Since I posted my optimistic, post-election message on Facebook Sunday morning (which was later shared here at The Hayride and elsewhere), many people have asked me to elaborate further on how I think the new Republican majorities in the Louisiana House and Senate can maximize the historic opportunity that now presents itself.
Although we did not prevail in the governor’s race, I am convinced this next four years still can and should be a critical phase in the long term, conservative reform agenda that will bring our state to the prominence and prosperity that our people so desperately need and so richly deserve.
Because voters ensured a supermajority of Republicans in the Senate (27 of 39 seats) and a near two-thirds majority in the House (68 of 105), we have the numbers and the potential to make this a very productive season in our history. To be successful, however, our team has to speak and act with clarity, conviction and consistency—and they must stick together. Like any team, the key to that cohesion and productivity is correct preparation in the off season, which for the Legislature, is the next six weeks.
I have found it is much easier to achieve a majority’s objectives when they are well-defined and when that majority begins with a solid foundation and agreed framework. When I was elected chairman last fall of the largest caucus of conservatives in Congress, the Republican Study Committee (RSC), I recognized that while all of our 146 members self-identify as conservatives, they represent a wide array of geographical areas, diverse districts and unique perspectives. What we needed was to adopt a unifying and unanimously acceptable statement of principles that could serve as the “true North” guide for all our policy production and political strategy in the 116th Congress.
To meet this need, I drafted and presented to our members what I entitled the “Seven Core Principles of Conservatism” (listed below), which is both a short summary of our central beliefs and a symbolic landmark defining who we are and where we stand as conservatives in these unprecedented days for the U.S. House of Representatives. The commitment to these principles has kept us securely anchored and unified, and has served us very well in our messaging, our work product and our overall esprit de corps.
My humble suggestion for my good friends in the Legislature is to start immediately in bringing the team in Baton Rouge together with a similar effort. Get every new and experienced Republican member to agree and commit to a basic set of principles like the ones I drafted for D.C. (modified appropriately for state level governance). Have them all further agree right now—before the first whistle is blown and even before the first page of any playbook is drafted—that their every action, message, policy proposal, legislative bill and floor argument for the next four years must derive from and be grounded in these core principles.
Why should they be motivated to define and operate from such a framework? Because these are the precepts that bring liberty, security and prosperity to all people. We aren’t committed to these principles because they are Republican. We, as Republicans, are committed to these principles because they are right and timeless and true.
And make no mistake about the leader of the opposing team, John Bel Edwards. He is a savvy strategist and a ruthless competitor, and he will begin immediately, as he did in the beginning of his first term as governor, to try to divide and conquer the Republican roster. He has likely already begun that effort, calling up newly-elected members and inviting them into his office for a little pre-game visit so he can assess each individual’s strength and conviction—and determine if they have a price.
One who has never been in this arena may think my description above is too harsh or is a call for “obstructionism.” It is neither. I am not suggesting our Republican senators and representatives practice raw partisanship, but rather real conviction. It is critical that they form a bond right now around a common set of beliefs and objectives from which they will never waver.
In a constitutional republic, cooperation and collegiality in the legislative process are necessary and productive. HOWEVER, while it is okay to compromise on our preferences sometimes, conservatives should never compromise our core principles. To do so would be a dereliction of duty because those principles are demonstrably proven to be what is best for all people, and for human flourishing.
Because these values and ideals are in direct opposition to what John Bel Edwards and the national leaders of his party believe in and desire to advance, it will take real resolve by our Republicans in Baton Rouge to hold the line in the days ahead, and push back.
For Louisiana, this is a fateful moment unlike any we have seen before. Given the stakes, it is useful to recall the charge of Ronald Reagan when he and our national party faced a similar moment of calibration in 1975: “Our people look for a cause to believe in. Is it a third party we need, or is it a new and revitalized second party, raising a banner of no pale pastels, but bold colors which make it unmistakably clear where we stand on all of the issues troubling the people? . . .I do not believe I have proposed anything that is contrary to what has been considered Republican principle. It is at the same time the very basis of conservatism. It is time to reassert that principle and raise it to full view.”
