projects should be implemented and overseen by the people who directly pay for them and benefit from them. Republicans also believe that fiscal responsibility is a family value, and that the ruinous debt lassoed to our children by the government is not only irresponsible, it is immoral.

In short, what conservatives seek to conserve is our republic, upholding liberty and individual responsibility as the central principles of our nation.

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In policy terms, Republicans should state our mission clearly. We need to specify what exactly we plan to do if voters entrust us with public office, drawing a clear distinction between state and federal responsibilities.

On the state level, I believe California Republicans should support five major reforms that will salvage our finances, improve the economy, and reverse the outflow of businesses and families from our state.

  •  End the culture of corruption in Sacramento
    • Switch to a unicameral, part-time state Legislature.
    • Reduce the number of state legislators from 120 to 100.
    • Stop public employee unions from collecting dues without permission.
    • Overhaul the public employee pension systems, beginning with requirements for greater transparency and the kind of reporting standards required of private employers.
    • Eliminate public pension abuses such as spiking and double dipping.
  • Boost energy development and invest in infrastructure
    • Allow drilling in state-controlled offshore waters.
    • Eliminate bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles to drilling and mining on non-federal land.
    • Increase economic growth and job creation by eliminating the global warming tax, also known as “cap-and-trade.”
    • Restart the San Onofre nuclear power plant and resist pressure to close the Diablo Canyon plant.
    • Cancel the high-speed rail experiment and use the savings to improve highways, roads, bridges, and other existing transportation infrastructure.
    • Work with the federal government to restore adequate water supplies to California farms and cities.
  • Develop a taxpayer bill of rights that balances the budget and simplifies taxes
    • Replace the state income tax with a broad sales tax.
    • Strengthen the Proposition 13 cap on property taxes.  
    • Make the legislature more accountable by switching to a two-year budgeting cycle with a 3 percent emergency reserve.
    • Implement a hard budget cap, and limit growth in annual state spending to the inflation rate plus population growth.
    • Return more tax revenues to local, city, and county governments to fund police forces, fire departments, and local infrastructure.
  • Streamline state bureaucracies
    • Sunset all non-elected boards and commissions in order to re-evaluate their effectiveness while eliminating duplicative boards.
    • Eliminate red tape on business to spur job creation and competitiveness.  
    • Restart the state timber industry to protect forests and cities from catastrophic fires.
  • Decentralize and revamp the education system
    • Devolve more authority to local school boards and community colleges, and direct more education funding directly to school districts.
    • Require certain professors at state-funded colleges and universities, some of whom teach as little as 36 weeks per year and 12 hours per week, to teach one more class per semester.
    • Allow more parents to remove their children from failing schools by encouraging charter schools and expanding school choice initiatives, using successful school choice programs from around the world as models.

There are also five far-reaching reforms on the federal level that will begin to restore our prosperity:

  • Overhaul the federal tax code
    • Simplify and reduce taxes on individuals, adopting only three rates.
    • Move all businesses, small or large, to a 25% tax rate and switch them to cash accounting with 100% expensing while eliminating all loopholes.
  • Make entitlement programs solvent and reform healthcare 
    • Achieve universal healthcare through free-market reforms, including tax credits given directly to individuals to buy their own insurance.
    • Allow future Medicare patients the choice of converting their benefits into premium assistance used to buy a private insurance plan.
    • Allow future Social Security recipients to own their Social Security accounts.
    • Give states more authority to adapt their Medicaid programs to the needs of their residents.
    • Defund and repeal Obamacare.
    • Allow the sale of health insurance across state lines and end frivolous lawsuits by reforming medical malpractice laws.
  • Make America energy independent
    • Allow new drilling in Alaska, offshore, and in the shale formation in the Rockies. 
    • Speed up the permitting process for nuclear power plants.
    • Stop the EPA from unduly obstructing the use of hydraulic fracking, the creation of new hydro projects, or access to coal mines.
    • Stop the federal government from subsidizing or providing loan guarantees to alternative energy projects. Instead, use income from new oil and gas development on federal lands to fund proven alternative energy projects chosen through competitive bidding.
    • Approve the extension of the Keystone XL pipeline.   
  • Strengthen national defense and expand international trade
    • Protect the military from drastic cuts that would threaten our strategic interests.
    • Sign free-trade agreements to strengthen America’s relations with like-minded allies.
    • Insist our free-trade partners uphold the rule of law and meet all their responsibilities under free-trade accords.
  • Fix the broken immigration system
    • Secure all our borders and ports.
    • Fix existing guest worker programs for agriculture workers and for those with advanced degrees. 
    • Allow illegal workers with no criminal record to apply for a work permit. Allow them to go through the normal citizenship application process if they return to their country of origin.
    • Give special consideration for citizenship to those here illegally who serve in the military, were brought to America as children, or who were here before passage of the Reagan immigration bill of 1986.

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All good policy platforms need to be implemented with effective tactics and strategies. Tactically, to counter the unions, we’ll have to create a grassroots, bottom-up structure that emphasizes ground operations, voter registration drives, and other efforts at the precinct level. Too many GOP consultants recommend funding for commissionable TV and radio ads, refusing to recognize that these mediums are increasingly devalued by the Internet, TiVo, and other technologies. Furthermore, Republicans must demand that our own party’s candidates and representatives provide concrete proposals for action. Prospective state and federal lawmakers should explain which legislation they support or present their own initiatives for reform.

As for strategy, some Republicans may reason that we should simply wait it out and let the Left take the blame for our coming fiscal meltdown. I disagree. As Democrats spend America into oblivion, it’s up to us Republicans to save our nation from our own government. If we fail, our state and our country will be devastated – and there will be no solace in proclaiming from the wreckage that we were right.

Devin Nunes is the Republican U.S. Representative for California’s 21st congressional district, serving the San Joaquin Valley since 2003.

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