David Rodeback's Blog

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Thursday, May 6, 2010
State Delegate Due Diligence, Part Two

Enough candid notes on the Republican candidates -- mostly the US Senate candidates in Utah -- to displease nearly everyone who wishes to be displeased.

Last night I posted some notes on the delegate experience generally (so far). Today I'll hold forth at some length about the candidates -- mostly the Senate candidates, and mostly in short bursts, for some reason. In case you're wondering, I'm basically ignoring the Democratic candidates for the present, since my task as a delegate to the Utah State Republican Party Nominating Convention on Saturday is to choose among the Republican candidates.

I won't try here to give a comprehensive account of every Republican candidate in the races on which I'll be voting on Saturday -- House, Senate, Governor -- and I won't try to account for every issue on which most or all basically agree, or the little nuances that distinguish their positions on some issues. If that's what you want, you can read their materials directly; you don't need me as a middleman. If you want to examine each candidate's Web site or even send them some e-mail, you can find a list of their names and the necessary links here.

I'm also not planning to rehash what I've said about the major candidates before. (Mike Lee -- also here -- Tim Bridgewater, Senator Bob Bennett.)

I assume that I'll give each candidate's supporters something to complain about before I'm finished. I try to be egalitarian that way.

Pregame Notes: House and Governor Races

I don't have a lot to say about gubernatorial candidates, except that no one has yet given me a compelling reason not to vote for Governor Gary Herbert. Richard Martin and Dan Oaks have tried, and doubtless will try again a time or two before the vote. They seem intelligent enough, but so far I'm not inclined to change horses. Superdell Schanze is actually the only current gubernatorial candidate to whom I've spoken in person, but that was years ago at a social event, when I think he wasn't running for anything. He is an interesting and energetic conversationalist, at least he was then, but I wouldn't vote for him. Too combative, too paranoid. I was hoping he would appear to speak at the Utah County Republican convention last month, but only because I thought it would be entertaining. Then again, we didn't need him; we had . . . but I suppose I won't name that party officer here.

I don't presently have anything to add to my previous notes (here and here) about the major Second District congressional candidates, Morgan Philpot and Neil Walter. Of the third candidate, Ed Eliason, I note that the only opportunity I have had to learn of him is his Web site, which didn't particularly impress me. He was absent from the Utah County Republican convention, where he missed an opportunity to speak. If he doesn't care about his campaign, neither do I.

First Half: Senate Candidates

In the Senate race, where there are eight candidates, I'm not one of those anybody-but-Bennett delegates. I would prefer Senator Bennett to at least five of the anybodies in the race. However, I have enough issues with him to be open to the possibility of an excellent challenger, and there are two of those, Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater. I've favored Lee for some time now, but there are things I like about Bridgewater and Bennett, and the campaign isn't over yet.

There are four candidates who might be able to survive the convention on Saturday: the three I've named and Cherilyn Eagar. Among the others are some interesting, intelligent, accomplished, and articulate people, with whom I share some principles (not all, inevitably), and who are admirably passionate about the country. I'd enjoy associating with at least some of them on a non-political level, I think.

Jeremy Freidbaum is a master piano technician, of all things, and a Jew who converted to Mormonism. He is well-spoken, intelligent, and witty. He is quite exercised about "the vipers, liars, and megalomaniacs that dominate in Washington, DC," as he said at the Utah County convention. Aren't we all? He's a bit too conservative for me, a bit too Glenn Beck for my taste. On the plus side, he's the first person to use the word chutzpah in my hearing in a major Utah political race. It's a cultural thing, as is the fact that he's pretty good with the Jewish jokes.

Leonard Fabiano was born in New Jersey and still sounds like it. This might make him sound like an outsider to many delegates, but I am an outsider, and I spent more than a decade in the Northeast, so I rather enjoy it. He's a successful businessman. He doesn't need the money, so he promises to accept no contributions, and no salary or retirement if he wins. That's not a bad offer, actually, even if the operational costs of Congress are completely dwarfed by its expenditures on everything else. He's adamant about removing the federal government from matters reserved to the states -- a rather important thing, and part of every candidate's platform, if I'm not mistaken. But he's too Ron Paul for me.

