Monday, February 23, 2009

South's Dominance of GOP Evident in Bitter Divisions Over Obama's Stimulus Measure

After Taking Two Consecutive Electoral Drubbings in the Rest of the Country, the Republicans Are a More Solidly Conservative Southern Regional Party Than Ever Before -- and Risking Further Isolation for Opposing President Obama's Economic Rescue Plans

Feuding Elephants: Republicans appear to be sharply divided along regional lines over President Obama's economic stimulus package, with the bulk of the opposition to the plan coming from conservative Southerners. Nowhere is that division more evident than among the nation's 22 GOP governors, with a handful of Southern conservatives declaring they won't accept parts of the president's stimulus, while other GOP governors from the Northeast, the Midwest and the Far West fully supporting it. (Photo courtesy

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, February 23, 2009)


If there were any lingering doubts that the Republican Party has been reduced to a regional one dominated by conservative Southerners, those doubts were removed over the weekend in Washington, where a rift pitting Southerners against their fellow Republicans from the rest of the country broke wide open.

GOP governors in town for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association divided sharply along regional lines over President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package and, more broadly, how to deal with the worsening economic crisis.

While most GOP governors from the Northeast, the Midwest and the Far West -- particularly California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- argued that the Republicans have little choice but to work more cooperatively with the president and to move toward the center to attract vitally needed independent voters, several conservatives from the South -- along with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin -- insisted that the party must stick to conservative principles by fighting against Obama's spending and tax proposals.

The regional rift among the Republican governors is part of a far sharper ideological divide pitting conservatives against moderates.


Schwarzenegger, appearing Sunday on ABC's "This Week," suggested that Republicans were "out of touch" with average Americans on a variety of economic issues, particularly health care.

The California governor had just signed a long-overdue state budget that closed a record $42 billion budget deficit by a combination of tax increases and spending cuts, despite the nearly-unanimous opposition by his fellow Republicans in the Democratic-controlled California Legislature.

Several arch-conservative California Republicans vowed to push through a resolution at the state GOP convention this week condemning Schwarzenegger -- who's barred by law from seeking a third term as governor next year -- for breaking his no-tax-hike pledge.

"You've got to listen to the people," he said. "If the nation is screaming out loud, 'We need health care reform. We want to have universal health care. We want to have everyone insured. We want to bring the costs down. We want everyone to have access.' I mean, that's what they want; that's what you do."

Schwarzenegger criticized his fellow Republicans for "standing in the way" of fixing the state’s budget crisis by their steadfast opposition to the tax hikes, arguing that the GOP had to put their principles against tax increases secondary to the demand of the majority of Californians to resolve the budget crisis, even if that meant that taxes had to go up.


But South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford sharply disagreed, insisting that the GOP must stick to its conservative principles. "There’s a tug of war right now within the party as to where we go next," Sanford acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times. "I am in the camp that says we go back to basics. There are other folks who say something a little different. The answer will be determined in this tug of war."

Sanford, along with conservative GOP Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Rick Perry of Texas and Palin served notice that they would not accept millions of federal stimulus dollars for expanded unemployment compensation because they object to federal requirements that their states provide relief for part-time workers who lost their jobs as well as to full-time workers.

Barbour also argues that the unemployment benefit requirements would force his state to raise taxes.


In separate interviews on NBC's "Meet the Press," Jindal and Florida Governor Charlie Crist clashed over the president's stimulus plan, with Crist defending his support for it as part of his obligation, as the state's chief executive, "to do everything I can to help us get through this tough economy." and Jindal arguing that his state would have been forced to raise business taxes if he had accepted $100 million in stimulus funds for unemployment compensation.

"In the past five weeks, I’ve visited six unemployment offices throughout Florida," Crist said. "I look into the eyes of these people, and I understand that the challenges are serious that they’re having to deal with, and I want to do everything I can to help them.

"Certainly this stimulus package -- about $12.2 billion to Florida -- will help Florida an awful lot" Crist continued.

Jindal took the opposite tack. "The $100 million we turned down was temporary federal dollars that would require us to change our unemployment laws'" he said. "That would've actually raised taxes on Louisiana businesses. We as a state would've been responsible for paying for those benefits after the federal money disappeared."

Jindal argued that "Now is the time . . . for Republican governors and other leaders to offer conservative-based solutions to the problems."

The Louisiana governor is scheduled to deliver the Republican response to the president’s State of the Union-style address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. "We need to work with the president every chance we can," he said. "But on principle -- when we disagree with him -- we should be unafraid to stand up on principle and to point out our alternative solutions."


The split among Republican governors over the president's stimulus plan almost neatly fits the solidifying public image of the Republican Party as having dwindled -- following back-to-back severe electoral losses in the Northeast, the Midwest and the Far West -- into a regional party dominated by Southern conservatives.

Moreover, not only are the GOP governors objecting to the stimulus package all Southerners -- with the exception of Palin -- they also are touted as potential GOP presidential candidates in 2012 and are likely making their criticisms of the Obama plan to appeal to conservative voters.

Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, has made no secret of her ambitions to seek the party's top prize. Jindal is being touted as the GOP's answer to Obama -- but his hard-line conservative positions on the emotional social issues of abortion and gay rights may not endear him with moderate and independent voters and with young people.

Most of the other 22 GOP governors -- Most notably Crist, Schwarzenegger, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell and Vermont Governor Jim Douglas, the National Governors' Association's vice-chairman, openly support the stimulus package.

All four are moderates heading states that Obama won by a landslide in the November 4 election and where public approval of the president's job performance is especially high.

By contrast, Jindal, Barbour, Perry, Palin and Sanford all govern states that Obama lost to John McCain.

One Midwestern GOP governor, Mitch Daniels of Indiana -- which Obama won by an extremely narrow nine-tenths of a percentage point over McCain -- had reservations about the president's package but put his concerns aside for now. "I want this president to succeed because I want America to succeed," Daniels told the Times. "There will be plenty of time for alternatives later."

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Volume IV, Number 15
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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