Me and Ted

Ted Stevens was not much of a politician.  He tried running for the Senate in ’68, and couldn’t even get nominated.  He was a humorless asshole, which generally doesn’t translate into political success.  But a vacancy occurred, he got appointed, and took full advantage of his incumbency.  He was thoroughly corrupt.  In every way.

His personal secretary had been very active in Republican Party politics for years, and when we took over District Nine in ’76, for Reagan, she wanted to be a delegate to the State Convention.  Stevens was leading Ford’s campaign, so there was no way I was going to give her a vote.  I made her fifth alternate, and she was really pissed off.  I’m sure Ted heard all about it.  I’d been in the state two years, and I made a life long enemy of a very powerful politician.

Ted Stevens and I were polar opposites.  He was a small and insecure man, and a real lawyer.  That’s not a compliment.  He liked playing the tough guy, though.  He used to wear an Incredible Hulk tie to show what a bad ass he was.  When I met him we took an instant dislike of each other.  He was used to people kissing his ring, and he didn’t like my attitude.

I wanted to take Ted Stevens out, but I could never find a way.  Nobody really liked him, he was a jerk.  But he was a money machine for the State of Alaska.  He brought billions a year back to a state that was quite poor, before Prudhoe.  Politically, it made him bullet proof.

He justified his corruption because he thought of himself as a Great White Father to Alaska’s Natives. He probably actually did care for the Natives, I guess I’ll give him that.  He tried to give them anything they wanted.  What they wanted, more than anything, practically, was a special preference for hunting and fishing rights.  They called it subsistence, and it was a huge political issue.  A whole lot of non-Natives in Alaska like to hunt and fish.  It’s the reason a lot of them live there.  And they didn’t want to be second class citizens, which is exactly what the Natives wanted them to be.  Stevens got the state legislature to pass a subsistence law, but the Alaska Supreme Court threw it out.  It was clearly discriminatory.  So Stevens wanted to pass a constitutional amendment granting special preferential rights to Alaska Natives.  It didn’t get anywhere at first, but he wouldn’t give up.  He kept trying, getting the oil industry behind him, and everybody else he could muscle.  Finally, after several years, he managed to get a 2/3 vote in the State Senate, and it came to the House, where I was Minority Leader.

I was amazed at some of the Senators he’d bullied into voting for it.  One guy, in particular, Tim Kelly from Eagle River.  It was the end of elective office for Tim, and he knew it.  That vote cost him his career in politics, but he was now a ward of Ted Stevens, and would be taken care of.  Stevens had enough power to do that.

I had 16 of 40 votes in the House.  They needed to get three of my people.  We beat them in regular session, so Governor Cowper, a Democrat, called us back to Juneau in midsummer.  Very inconvenient for everyone, but that was the point.  I was vacationing in Santa Barbara with my family, and had to fly to Juneau from California.  We were solid.  We held out, all 16 of us.  It was all a waste of time.  After the vote Speaker Sam Cotten called me up to the podium, and told me the Governor wanted to talk to me.  I asked Sam, “Why would I want to talk to him?”, and it was all over.  We left Juneau the next day.

Stevens finally got taken out by some overzealous and unscrupulous attorneys in the Justice Department.  A lot of people are under the impression that Stevens wasn’t corrupt after all.  Wrong.  Dead wrong.

After his conviction he lost his Senate seat to Mark Begich, a small time Democrat.  Embarrassing.  And appropriate.  I never saw him after that loss.  I really didn’t like this guy. I kind of wish I’d seen him one more time.  I’d have given him a real big smile.

Lisa Murkowski is Ted’s political heir, and the titular head of what’s left of his political machine.  Alaska should be embarrassed by having an airhead like her representing it in the Senate.  David Cuddy ran against Stevens back in ’96.  He was going to announce his candidacy on my radio talk show.  Stevens found out about it and threatened the station owner with the loss of his broadcast license.  A couple years later he asked the publisher of the Anchorage Daily News to stop running my biweekly opinion column.  Stevens had no answers to my criticism, so he tried to shut me up.