Forgive me, my Ron Paul-touting readers and friends. There is much to admire about Congressman Paul, but you pushed me all the way to Ron Paul Revulsion well before the last presidential election.

Fabiano is stridently anti-United Nations; I'm not a big fan, either, but his level of opposition is characteristic of the far right. (We got a little of it from Cherilyn Eagar too, last night.) He also insists that we were lied to, falsely told that there were actual nukes in Iraq, so we had to invade. Perhaps this comes from trusting the television more than the actual facts or one's own memory. (We weren't told that. We were just told later, by the opposition, that we had been told that.)

David Chiu is older than he looks -- old enough, at least, to have an adult child. He speaks quietly and rationally and keeps returning to his point that the role of government is to maximize freedom. That's a pretty good benchmark for policy decisions, I think, even if it does sound rather Libertarian. Last evening he emphasized that his background and family situation -- such as being the son of immigrants -- uniquely positions him to have credibility on several major issues. I'm not fully persuaded, and he hasn't mounted a strong campaign, but he handles himself well at events.

Merrill Cook served two terms in the US House of Representatives, based on which I have some lingering concerns about his temperament. He's also too conservative for me, though some of that may be his playing to the hard right-wingers among the delegates. He wants to run right out and abolish the Federal Reserve, not to mention repeal the 17th Amendment. And so on. That's no way to build a governing majority -- at least a majority I would trust to act wisely and effectively.

Since leaving the House, Cook has lost elections for a variety of offices. He'll lose on Saturday, too, by a large margin. But I will note one positive thing about him. Before the present campaign, I guessed that he must be a raging, power-hungry egotist. Maybe he is -- a lot of us are, to some degree -- but my observations of him in person don't fit that template. He seems genuinely concerned about the country, and his passion seems authentic. It also seems to outrun his reason and his manners from time to time, but that's not the worst thing one can say about a person.

As I have noted previously, Cherilyn Eagar turned me off very early in the race by using her Web site to preach Cleon Skousen to me. She didn't help her cause, where I am concerned, with the "vote for me because I'm the girl" argument she emphasized at the Utah County convention. (The quoted phrase is my words, not hers.) That said, she gives a decent speech. She is a seasoned, passionate, and apparently effective activist, but she is too conservative for me -- a bit too Glenn Beck, among other things. And I'm not sure how realistic she is. She says she wants to sweep into Washington and abolish the EPA, the Department of Education, and some other large bureaucracies. I'd like to see them shrink radically, in some cases perhaps out of sight, but that level of rhetoric is not going to accomplish anything in Washington. She keeps invoking the name of Ronald Reagan, but doesn't display his deep and integrated understanding of issues, principles, and the realities of the political process.

Eagar often seems to be spouting slogans which she hasn't fully thought through and integrated into a coherent philosophy. (The same seems true of Leonard Fabiano and Jeremy Friedbaum.) I'm not saying she's stupid -- clearly she is not -- but passion is not a universal substitute for deep and careful thought. I'm looking for someone who plows his or her furrows a couple of inches deeper. I think there is a tendency for ideologues, if elected, to be either severely disoriented or immediately marginalized upon arriving at Capitol Hill. I couldn't care less about her gender, by the way.

Eagar uses the word principles more than all the other candidates combined. This does not surprise me; she's more or less the current poster child for my declaration that I'm looking for intelligent, effective, experienced, articulate leaders with sound conservative principles, rather than right-wing ideologues who offer nothing but principles. Senator Bennett put it well last night -- quoting Ronald Reagan, I think: It's better to get 80 percent of what you want than to get 100 percent of nothing.

If you're looking for coherent, deep, integrated thought on political, historical, and constitutional issues -- as I am -- Bob Bennett and Mike Lee lead the pack for me (not necessarily in that order), with Tim Bridgewater running a respectable third.

At the Utah County convention, Senator Bob Bennett responded to someone's assertions that he hasn't done much in Washington. He listed a host of consequential things he has done, including welfare reform in the 1990s, tax cuts and balanced budgets in the same decade, and . . . not much from the last several years, except that there has been no major terrorist attack in the US since September 11, 2001? (I know, there have been some smaller ones.) Last night, he added a few recent achievements, like obstructing ObamaCare as much as possible, delaying things so that the public could learn more about it and the majority (in the country, not the Senate) could switch from for to against. "That's not nothing," he kept saying at the convention, and he's absolutely right. It's not nothing -- but many of the things he says that about are things others could have done.

