Thin Gruel for “Social” Republicans

By: Carl Graham

Bozeman: Barry Goldwater, in a line that may have cost him the presidency, famously quipped that extremism in defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue. Turns out he might have been on to something there, and Montana’s latest legislative session is a great example.

Goldwater’s quote came in 1964 when Republicans were in a fissile state just hot enough to self-immolate but not hot enough to start a real fire. The “establishment” wing of the Party was mostly comfortable with a growing government and felt that if they didn’t rock the boat they’d have a seat at the table and get their slice of the pie even if it consigned them to being forever small fish in a big pond.

This governance-by-metaphor confused amity with effectiveness, as well as the electorate, and resulted in a two party, one philosophy system that left a large chunk of American conservatives without a political home until the Reagan revolution scooped them up nearly twenty years later.

Into this vacuum stepped two disparate groups: a new dissident small government movement and a loud anti-communist faction that allowed themselves to painted as nuttier than an Angus bull pen. Goldwater’s quote appealed to the former group but scared enough people into thinking he was a part of the latter one to at least partially account for his losing to an incumbent with few tangible accomplishments under his belt. President Johnson was easily able to win by defining Goldwater as an extremist rather than running on his own merits. Sound familiar?

So what’s all that got to do with Montana’s legislative session? In 1964 the candidate who represented smaller government, fiscal responsibility and libertarian principles was thwarted by a combination of status quo Republicans and Democrats who successfully labeled him as a nut. In 2013 the smaller government, pro-liberty agenda of a GOP majority in both legislative chambers was successfully undermined by the combination of a lockstep Democratic caucus and a handful of – let’s use their term – “Responsible Republicans” intent upon growing state government and presenting a harmonious front. So how’d that work out?

First of all, I don’t blame the Democrats for growing government any more than the turtle blames the snake for biting him halfway across of the river. It’s what they do, and the economic or philosophical merits of that approach are arguments for another day. I even, however grudgingly, respect the consistency and clarity of their approach. But they could not have succeeded in the minority without the handful of “Responsible Republicans” who crossed the aisle on some key bills. So let’s see how the guiding principles of amity and moderation turned out for those folks.

If increasing the state’s budget by 14% when most Montanans are seeing their paychecks stagnate at best is responsible then they’re right on track. If delivering an unbalanced budget to the governor is responsible then they’ve got a lock on what’s good for Montana, if not a handle on what’s required by Montana’s Constitution. If, after inheriting a huge surplus, it’s responsible to have spending increases outpace tax relief by a factor of ten, then those “Responsible Republicans” have their fingers on the conservative pulse. If tying school funding to volatile commodity prices is responsible, then our kids won’t be able to wait until they’re eighteen to vote these guys back in office, if they can read the ballot.

In truth, none of those things are considered responsible in the conservative districts that put most these Republicans in office. To be fair a couple of them are in moderate to liberal districts that fall under the Buckley Rule of electing the most conservative person possible. But most of them advanced an agenda that is anathema to the fiscally conservative, ruggedly individualistic beliefs held by most of the people who sent them to Helena. They either misrepresented themselves to their electorate or they are so devoid of core principles that they covet power for power’s sake and will do whatever it takes to not be called names.

They are Social Republicans, not to be confused with social conservatives who actually stand for something. The “social” in Social Republicans means they want to be seen as socially acceptable by all. They want to get invited to the “right” parties, fawned over in coffee shops, and above all not have any uncomfortable moments with people who disagree with them or be made fun of in the papers. They, like the establishment Republicans of Goldwater’s time, confuse amity with effectiveness and power with principle. And what did they get for it?

The governor slaughtered their sacred cows with the same zeal he took to the priorities of those upstart conservative Republicans who booted them out of leadership positions. They lost the respect of their opponents and the trust of their peers. And for what? To be liked? To not be called names by people who still want to beat them? To get along rather than fight for the values of the very people they were elected to represent?

No, in the end it seems the Responsible Republicans got their cake and ate it too, except that the governor got to eat it first. Bon Appetit.

This commentary appeared on Montana Public Radio : 5/9/2013

Montana Pig Tales

Once upon a time there was a wonderful land with untold riches. This land had fertile soil to grow more food than the locals could eat, gems and minerals that were sought after worldwide, trees for their houses and abundant fuel for their stoves. This wonderful land was filled with opportunity, and happy families prospered with each generation better off than the previous.
There were also helpful folks in the land’s Capitol City who worked for the happy families and did the kinds of things that everyone could benefit from. They built roads and schools and made sure everybody played by the same rules. And they kept the king in far-away DC Land from trying to run their lives. But then something happened, something awful and selfish.