I feel as though I have an unpaid debt in Alaska.  It’ll be fun to go back, and try to get some payback.

Saturday in Savannah

Biddulph has been trying to organize a meeting for May 16th, right after the ALEC executive board meeting in Savannah.  He tells me this morning that he’s succeeded in getting Ohio Senate President Keith Faber to moderate, along with me, a session on what can go into a BBA.  Faber’s important.  He’s part of Kasich’s inner circle, and a very bright guy.  And a guy that wants, very badly, to save the coal industry.  He’ll be one of the leaders of the Amendment Convention.  He has shown that he will do all he can to help us in the states we still need.

Ever since I came up with the Reagan Initiative I’ve been waiting for someone to tell me why it can’t, or won’t, work.  Nothing yet.  If Faber can’t come up with some objection, maybe there isn’t one.

Dave is also working, with Mike Bowman of ALEC, at getting an oil and gas guy at the Thursday meeting.  They’ve got a private room set up, which is good.  I’d rather not have people siting at a bar overhear our conversation.

I have an idea.  I think Peabody should see if it can find a whistleblower inside the EPA.  I think there’s an active, ongoing conspiracy between the EPA and the major environmental organizations, in cahoots with the White House.  The mission: kill the coal industry.  They’re fanatics, and given to fanatical language.  One of them got caught with an open mike last year and was forced to resign.  Maybe some sane person was hired during the Bush administration, and they’re still there.  I bet they’d have stories to tell.

You never know what you’re going to find unless you look.

When it’s springtime in Alaska, it’s 40 below

Look at a map of the lower 48.  Look at the area encompassed by Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.  That’s how much federal land there is in Alaska.  68% of the state.  And that doesn’t include the 200 mile economic zone off Alaska’s coast.  There is wealth on and under that land, enormous wealth, known wealth.  It sits undeveloped, because the federal government is under the control of environmental zealots.

There was a time when Alaskans were careless about the environment.  But that was long ago.  Alaskans live in a harsh part of the world.  The weather up there can be brutal.  But the beauty of the land, and the waters, are a compensation.  Alaskans, today, will not allow their state to be despoiled.  The Pebble Mine is the largest and most valuable mineral deposit in North America.  But because it sits at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, it won’t be developed.  The fish, and the land, are too important to risk.

When my friend David Cuddy ran against Ted Stevens in 2008 he asked me to come back to Alaska and run his campaign.  I was tempted.  David and I are virtually identical in our politics, and I despised Stevens, who ran a corrupt political machine, one that defeated me in my desire to become a United States Senator.  A federal prosecution was underway, and David knew Stevens was guilty.  He tried convincing people that Stevens was on his way out, and that it would be best to replace him with a Republican.  But they didn’t listen, and Stevens won the nomination, only to be convicted shortly before the general election.  Even as a felon convicted of corruption he still almost won.  Begich barely beat him.

Lisa Murkowski is up next year, and we need a good conservative to beat her in the primary.  She’s a protégé not so much of her father, who appointed her, but of Ted Stevens.  He orchestrated the whole thing.  She’s entirely unsuited to be a Senator.  She hides her empty headed liberalism just enough to get by in a conservative state like Alaska.  But she’s a phony.  So I’m going up to Alaska next week to talk to David and some of his closest political advisers.  He’s not sure if he wants to make another run, but somebody has to.  We’ll figure it out.

While I’m there I should get a chance to talk to Senate President Kevin Meyer, who I’ve already briefed on the Reagan Initiative.  And I’ll have time to drive down to the Kenai to meet Speaker Mike Chenault.  He got in to the legislature the year before I left the state, so I don’t know him personally.  But I know some of his closest political allies, and I have no doubt we’ll get along just fine.  He’ll be at the Seattle Summit for sure.  I can’t wait to see his eyes light up when I tell him about the Reagan Initiative.