On one hand, I don't buy Senator Bennett's theory of his own indispensability, which has come up in debates, speeches, and mailers of late. On the other hand, to send anyone but Senator Bennett to Washington for the next few years is to lose his particular strengths. The question of the week -- of the campaign, really -- is, whose strengths best suit our present circumstances? It may not be Senator Bennett's.

If you're wondering who got the best applause among the Senate candidates, at the Utah County convention it was Mike Lee. Last night at the debate, there was plenty of applause for everyone, but Lee's and Bennett's might have been a tad louder and longer.

Halftime: Thoughts with no Candidates' Names in Them

I've been noticing that most of the state and county delegates are older than I am (45), but a lot of them are younger, too. It's a fairly diverse group, age-wise. Last night, all present were well-behaved and respectful.

Fox News and CNN had cameras there last night. We were told that Fox News is planning to run a segment on the debate sometime Friday afternoon or evening. (Sorry, I didn't note the times.) Video of the complete debate ought to be popping up on YouTube sometime very soon.

No one really mentioned it last night, but I've been pondering an interesting new way to revive states' rights: utter federal failure and uninterest in an essential government function -- notably, protecting the border and enforcing immigration law. More that two centuries ago, even greater national impotence and ineptitude led the states to assert their rights by abolishing the Articles of Confederation and adoption the Constitution. The two situations are somewhat different, I realize, but the potential for interesting changes seems heightened of late. Some of them might be positive changes (for a change).

The committee that prepared the initial questions, which preceded those gathered from the audience, had real trouble with the yes/no questions, which were intended for quick answers. They were too complicated, and the candidates resisted the simplification. It was not evasion, either; the questions really were too complex. And asking two of them at a time is silly. Other than that, the debate was tolerably well run by the moderator, Utah Senator Curt Bramble, and the candidates and audience were generally good sports about the glitches.

Second Half: Senate Candidates Again

There are suggestions flying around that Mike Lee's legal representative of EnergySolutions is somehow scandalous. I guess only villains would represent a major energy-related corporation? And anyone who does so should not dare to run for office, ever? The same voices seem to care very much that Lee is still paying off student loans and carries a balance on a credit card. I wonder if this stuff looks as silly and desperate to other delegates as it does to me.

Tim Bridgewater trotted out the head of the national Minuteman organization at the Utah County convention, to announce their endorsement of him. I was unmoved, but I'm sure the whole thing had the desired effect on some delegates, for whom immigration reform is a simpler issue than it is for me.

If Bennett and Bridgewater were trying to catch up to Mike Lee in general or in my mind in particular, they harmed, not helped, themselves recently by distorting and taking out of context some things he said about Afghanistan, to the point that they claimed he wants to "cut and run." Lee clarified his position well last night. Essentially, he thinks we should support the troops while they are there, be sure their rules of engagement aren't crippling, dangerous, and stupid (my words), and bring them home when the military mission is done. Funny, that's exactly what I think. I believe it to be exactly what Bennett and Bridgewater think -- though Lee emphasizes the rules of engagement more than some of the other candidates, which pleases me.

There was a lot of passion for repealing the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution, which took the election of senators away from state legislatures and gave it to the people. Someone wisely noted that the amendment was a response to rampant corruption in many state legislatures. Several of the delegates said they want to repeal it. For me Mike Lee won the question, though. He said there is no chance in his lifetime of repealing it, so he's focusing on other states' rights issues, such as the fact that the federal goverment owns about 70 percent of Utah land, and by so doing has locked up enormous energy reserves and other resources, so they can't be exploited. In this and other instances, I like how Lee lets reality, not just principles, inform his plans. I'm not seeing that from all the other candidates.

