House Speaker William J. Howell

By Peter Galuszka

Virginia’s conservatives have gone through a spasm of controversy as they struggle to find their message. They desperately need to balance their ideas of fiscal discipline and limited government with a wide spectrum of unrelated hard-right social issues.

The clearest evidence yet of the quandary for their soul involves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has just backed away from pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws that were involved in the shooting of a young African-American from Florida, Trayvon Martin.

ALEC had been a cozy, four-decades-old group of deep-pocketed corporations and lobbyists that ghostwrote template-style laws for state legislatures around the country to boost the conservative agenda of cutting taxes and government spending and cater to the business community’s desire for few regulations. For a long while, it seemed like a gigantic Chamber of Commerce funded by big corporate names such as Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and Johnson & Johnson to push business-friendly laws.

But as the Tea Party movement gained steam in 2010, its disparate elements pushed right-wing social issues that ended up alienating many and polarized legislatures, including Virginia’s General Assembly. That spilled over into ALEC, which ended up pushing voter ID laws designed to take voting power away from minorities when there was no real issue over identity fraud and suck up to the gun lobby by pushing the idea that if one feels under attack, he or she may whip out a firearm and blow away an assailant without much legal consequence.

Incredibly, Virginia taxpayers have shelled out $231,000 over the past decade so legislators, mostly Republicans, can go to ALEC confabs and learn what the latest is in conservative designer legislation. A big player is House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who, according to The Washington Post, made 60 percent of his publicly funded trips to ALEC meetings.

The unexpected fury over the  Trayvon Martin shooting involving a Stand Your Ground law blew everyone’s cover. It had the entire cossetted ALEC world tossed on its head. Firms such as Coca-Cola, Mars, Wendy’s and Kraft, all of which are consumer products firms whose billions debate on a positive public image bailed on ALEC. The constant deluge of the Trayvon shooting was very bad for their business. Now ALEC says it is dumping social issues and sticking to economic ones.

Howell didn’t seem to know what to do. He attacked left-leaning critics such as “ProgressVa” and had the bad taste and judgment to personally insult Anna Scholl, the head of ProgressVA at a press conference, demeaning her intelligence by saying he needed to speak to her only in monosyllables. Howell, usually more stately than that, soon issued a public apology to Scholl.

What’s revealing about Howell’s tantrum, however, is how it shows that mainstream conservatives really don’t know what to do with the social radicals in their movement. For years, they’ve enjoyed the upscale, closed-door demeanor of ALEC meetings until the Tea Party types shook everything up. It was fine, everyday work bashing unions and trying to cut taxes for companies and the rich. Yet they became spooked by what ended up being a weak, ephemeral and loosely organized group that they went freak-out if not totally feral.

Big business interests figured it out faster and with the exceptions of firms such as Wal-Mart, they bailed on ALEC. This shows that a lot of the GOP stalwarts in Virginia and nationally have feet of clay. They are not sure of their agenda, as their unimpressive primary run so far has shown. Locally, they have let social right-wingers hijack this year’s General Assembly with issues that had been decided decades ago, such as women’s right to abortions and gay rights. Real work important to the Commonwealth didn’t get done. Because of the distractions, it took four tries to get a (bad) $85 billion budget passed.

It is time to put the Tea Party in its place and get past it. The Republicans are paying a huge price and will probably lose the presidential election if they continue. Meanwhile, the Democrats, who have stood on the sidelines snickering at the GOP melee, need to get engaged and shut down this social nonsense once and for all.

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  1. Peter is much more polite and genteel about “not knowing how to deal with”…

    I believe the Zealots have ALWAYS been around hiding in the woodwork and kept at by by the saner elements of the GOP.

    The dust-up with ALEC is more akin to someone turning on the lights in a roach-infested room than anything else.

    What the GOP does not know how to deal with is when Tea Party folks challenge the GOP incumbents in the primaries.

    this has spooked the establishment big time and so they’ve made a bargain of sorts with the zealots to incorporate their agenda if they will go easy on the primary challenges.

    And … it’s obviously worked… the RINOs are gone… and we have far right social legislation in the last two years than the previous 20-30 years.

    How many GOP will lose their seats to Dems over implementation of the ALEC agenda? No near as many who might lose to Tea Party primary challengers so the GOP is not worried near as much about the Dems as their own in-house warriors.

