Opinion: Carolina Beat

No. 805: RINOS and Fishing in the N.C. House

One of my fondest memories is that of fishing for bass with my grandfather. You see, bass are finicky. They like different types of baits at different times of day and all of this, of course, depends on weather and water conditions. My grandfather used to say, all other things aside, “Fish bite when they’re hungry.”

The analogy works in politics as well. Over the past two years I’ve heard countless lamentations about the Republicans in the N.C. House. The chief complaint is that due to the current schism there is no conservative cohesion in the House. Throw out all of the other complaints and personal attacks and we’re left with this single looming issue.

Many take it a step further and say that the House Republicans are mostly RINOs (a wonderful expression meaning Republicans In Name Only). This statement divides the Republican House pretty evenly between those who enjoy having nice offices and stand for very little and those who normally stand on principle and thus are relegated to the back row and are often called “radicals” by the RINOs.

The House Democrats, on the other hand, seem to be having a jovial time sipping tea, basking in the afterglow of a warm November takeover of the majority and the comfort of watching the deadly battle with the arena of Republican politics since the 60-60 split of the House in 2002.

Now, you may ask, “What does all this have to do with bass fishing?” That all depends on your perspective. If you’re a Democrat, fishing is pretty good. Voters still seem to be going after the bait you’re using and the weather seems to be favorable. You wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, you can probably put your feet up on the railing and it’s almost like they’re jumping in the boat. Even though the state has suffered two years with a bloated budget that fails to balance, $1 billion deficits year after year, looting of countless trust funds, there has been no public outcry. In spite of the weather and the bait, the fish are still biting. My grandfather would say, “sometimes fish just bite for no reason.”

The Republicans, however, have some pretty murky water in their pond and the sheer variety of bait is confusing. The RINOs (with the Democrats) passed two budgets that each increased government spending by more than $1 billion and the conservatives have fought it to no avail. Gov. Mike Easley even called the General Assembly into a special session in November and told them to pass a Dell incentives package costing North Carolina more than $240 million without a single change. The RINOs (by and large) without hesitation agreed. The conservatives (most of them) voted against it.

So, if you’re a Republican in the House who falls into that RINO category, what do you stand for? It can’t be traditional Republican fare of lower taxes, fiscal restraint, and smaller government because your voting record is in stark contrast. And yet the conservatives in the House haven’t been able to get any traction either with just that message. Again, the conservatives in the House might be using the right bait, but must be fishing in the murky end of the pond where the fish don’t see it.

If Republicans can get together on what they cohesively stand for, at least the water would clear up a bit. Once the GOP gets beyond personalities then the boat can be paddled into better fishing territory. The GOP can begin to understand what the weather is like, see it the same way, and use the right bait at the right time. Then the fish realize they have a choice. They can keep swallowing what they’re used to (unrestrained governmental growth) or go after bait that might be more palatable (cohesive fiscally responsible policy).

So the choice is clear. When looking at a large pond, my grandfather had an instinct for figuring out which spots would give us the best option for success. The GOP would be wise to follow that lead. Once they get into clear water with the right bait, the House Republicans might just find themselves in a position where they won’t have to make up their accomplishments, but have the fish in the boat to back it up.

Chad Adams is director of the Center for Local Innovation.