There seems to be some sense trickling into the earmarks discussion, even if the most common yes/no response to "are you in favor of earmarking" still is no. Some of the candidates are willing to allow earmarks if they don't bypass the legislative process and -- this point wasn't mentioned in last evening's brief discussion -- if they pertain to a matter in which the Congress has constitutional authority. There's still some fuzziness among some of the candidates about what precisely is an earmark and what isn't. One candidate said the ObamaCare bill was full of earmarks, which moved Senator Bennett to explain that there were no earmarks in it, because that would have given Congress some control over spending, when the White House insisted that all such control be vested in the executive branch in this case.

Mike Lee observed that earmarks are a small part of the budget, but they are "driving the train." He noted the massive bribes used to purchase Democratic votes on ObamaCare as an example of how the practice enabled the passage of bills far more expensive than earmarks alone. He may have been stretching the technical definition of earmark, but there's a point there in any case: The cost of buying votes with pork is far larger than just the cost of the pork. It includes the cost of the legislation that passes as a result.

Tim Bridgewater called it "a corrupting system" -- a nicely nuanced and insightful alternative to corrupt.

On the subject of Arizona's new immigration law, I wonder how many people thought Senator Bennett was ducking the issue when he said he doesn't know whether he supports the law or not, because he hasn't read it yet. I think I heard a tiny bit of discontent in the audience, but I almost cheered. It was an intelligent, responsible answer and a crucial point. How does anyone know whether they support the bill, before reading it?

Seventh Inning Stretch

(No, I'm not aware of a single sport that has both a halftime and a seventh inning stretch. Thanks for noticing, though.)

I should probably clarify a couple of points. I listen to Glenn Beck sometimes in my car, if I'm driving. Some of those times, I enjoy listening. He can be entertaining and insightful. His influence is indisputable, but his temperament, including his excessive alarmism, is somewhat counterproductive in my view. I'm not saying he doesn't have a place, even an important one, in our politics. One of these days I'll finish a blog post I've been drafting on the indispensability and the limitations of Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, and others whom the shoe fits, including the Tea Party movement. (If you have no idea how that relates to Glenn Beck in my mind, stay tuned.)

As I have written here before, I have a good deal of respect for Cleon Skousen's experience and insight, where government and history are concerned. (Don't get me started on scripture.) I have read some of his books. But you don't build a governing majority on Capitol Hill on Cleon Skousen, and I tire very quickly of people preaching Skousen to me at party meetings and elsewhere to prove their Utah conservative orthoxody and, presumably, my heterodoxy. I don't try to preach to them from Tocqueville, Madison, Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington, Franklin, or Reagan in meetings which are not held for that purpose.

Third Period: High- and Other -lights from the Mailbag

The tallest mailer I've received is a pretty good piece by Mike Lee's campaign: "What Washington Forgets . . . Our Children May Never Know . . . And Our Grandchilden May Never Realize." If Lee gets the nomination Saturday or winds up in a primary, you'll probably see it eventually. Unfolded, it's 17 inches tall. The most ridiculously tall flyer is a little shorter, actually, at 15 inches, but it came unfolded from the Bridgewater campaign yesterday. Not that it matters -- but you see that I really am paying attention to what they mail me.

The three-page letter I got from the Gun Owners of American Political Victory fund, a national organization based in Virginia, urging me to vote for anyone but Senator Bennett, did not influence me. However, I did notice that I like the organization's name better than if it were the Political Owners of America Gun Victory Fund.

A lot of the anti-Bennett energy is coming from the Club for Growth. I often agree with their positions, but most of their laundry list of anti-Bennett swipes strike me as irrelevant, minor, or heavily spun. The ones with which I agree, I already knew. And the thick booklet they sent me, entitled 2010: A Delegate's Guide to Economic Issues, would be perfectly fine if that were what it really is. Instead, it's page after page of things they don't like in Senator Bennett's voting record. That's okay too, but I don't see the need to be deceptive about it. Any delegate worth his or her proverbial salt will attribute to the contents whatever credibility they deserve on their own merits, and won't be taken in by false advertising in the title. As to the man's voting record, few of the items are nearly as simple as they seem. There are some things in his record with which I disagree, to be sure, and the commentary by George Will and others that is reprinted in the booklet's appendices is worth reading. I know this is politics, but I'd still prefer the wheat without the chaff, not mention an honest title. In any case, the Club for Growth has no influence on my vote.

