| February 7, 2012

What would Reagan do?

Many thanks to everyone who came to our “What Would Reagan Do?” event at the state capitol today, and who posted your ideas on our Reagan Wall. Several of us here at OCPA have been thinking about this too, and have come up with several ideas of our own:

Phase out the state income tax over 10 years and replace it with nothing. That’s a proven formula for sparking economic growth and job creation, along the lines that Reagan pushed in 1981. His courage and vision took America from Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” to “morning in America” in 1984.

Reagan not only cut taxes, he made them simpler and less confusing. He never had a likeminded Congress to work with, but Mary Fallin does have a likeminded legislature. Now is the time for elimination of government giveaways and favors—and for sharply lower taxes for all.

Reagan believed government is “the problem, not the solution.” Oklahoma’s bipartisan spending spree is unacceptable, and even a “flat budget” is scarcely a sign of budget discipline when state spending is at an all-time high. How about a smaller government that provides fewer services?

Everyone knows that “personnel is policy,” so why is a liberal running the state agency most responsible for Oklahoma’s recent spending spree? Reagan fired liberals, hired conservatives, and credentialed a generation of young conservatives. He was a happy warrior, but he didn’t appoint his political opponents to important jobs in government. He and Tip O’Neill used to have a drink, but he didn’t put Tip in charge of anything important. Oklahoma needs executive-branch reform which will empower the governor to govern.

Take a no-nonsense approach to dealing with government employee unions. No more teacher walkouts—not every 10 or 20 years, not ever. No more COLA demands, and no more unfunded mandates. No more requirements that local governments bargain with any group that threatens to strike. Anybody remember the air traffic controllers? Reagan fired them all.

Personally, President Reagan was a very nice man. And yet, Reagan’s OPM director, Don Devine, reduced employment by more than 100,000 positions, earning him the exquisite appellations “Reagan’s Terrible Swift Sword of the Civil Service” and “the Rasputin of the Reduction-in-Force.” Mary Fallin is a very nice woman. Is it time for an Oklahoma version of Don Devine in a state that is top-heavy with bureaucratic overhead? At the very least, how about no new employees (net) at all, anywhere in Oklahoma government, for five years?

Reagan focused on a few key issues relentlessly, including the selection, appointment, and confirmation of judges who believed in judging, not social engineering. The result was the most dramatic shift in federal jurisprudence in the 20th century. Is it time for the same in Oklahoma?

Reagan was tough on crime, and also smart on crime. He pushed to take away judicial discretion to give wildly different sentences for similarly situated crimes, and promoted alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenses. It’s time for the same in Oklahoma. (Reagan’s attorney general, Ed Meese, is leading the “Right on Crime” charge, of which OCPA has been a part.)

Reagan said it was immoral to steal from our children and grandchildren to pay for the voracious appetite of government spenders. Do we still believe that? How have Oklahoma’s politicians managed to run up $10 billion in debt in a state with a constitutional prohibition on debt?

Reagan’s education reform report was called “A Nation at Risk.” How about “A State at Risk” to spotlight Oklahoma’s crisis? And how about calling boldly for more tax credits and vouchers (like Reagan did)?

Reagan supported a sub-minimum wage for young workers. He would stand up to the Obama administration’s drive to ban young workers on family farms.

Don’t worry, be happy. Veto when necessary. Reagan vetoed 78 bills, a couple of dozen of them touching appropriations or spending authorizations. He was overridden only nine times. He won some and he lost some, and didn’t lose sleep when he lost. George W. Bush vetoed 12 bills in eight years—the fewest number of vetoes of any modern president. Who do we remember as a president who stood strong?

Reagan did what he thought was best, and didn’t hold a grudge when he didn’t get his way. Be cheerful, and be conservative.

Reagan didn’t waste time on unnecessary fights; he fought over big ideas like tax cuts and reordering the relationship between citizens and their government.

Reagan raised private-sector money for worthy causes, while pressing churches and individuals to do their part to meet the needs of citizens. Gov. Fallin has also been good at this.

Reagan regularly (literally several times a year) went into “enemy territory” with an explicitly conservative message. He was, in that way, an evangelist. Limited government, personal responsibility, and economic liberty need more evangelists.

Reagan wanted to abolish the U.S. Department of Education, and return power to the states. He never had a conservative majority in Congress. With annual spending of more than $16 billion, are there three or four or 50 agencies or government functions that a conservative governor and conservative majorities in the House and Senate could end—this year?

Reagan was a forgiving and honorable man—who rewarded his friends and withheld government office from his opponents. It was nothing personal, just good government.

Facing the Evil Empire of communism, Reagan predicted Marxism would end up on the ash heap of history. He did not seek to accept the “reality” of the Berlin Wall—he demanded that it be torn down. How many Higher Education campuses does Oklahoma have where the graduation rate for students is less than 10 percent after four years—and under 25 percent after six years? Is this bad management of public resources a “reality” that should be tolerated?

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