Victory depends upon preparation, and champions are forged in grit and dust of the off season. It is time to raise our banner high. And that work begins now.
7 CORE PRINCIPLES OF CONSERVATISM
- Individual Liberty
The birth of our great nation was inspired by the bold declaration that our individual, God-given liberties should be preserved against government intrusion. That same conviction informs our conservative policy decisions still today. In America, we proclaim the self-evident truths that all of us are created equal and granted by God the same inherent freedoms, such as the natural and unalienable rights to life, liberty, conscience, free speech and the free exercise of religion, and the ability to pursue happiness, own property, build wealth and defend ourselves and our families. The purpose of government is to secure these rights, and the ideas we advance should always aim to maintain and increase the liberty of the American people.
- Limited Government
For individual liberty to be championed, government must be reduced. We believe, as our Founders did, that legitimate government operates only by the consent of the governed, and is more efficient and less corrupt when it is limited in its size and scope. When applied as written, our incomparable Constitution provides important safeguards against government encroachment, a vital separation of powers, and a necessary system of checks and balances. Decentralized authority, and the elimination of unnecessary regulations and bureaucracy, help ensure that government serves the people, and not the other way around. The best protection against government largesse is an engaged and informed electorate.
- The Rule of Law
America is “a government of laws and not of men,” and the rule of law is our foundation. To maintain ordered liberty and a civilized society, public and private virtue should be encouraged and justice must be administered equally and impartially to all. Each branch of government must adhere to the Constitution, and the judicial branch must not be allowed to assume or exercise legislative or executive powers. Transparency and accountability are keys to good government, and Congress must faithfully perform its constitutional responsibility of oversight.
- Fiscal Responsibility
Because government has refused to live within its means, America is facing an unprecedented debt and spending crisis. Federal debt now exceeds $22 trillion, and our current fiscal path is unsustainable and dangerous, jeopardizing our nation’s economic growth, stability and the security of future generations. Congress has a moral and constitutional duty to resolve the crisis, bring spending under control, balance the federal budget, reform and modernize entitlement programs, eliminate fraud, waste and abuse, pursue continued pro-growth tax reforms and permanent tax reductions, and restore regular order and accountability in the budget and appropriations processes.
- Peace through Strength
The first obligation of the federal government is to provide for the “common defense” of the United States by protecting our homeland and our strategic interests abroad. Because America serves in a natural role of moral leadership in an increasingly dangerous world, and weakness invites agression, we must remain the strongest military power on earth—fully prepared and capable of defeating any adversaries, tyrants or terrorists, under any circumstances, at any time. Adequate investment is necessary to maintain the air, land, sea, nuclear and cyber warfare superiority of our Armed Forces, and to properly train, equip and support our troops and their families. Among the essential responsibilties and first priorities of the federal government must be the honor and proper care of our veterans and wounded warriors, the security of our national borders, and the faithful enforcement of our immigration laws.
- Free Markets
Government often stands as the greatest obstacle to the progress and prosperity of free people. Free markets and free and fair trade agreements allow for innovation, improvement and economic expansion as risk-takers, entrepreneurs and business owners are given the liberty to pursue the American dream and create more jobs and upward mobility for more people. We believe competition should be encouraged, and government intervention and regulation should be limited. The people are better qualified to make decisions about their own lives and finances than bureaucrats, and the private sector will outperform the public sector in virtually every scenario. The free enterprise system rewards hard work and self-sacrifice, and is the basis and genius of the American economy.
- Human Dignity
Because all men are created equal and in the image of God, every human life has inestimable dignity and value, and every person should be measured only by the content of their character. A just government protects life, honors marriage and family as the primary institutions of a healthy society, and embraces the vital cultural influences of religion and morality. Public policy should always encourage education and emphasize the virtue of hard work as a pathway out of poverty, while public assistance programs should be reserved only for those who are truly in need. In America, everyone who plays by the rules should get a fair shot. By preserving these ideals, we will maintain the goodness of America that has been the secret to our greatness.