Politically, the enhanced, or supply side, BBA is a trifecta  — three winners.  Balance the budget, and do it by transferring federal lands to the states, and reforming regulation.  Most especially in Alaska, that’s the ticket to victory, politically.  I don’t want credit for it.  I’m never running for office again, so it doesn’t do me any good.  I want people I like getting credit, people who can win elections with that credit.  I’ll figure it out.

I want to raise money in Alaska.  That’s how I can justify this trip.  No state will benefit more from the Reagan Initiative than Alaska.  Since statehood in ’59, Alaska has been reliant on the federal government.  When it gets its land, it will, at last, be free.  Oh, and rich, too.  I’ve never been any good at raising money, but I’ve never had a product like this to sell.  Here’s hoping.

When I got to Juneau in 1983 the spigot had just been turned on, and the money was pouring in.  The State of Alaska spends a ton of money, and they don’t need an income tax or a sales tax.  They’ve got oil.  But now, 32 years after I showed up, the oil is running out.  Half their operating budget is coming from reserves this year.  They can only keep this up for another couple years, and the reserves will be gone.  Bummer.

Enter, like the 7th Cavalry, the Reagan Initiative.  It’s like magic.  I expect a warm welcome in Alaska.

When I got to Juneau they had so much money they didn’t know what to do with it all.  So they divvied it up.  Every majority legislator would get a cut.  Senators got $40 million, House members $20 million.  You could spend it on any damn thing you liked.  And it was yours, forever.  If you funded a project that wasn’t built, you got the money back, to spend a second time. One project didn’t get built, and the legislator who funded it had died.  They fought over that money like a pack of wild dogs.

Boy, do I have stories.

What’s the point?

Congress doesn’t pay any attention to the Constitution, so what good is amending it?

Fair question.  If the Constitution is amended to require a balanced budget, what happens if Congress refuses to do it?  Do we expect the courts to write a balanced budget for them?  How can this amendment be enforced?

We can put Congress on probation.  Five years worth.  The Balanced Budget Amendment could contain a temporary enforcement mechanism.  A temporary Federal Budget Commission could be created, constitutionally.  It would consist of representatives from every state.  It would have the power to repeal any budget, tax, or other Congressional enactment which it believes is in violation of the BBA.  No court would have jurisdiction to review its actions.  If, in practice, the Commission proves necessary, the states, through another Article V Convention, could extend its life beyond five years.  The members of the Commission would not be required to meet.  Voting, and deliberations, can be done remotely.

The Framers vested virtually unlimited power in the states under Article V.  Much discussion of the dangers involved in that grant of power takes place.  Little talk of the potential to do great things.  If the Federal Budget Commission, and the Federal Land Commission, prove successful, they will lay the groundwork for future expressions of the power of Article V.  The state legislatures will have flexed their muscles, and there’s plenty of work to do.  If 30 state legislatures had the power to veto any federal law, it would mark a dramatic turning point in our constitutional history.  Likewise, Supreme Court decisions could be overturned by a supermajority of state legislatures.

This may sound radical.  It’s actually just a restoration of the role of the states in our system.  When the states met in Philadelphia and proposed the Constitution, and when they ratified it, they did not surrender their sovereignty to the federal government.  With Article V, they reserved sovereignty to themselves.  The time has come to exercise it.  They created the federal government.  It’s high time they controlled it.

Fear is all that’s holding us back.  Fear of each other.  Fear of ourselves.  It’s understandable.  An electorate that is capable of electing, and reelecting, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama cannot be trusted.  But we aren’t putting our trust in that electorate.  We’re entrusting the legislative leadership of the 50 states.  Today, in 2015, that trust is well placed.  As I’ve met legislative leaders around the country I know this from personal experience.  They’re good people, smart and patriotic.  Fully capable of discharging the duty given them by Article V.  They just need organization.  That’s what the Seattle Summit is all about.

