Boyd Tenney; Jim Kolbe; Hal Runyan; Anne Lindeman; John Pritzlaff; Jack Taylor; Stan Turley; John Hays; Diane McCarthy; Burt Barr; Tony West; Jacque Steiner; Carl Kunasek; John Mawhinney; Joe Lane; Bill English; Jim Skelly; Leo Corbet; Greg Lunn; John Wettaw; Chris Herstam and Jane Hull.
I am a Democrat with a decidedly liberal leaning. Among other things, I believe in mandating a living wage, providing healthcare as a human right, upholding the dignity and equality of all people, aggressively combating climate change, setting national standards for making voting more accessible, and enacting a stronger voting rights bill.
From 1978 to 1984 I held two cabinet positions in the administration of Arizona’s Democratic governor, Bruce Babbitt. Arizona was not a liberal state, and for most of my tenure I dealt with large Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature. I was always honest about my liberal leanings but was a realist when it came to getting budgets and programs through the legislative process: Republicans held “thumbs-up thumbs-down” authority on everything my departments needed to fulfill our mandates.
The above names are of 23 Republicans who served in vital legislative leadership roles during my 6 years in office. While each of them held firmly to positions more conservative than mine, and a couple even doubted the efficacy of my programs, I had to find common ground with them while simultaneously staying faithful to my moral and ethical foundations. When I left government in 1984, I believe that a mutual respect had developed with each of them, a few became friends, and two came to work with me in my firm.
The point is that I did not have a built-in hostility toward Republicans. I have long believed that democracy is best served when well-thought out but different positions can be proposed and debated in an honest search for common ground. I had that relationship with each of the men and women listed. In some cases we never reached agreement, in some we succeeded. But we usually came out of the arena with mutual respect for one another. Our debates were about the substance of the proposals, not about each other’s character. We didn’t seek to win by degrading our opponent.
My, oh my! How the political world has changed. I have evolved to a point at which I have an inherent distrust and dislike for the Republican Party. It is no longer a party of conservative values as represented by my former Arizona colleagues, but has become a machine to promote the personal power of a few while destroying anyone who disagrees with the prevailing thoughts of those few.
Since 2009 Republicans have followed a scorched earth agenda. Lacking good ideas about shaping this emerging century, and without any deep convictions (other than enhancing their own personal power), the party devolved into a 24-hour attack machine focused on discrediting its opponents.
They reached an all-time low during the last four years when Republicans let their attack dogs loose on some of their own members, those who dared to speak ideas that ran counter to the all-powerful base or who suggested that the Republican president wasn’t God personified. The party is not an inclusive deliberating body, but a heavy foot on the neck of every Republican who runs for or holds office.
I believe they have deep contempt for the concept of common good. They are unable to participate in a substantive debate about important policy matters because they fear that they might say something to encourage a primary. Instead, they memorize talking points, test labels through focus groups, and twist words spoken by opponents into convoluted attack ads.
Some cases in point: There is no question that something needs to be done about the coming climate disaster. The Democrats have substantive proposals to confront the imminent crisis. But Democrats do not have all the good ideas, and some of what we propose might not be the best course to take. But the Republican counter proposal? They don’t engage the issue; rather, they attack the issuer as a socialist or a communist.
There is no question that there is a growing and serious problem of economic, social and educational inequality in America. The Democrats have proposed policies and programs to address the issue, such as enacting a minimum wage, increased child support, and an attack on hunger. But the Republican counter proposal? No suggestions, just the diatribe: “The Democrats are socialists bent on destroying our America.”
What about the clear and present danger of police brutalizing African Americans? Again, the Biden administration has put forth some ideas, such as developing national policing standards, an increased emphasis on training and rethinking how community policing should be focused. But the Republican response is “Democrats want to defund police.” The subject of defunding police was not part of the Democratic presidential platform, nor was it part of the party’s 2020 platform.
Then there is immigration. The Biden administration proposed an immigration bill that would open the path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people, and the president called for a comprehensive bill to refocus our immigration policy. The sole substance of the Republican response? “Amnesty!”
The point of these examples is not that the Democrats have the only answers to national issues, but that Republicans have no answers and are forced into a position of demagoguing their opponents rather that standing on firm policy ground. This is a tragedy for America, and a slap in the face of their Republican forbearers, forebearers like the 23 whose names I placed at the top of this post.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.