The people in DC Land and Capitol City stopped working for the happy families and started ruling over them. They grew larger and larger and decided to regulate and tax and dictate more and more parts of the happy families’ lives. The land of opportunity became a land of limitations. Laws were passed to protect people from themselves instead of just from each other. Rules were made keeping the happy families from using all the riches that the land offered and pitting them against each other. The land with untold riches became one of the poorest in the kingdom. The happy families could no longer pass on opportunities they had enjoyed. And so the once-happy land got older and poorer, until finally the only people who could enjoy its beauty came from other places. The land of opportunity became a land of futility. And the once happy families were scattered to the winds.

Montana is still that happy land of opportunity, but we won’t pass that heritage along to our kids if we continue the current path of bigger government, more regulation, and control by Washington bureaucrats. We still have the riches that made Montana the Treasure State, but we’re losing the legacy of opportunity that those riches could provide. We increasingly have a government that has become its own special interest instead of our employee. And we’re being tied down with one size fits all solutions that may be great for New York or Mississippi, but not for Montana.

Welcome to “Pig Tales: Wasted Treasure in the Treasure State” — a one-stop shopping guide to Montana government. This is the second in a biennial look at Montana state government, our people, and our opportunities.

Our simple goal is help provide as much useful information as possible so that as the people who represent us make decisions that affect our lives and our families, we will have a confident and informed voice. Enjoy the tale!

Click here for full PDF (8MB!)

Interested in a hard copy or two? We’ll have them for purchase right here coming soon. Can’t wait? Call us at 406-219-0508 to place your order or email us at In order to break even, we will be charging $3.50 for quantities up to 10 and $3.00/copy for quantities over 10. These prices include shipping and handling.

Shut Up and Be Civil

By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute

Conservatism must be on the rise because once again we find ourselves being treated to a round of scolding concerning the lack of civility in our public discourse, as if we’ve fallen to unplumbed depths and must button up lest the moderate masses take offense. With all due respect, that’s a bunch of hooey.

It’s no coincidence that both ad hominem attacks and appeals to civility so often come from the side that’s run out of arguments. And nobody should be surprised that it’s getting nasty out there with so much now at stake. The current tenor of our conversation was predictable and can be easily explained. It was predictable because, as a famous economist once said, if something can’t go on forever it probably won’t. And it’s explainable by the dual effects of unsustainable spending levels and revulsion at government’s increasing and political inclination to pick winners and losers.

The simple fact of the matter is that we’re running out of stuff to give away, and both the givers and the takers are starting to squeal. Past politicians and their collegial colleagues were fortunate to serve during a period when government at all levels could shift from being a protector of rights to a provider of goods by passing the bill along. They in effect could say “Vote for me and I’ll give you this and make that guy pay for it.” “That guy” is getting tired of it.

Federal spending increased 299% above inflation between 1970 and 2009. Household income, meanwhile, went up a paltry 27%. That means that government largesse grew at over ten times the rate of household incomes. Of course people got along. Our elected representatives weren’t making hard choices about preserving America’s unique strengths in a more complicated world; they were merely borrowing from our kids and making deals on how to divide the spoils. It’s easy to get along when you’re spending someone else’s money and the pot is ever expanding. It’s only when the bottom of the pot becomes visible that the feeding frenzy begins.

The other reason people aren’t getting along is that government has reached an unprecedented level of picking winners and losers, often for overtly political ends. If you’re worried about negative campaign ads or corporate lobbying, before bemoaning the symptom you should consider that every dollar spent comes from somebody or some interest who either wants to be on a winners’ list or off a losers’ list. Eliminate government’s ability to pick winners and losers and you eliminate the incentive for gaming the campaign finance system and hiring K Street lobbyists. Anything else is just picking at the scab.

I for one also find it offensive that mega corporations like General Electric can apparently create a business plan based on green energy incentives and then pay zero taxes on billions in income while I pay higher energy costs and watch good jobs go overseas. I’m offended that unions and advocacy groups like AARP can apply for and receive waivers from the more stringent sections of a health care bill that they spent tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars pushing onto the rest of us. That angers me, and if expressing that anger is more offensive to you than them using the government to pick my pocket then we clearly have different definitions of freedom.

So yes, the temperature and volume are rising. The people paying the bills are getting angry and the people reaping the benefits are getting scared. But for anyone who pines for the mostly mythical days of holding hands and group hugs across the aisle, I suggest you put the tools and responsibility for success and failure back into the peoples’ hands. If no one else is to blame, there’s no reason to point fingers.


For Immediate Release

632 Words


Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research and education center based in Bozeman.