I’m a boomer, born in 1945.  Bill Clinton is of my generation, I’m ashamed to say.  We’ve cocked things up pretty badly.  It’s time we put things right.  We can redeem ourselves.

If we act.

A few donations have trickled in.  It’s encouraging.  There’s lots to do.


That’s what politicians do.  It’s how things get done.  Nobody gets a whole loaf.  There’s got to be something in it for everybody.  Putting together a compromise is building a majority, or, in the case of Article V, a bipartisan supermajority.

The Internal Revenue Service is, deservedly, roundly despised by most Americans.  It’s almost like a rogue agency.  The Internal Revenue Code is a national disgrace, and our greatest obstacle to the economic growth we need.  As society we’re aging, and old people need to be taken care of.  Most of them haven’t saved very much.   To get the revenue necessary to take care of them we need a booming economy.  What’s to be done?  Replace the Code with another source of revenue to the federal government.  Is bipartisan agreement possible on a replacement?  Not in Washington.  Washington is broken.  Congress, as an institution, is dysfunctional.

Enter Article V.  If there were a second Amendment Convention, the delegates from the 50 states could hammer out a compromise.  I don’t know what would be in it.  There will be a lot of competing proposals  —  flat tax, fair tax, consumption tax, another Simpson-Bowles, you name it.  I have a few ideas myself, which I would want to argue for.  But going in, there’s no preordained template.  The charge to the Convention, contained in the call, is to reform the federal tax system.   Delegations from 26 states would have to agree on something.  You have to get some Democrats to go along.  This can’t be partisan.  Democratic Governor Jerry Brown of California, when he ran for President the second time, in 1992, endorsed a flat tax.  So you can get some Democrats to sign on.  Whatever the product is, it would have to be preferable, to the voters of 38 states, to what we have now.  This can be done.  I’ve gotten to know a fair number of legislative leaders from all around the country.  These are very capable, and patriotic, men and women.  They’re politicians.  They know how to compromise.

Art Laffer, Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore have formed the Committee to Unleash Prosperity.  I’m going to suggest to them that they start promoting the use of Article V in their cause.  Resolved, that an Amendment Convention be called for the sole and exclusive purpose of proposing an Amendment to reform the tax system.  It’s that simple.  Starting next year, have such Resolutions introduced into as many state legislatures as possible.  When the BBA gets to 34, and Congress aggregates them and sets the time and place for the Convention, simultaneously the Tax Reform Amendment Resolutions can be progressing through legislatures around the country.  The veterans of the BBA campaign can lead the charge.

But this has got to be bipartisan.  Otherwise it’s not going to work.  You don’t make fundamental changes in something as important as the tax system on a partisan basis.  Not in this country.  A compromise is possible.  I never much cared for Simpson-Bowles, but it did attract the support of Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and  — a real shocker  —  Dick Durbin of Illinois.  Politics makes strange bedfellows.

Senate Minority Leader Ev Dirksen of Illinois was a great proponent of compromise.  I was in the Cow Palace in 1964 when he nominated Barry Goldwater for President.   Ev was an orator, and he gave a wonderful speech.  Goldwater was the grandson of an itinerant Jewish merchant who came to Arizona in the nineteenth century.  Ev called his speech, “The Peddler’s Grandson.”

Goldwater knew he wasn’t going to win.  William F. Buckley and others recruited him or the purpose of taking the Republican Party away from the East Coast liberals, like Nelson Rockefeller.  Sound familiar?  Jeb Bush is the new Rockefeller.  We don’t know who our Goldwater is, or our Reagan.  But it’s the same fight.

Barry might have been able to run simultaneously for the Presidency and reelection to the Senate, as Rand Paul is doing.  He chose to give up his Senate seat.   Marco Rubio is following his example.  Barry liked being a Senator.  He was very popular in Arizona, and he liked to fly his plane all over the state.  He had a sweet deal.  He gave it up for the cause.

Ev Dirksen described himself as a man of principle, and one of his main principles was compromise.

Words to the wise.