There's a slimy little piece from some organization called BBR/Get Out the Truth, with a mail permit in Waterville, Maine, which asserts that Mike Lee is already bought and paid for. It asks, "Do We Need Another Senator Who is Owned by Fat Cats and Special Interests?" Of course, it can't tell us which special interest(s). This item does not affect my vote. Frankly, I trust my own research and judgment more than I trust some anonymous interest from Maine.

None of the mailers has actually made me sit back and say, "Gee, I think I'll vote for this candidate." With two possible exceptions, so far, none has nudged me away from a candidate. Those exceptions are two very similar recent letters from the Bennett campaign, one over the Senator's signature, and one over the signatures of some supporters whose names I am supposed to recognize. Both letters rehash that duplicitous distortion of Mike Lee's stated position on Afghanistan, asserting that he opposes the War on Terror, and quoting a junior member of his campaign organization to prove it. One of the letters actually compares Lee to President Obama, MoveOn.org, and the rest of the extreme (American) Left.

Yes, I know, it's just politics. Misrepresenting the opponent's views is a common thing, to be sure. But it suggests to me either that Bennett's campaign is either mismanaged -- abandoning all pretense of taking the high road -- or desperate, thinking that its only hope is to fool the delegates. On one hand, I think it's unnecessary and sad. On the other, I suppose he's won a lot more elections than I have. Back on the first hand, what I admired in Senator Bennett's previous campaigns was not at all like this.

Final Thoughts

On a less cranky note, and with tongue-in-cheek apologies to those who think Bob Bennett is the Devil incarnate, I note that all eight candidates are conservatives. Some are more conservative than others. I'm not looking for the most or least conservative among them -- especially not the most conservative. I'm looking for the most promising (by my lights) combination of knowledge, skills, background, and temperament. I'm looking for an effective leader, not just a reliable conservative vote. I'm watching to see how they express and connect their principles, plans, and views. Do they do so with consistency and depth? Do they look at a complex situation or issue and mistake it for something simple, even black-and-white.

Even if I don't expect to vote for him on Saturday, I recommend a serious look at the "Top 10 Myths" page at Senator Bennett's Web site. Things really are a little more complicated and much less black-and-white that some of his detractors think. If one is looking for reasons to oppose the Senator, one hardly needs spin and deception. There are real issues enough in an 18-year voting record, no matter whose it is. I've always thought that a campaign is more effective when it opposes the real opponent, not a straw man; this must be especially true when the voters are a few thousand delegates who are paying close attention -- and most of whom have been paying close attention for a long time.

But back the candidates in general. Do they plow the whole field? Does the plow cut deeply enough? (Do I? Does mine? I suppose it's rather subjective.)

Apropos of nothing, I have long enjoyed hearing Senator Bennett discourse on history, as he is wont to do. I enjoy listening to Mike Lee analyze and explain the Constitution and its history, and apply it to present circumstances. Tim Bridgewater is intelligent and articulate enough to hold my attention for extended periods, too, except when he's reading the speech announcing his candidacy. All the other candidates have something significant to offer personally, even if they don't move me politically.

If you ask me who won the debate last night in Provo, I can't tell you. I thought Senator Bennett's performance was strong; I don't remember ever seeing him when it wasn't. Mike Lee excelled in the ways that have already put him at the top of my list. Tim Bridgewater was good. Cherilyn Eagar was probably strong, too, but she just doesn't reach me. None of the rest really have a shot, but none of them was bad or weak, either. I thought all the candidates seemed to be themselves, which may not always be a win, but it's certainly some sort of success. David Chiu, Jeremy Friedbaum, Leonard Fabiano, and even Merrill Cook scored their points and had their charms.

Two more thoughts. I am well aware that political figures whom I greatly respect, including Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich, have endorsed Senator Bennett. This does not sway me. I think I have studied Bennett's opponents more carefully than they have.

This really is the final lot of this almost-endless post: I am delighted by the race for the Republican nomination for US Senate this year. A great deal of it has turned on questions about the constitutionality of certain major pieces of legislation, and that, along with the race in general, is getting national attention. I think it's high the time question of constitutionality is moved to the front.

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