He can be reached at:

67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

(406) 219-0508


MPI Public Employee Poll Release


Carl Graham


Montana Policy Institute

(406) 219-0508

Bozeman — States continue to grapple with the three-year fiscal crisis that has involved intense battles over everything from public employee pensions and benefits to collective bargaining. On September 20, 2011, at a conference headlined by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, the Manhattan Institute presented the first comprehensive national poll voter attitudes on public sector unions and state budgets, conducted by pollster Douglas E. Schoen. The results show widespread bipartisan support for reforms that decrease spending and that do not increase taxes.

In addition, Montana Policy Institute provided specific questions for the poll to dig a little deeper for voter opinions in a state with strong fiscally conservative credentials but also a history of public support for unions.

Montana voters differ somewhat from national averages with less support for reducing certain benefits and reforming pension systems for current and future public employees to help resolve state fiscal problems. But they strongly oppose measures to increases taxes in order to balance state budgets and do not feel that the current system adequately represents taxpayer interests.

“The Montana results are predictably split about public sector unions’ role in budget shortfalls and how much and what types of reforms are needed. But it’s clear that voters want to hold the line on taxes, empower state government workers to have more control over their retirement benefits, and see taxpayer interests better represented at the bargaining table,” said Montana Policy Institute president Carl Graham.

The results paint a vivid picture of how both Democrats and Republicans can move forward on legislation and the restructuring of union contracts as they battle shrinking revenues in their states.

Poll results show:

Voters are mixed in their attitudes about the need to cut state spending and reduce benefits for current and future public employees, but not for retirees. Voters strongly resist any tax increases.

•A majority of voters, 52 percent, reject the idea of paying more taxes to keep public employee benefits at their present levels if Montana faces budget problems.

•A similar majority, 56%, reject the idea of accepting service cuts to keep public employee benefits at their current levels if Montana faces budget problems.

•However, by a margin of 65 percent in favor to 29 percent in opposition, voters say that retirees should not have to contribute more towards their pension and health care benefits because of budget problems.

Voters also believe that the basis of the entire public employee pension system needs to be dramatically reformed.

•A strong majority, 72%, of voters favor giving current public employees a choice between participating in a defined contribution plan or a defined benefit plan.

•An even larger majority, 79%, favor empowering state employees with more flexibility to increase their pension investment choice and portability.

•Most voters, 56%, would like to see public employees moved from a defined benefit to a defined contribution plan.

Voters are prepared to accept some restrictions on collective bargaining to address fiscal problems. There is also evidence that voters view some of the outcomes from the collective bargaining process as counter-productive to a well-functioning public service, as demonstrated by the fact that voters see teacher tenure as a hindrance to improving public education.

•A majority of 51 percent say that public employee unions gain too much influence when they lobby for and help elect the same officials with whom they will bargain for wages and benefits.

•While Montana voters are split on the need for collective bargaining with public workers, sixty nine percent say that taxpayers are not being adequately and fairly represented by state government in collective bargaining negotiations.

•A decisive 64 percent of voters favor phasing out tenure for teachers because it protects bad teachers from being fired while making it harder to bring in new and better teachers, clear evidence that the outcomes of the collective bargaining process are often not in line with creating more responsive government.


The national and state poll results are available at

To schedule an interview with Douglas E. Schoen, please contact Kasia Zabawa at 646-839-3342 or at

Manhattan Institute Point of Contact:

Kasia Zabawa, Press Officer

Manhattan Institute

(646) 839-3342

Douglas E. Schoen has been one of the most influential Democratic campaign consultants for over thirty years. A founding partner and principle strategist for Penn, Schoen & Berland, he is widely recognized as one of the coinventors of overnight polling. Schoen was named Pollster of the Year in 1996 by the American Association of Political Consultants for his contributions to the President Bill Clinton reelection campaign.

The Montana Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research center based in Bozeman. To find out more visit us on the web at

The Manhattan Institute, a 501(c)(3), is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.




Schoen Power Point Presentation

For article in The Wall Street Journal

Enough Already! – Spending Increases Despite Cuts

Worried about the “draconian” cuts to defense and entitlements if the Supercommittee fails to reach agreement? Don’t. Here’s a chart showing how spending increases under the cuts. And since they don’t kick in until 2013, a new congress can undo them anyway.

Enough Already! – Spending Cuts?

Spending cuts? What spending cuts. Don’t blame reduced government spending for the slowdown.

2010 Pork Report

2010 analysis of big government and big spending in Montana. 2012 Pork Report to be presented at the Montana Policy Institute’s 3rd Biennial Legislative Forum, November 16-17, 2012 in Helena.











2010 Pork Report

Budgeting for Results: A Fiscal Roadmap for Montana Study (2010)

Budgeting for Results: A Fiscal Roadmap for Montana Policy Note (2010)

For Full Study: Budgeting_for Results_Full_Study 2010