It is rare to find a man of integrity. Even rarer, it seems, is finding a politician of integrity, particularly the year after their party has achieved a sweeping electoral victory and they have favors to repay. Or at least in my solidly Republican home state of Georgia, it is often easy to feel that way. Indeed, when Republican supermajorities offer lower taxes in one hand and then slap their constituents in the face with higher taxes in the other, it is hard not to feel that way. Sadly, such is the case under the Gilded Dome of the Georgia General Assembly.
While we at The Mendenhall tend to be more acutely aware of Georgia politics than our readers outside the state, our experiences with Georgia’s state legislature serve as useful examples for advocates of capitalism everywhere. After all, not everyone enjoys the “privilege,” if it can be called such, of a solidly Republican government. It is therefore beneficial to see how closely Republicans’ promises correspond with their actual patterns of governance—particularly when they no longer have Democrats to fault or the phantom of “compromise” to duck behind for cover.
The results are far from impressive. Though they are ultimately a mixed bag—deregulating here, regulating there; cutting spending for X, increasing spending for Y; etc.—it is easy to see Republicans today as merely less-consistent Democrats rather than the die-hard defenders of free markets that the left makes them out to be. As I stated in “Elephant in the Room – Politics, Principle, and the GOP”:
“No matter what their intentions are starting out, ultimately… Republicans differ from the Democrats only in degree. ‘What is it if we only break your little finger,’ these Republicans ask, ‘when the Democrats are breaking your spine?’ Of course the end is the same: an injury that should never have been inflicted and a body unable to function as it ought. Too many Republicans, as I witnessed in Atlanta, do not think in these principled terms. What makes a violation of individual rights wrong is not, they maintain, the injury itself but its extent.”
Or, it should be added, the justification for the injury. Republicans guffaw at increasing taxes to fund social welfare programs or “redistribute wealth” in pursuit of domestic socialism, but they are much more receptive to the idea of raising taxes to fund “infrastructure” at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce or raising this or that regulation to benefit a chosen business, industry, or constituent.
If further is proof is needed, look only to the 246.67% increase in the excise tax on motor fuel that went into effect in Georgia last weekend, along with several other transportation and lodging tax increases (all, ironically, over Independence Day weekend). The bill, Georgia House Bill 170 (2015), passed through Republican Supermajorities in the General Assembly in March in a pattern familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the House of Representatives under John Boehner: the Establishment leadership, unable to push their agendas past their own parties, instead ally with the Democrats and steamroll the dissenters. It is well within the realm of possibility that committee spots, chairmanships, and other bills were threatened by leadership in order to secure the votes.
Not once were free market alternatives entertained. No one considered sale and privatization of any of Georgia’s extensive, publicly maintained roads or the utilization of better, more strategic, tech-friendly tolls that either immediately charge drivers using a transponder or else send a bill to the address associated with the license plate using cameras. To the contrary, Georgia Republicans have recently been dispensing with tolls, counting it as a victory for limited government while ignoring the fact that the money to maintain state roads must still come from somewhere and that tolls ensure that they come specifically from those who use the roads rather than the whole of the general public.
Far less contentious than that, no proposal was made to facilitate private competition in the mass transportation industry now dominated by MARTA—the Atlanta area’s public transportation network that is decades out of date—and allow for the reduction of government contributions to bus and railway services that would likely be better provided under a private system. Even if Republicans absolutely could not refrain from raising taxes, no one seemed to consider simply letting localities raise SPLOST funds to manage their own transportation as had always been done. Worse still, no one seemed to care that many communities outside Atlanta had already done so.
Just as much as they lack principle, and indeed because of that very reason, Republicans also lack vision. “That’s never been tried,” is the first verse of the song. “That’ll never work,” is the second. “Let’s just do what we’ve always done,” is the concluding chorus.
They do not strive for capitalism or any ultimate ideal that in any way challenges the premises of the status quo. They accept that the state has the power to tax—they merely want to tax different things at different rates than the Democrats. They accept that the state should have regulatory powers—they merely want to regulate different things in different manners than the Democrats. They accept that the state doles out punishments and benefits—they merely have different beneficiaries in mind than the Democrats. Ultimately, they accept that the state has and deserves a central role in our economy—they only disagree as to how management should be carried out.
It is not until Republicans reject the altruist-collectivist premises underlying our present system that any substantial, lasting change can occur in American politics. Some Republicans have taken that leap. After all, the majority of dissenters to H.B. 170 were Republican. The rest, unfortunately, will not take a principled stand for free markets until voters either force them to do so or else remove them from office.
To that end, we at The Mendenhall have conducted some research for the benefit of Georgia voters. While supporting a tax increase is one thing, supporting a tax increase after promising to oppose all tax increases is entirely another. While many in Atlanta may say that that is “just politics,” most Georgians in my hometown of Evans call it “lying.” As such, we have compiled a list of Georgia legislators who voted for H.B. 170 despite having signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
For those unfamiliar with the Pledge, it simply reads: “I, ________, pledge to the taxpayers of the State of __________, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.” It is sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform and serves as a valuable campaign tool that candidates can use to gain support, as many legislators apparently did. To take the Pledge only to betray the trust it fostered is a particularly egregious offense, and so it is particularly worthy of public denunciation.
As such, I will conclude this editorial with a list of all Pledge-takers who nevertheless voted for the tax increase (not all of whom are Republicans). Contact information for all Georgia legislators can be found at the General Assembly’s website.
- Speaker David Ralston (District 7) (note: Ralston did not vote, as is traditionally the case with House Speakers, but he is a well-known proponent of the bill)
- Rep. Joyce Chandler (District 105)
- Rep. Brooks Coleman (District 97)
- Rep. Christian Coomer (District 14)
- Rep. Sharon Cooper (District 43)
- Rep. Katie Dempsey (District 13)
- Rep. Mark Hamilton (District 24)
- Rep. Penny Houston (District 170)
- Rep. Sheila Jones (District 53)
- Rep. Billy Mitchell (District 88)
- Rep. Larry O’Neal (District 146)
- Rep. Allan Peake (District 141)
- Rep. Tom Rice (District 95)
- Rep. Carl Rogers (District 29)
- Rep. Terry Rogers (District 10)
- Rep. Ed Rynders (District 152)
- Rep. Barbara Sims (District 123)
- Rep. Bruce Williamson (District 115)
- Sen. Judson Hill (District 32)
- Sen. Renee Unterman (District 45)
- Sen. Tommie Williams (District 19)