    I predict – the Va GOP will now seek to whack off another 2 or 3 Dem Senators and if they succeed (and likely will), the social legislation will accelerate to fire-hose-like dimensions and Va will slowly but surely slide back to it’s previous Neanderthal-like visage more akin to the solid-red States to the south of us.

  2. Darrell Avatar

    Gee those Tea Party people must be really powerful. I bet they have tons of Tea Party politicians in government. Hard liners like Cantor and Boner and all those other well known names that haven’t changed in years. Yes?…. No? Oh they aren’t really Tea Party? Then they must be….Lying.

  3. Powerful is not the word. Destructive is closer. Boner and Cantor have not changed in years? What? You’d have to be deaf and blind to not see what has happened to the GOP and it’s leadership since the right wing zealots have metastasized in the GOP Party politic. Virtually every single moderate Republican have been ousted and the party has morphed into something that is perceived to be against just about every single constituency except for angry white guys.

    it’s really a dang miracle that Romney ended up the nominee. Even then, the man had to transform himself into something akin to his right wing competition.

    “Tea Party” is a bit of a misnomer. the hard right has always existed in the GOP woodwork … but they emerged masquerading as Tea Party types to then directly attack moderates and establishment types in the primaries.

    Now.. if you are a GOP and you’re not “right” “enough”, a contender will appear to the right of you at the next primary.

    Now the total GOP is not all that displeased because the GOP is more and more holding majorities in the State Houses, the governorships, the HR and soon probably the Senate of Virginia and the Senate of the US.

    the only thing that might save Va is the blue urbanized regions and the RoVa counties with large populations of minorities.

    At some point, folks are going to wake up and say “what the” when they realize that the right really does have big plans once they get majorities and don’t have to compromise with those dang libtards.

    But the immutable truth is that our forefathers in the US and Va set 2yr terms for the “houses” and the simple reality is that so far, Americans and Virginian’s do seem quite content with the degree of “right” that they re-elect every two years. I have to admit that even though it causes much heartburn.

  4. constructionandlaborguy Avatar

    I’d argue the far Left presents the same problem to centrist Democrats as the Tea Party presents to moderate GOP “RINO” members. There are virtually no Blue Dog Dems left in Congress. They have either lost in primaries to liberal candidates funded by the far left (my friend calls them “union and trial lawyer mules” which I think is a hoot) or were ousted by GOP candidates in the general. The Blue Dogs used to be a force and would ensure bi-partisan compromise because you couldn’t pass anything without sweetening legislation to alleviate the concerns of the Blue Dogs. Now they aren’t around, so we have gridlock.

    How have establishment Democrats managed the far Leftys? Did they move to them or treat them as fringe nuts and stick to their guns?

    Are they having as hard of a time as GOP leadership?

    Will GOP leaders follow their playbook or develop their own management strategy, if you can even call it that?

    The Dems are trying to hijack the Occupy Wall Street movement for political gains just like the GOP tried to take advantage of the Tea Party movement.

    Would it be safe to say that the Tea Party has a broader appeal to Independents than the drum circle at OWS?

    One final comment: Dems rely on information and model legislation funded by the left (labor unions, trial lawyers, environmentalists, GLTG advocates, poverty groups, lefty academic programs etc.) or through policy papers funded by the Center for American Progress and other lefty think tanks. The left has an ALEC-like problem too. This is nothing new. ALEC is only receiving ink now because of a slick PR campaign funded by labor unions. They need a common enemy to attack and unify the base to distract the base and public from the fact that their agenda is unpopular.

  5. constructionandlaborguy that’s a nice try but how far as the GOP actually moved to the right vs how far have the Dems actually moved to the left.

    The Dems are defending the status quo with SS and Medicare while the GOP wants to kill both.

    the Dems want tax rates that were in effect under Clinton and Reagan. The GOP wants tax rates that are unprecedented in the last 50-100 years.

    the Dems want individual mandate for health care. Only 15 short years ago, that was a GOP idea.

    The Dems only want to maintain “choice” in abortions. The right wants them totally outlawed.

    You have to admit guy that the GOP has moved far right these days while the left is pretty much where it has always been including with health care.

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