N.H. Republicans’ ‘big tent’ belongs in a circus

The Republican Party likes to describe itself as a “big tent.” The phrase was coined in 1989 by then-Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater in an attempt to make those supporting legalized abortion feel welcome in the Republican Party. The theory was that Republicans could and should agree to disagree on abortion.

But the state Republican Party takes the big tent concept to a such an extreme that it is more accurate to describe it as a circus tent. Certainly, a political party cannot require all of its members to hold the same position on all issues and remain a viable party. As Ronald Reagan said, someone who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is your ally.

On the other hand, a party that has substantial disagreements on virtually all of the principal issues of the day is not viable either. Because a party that stands for both sides of an issue stands for nothing. And judging by recent votes in the House and Senate that is the current condition of the state Republican Party.

Let’s start with the so-called values issues. House Republicans split 130 for to 85 against on a bill making it a separate offense to injure or kill an unborn child. Those voting for the bill were joined by only eight Democrats, while those voting against were joined by 127 Democrats. House Republicans split 117 for to 99 against on a constitutional amendment that would have clarified that vouchers could be used at religious schools. Only six Democrats supported the amendment, while 126 opposed it.

Even on fiscal issues, House Republicans are very much a house divided. They split 72 for to 126 against on a constitutional amendment that would have limited increases in the state budget to the rate of inflation and population growth. No Democrats voted for the amendment, while 125 voted against it. House Republicans split 101 for to 98 against on a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited an income tax. Only two Democrats voted for this amendment, while 122 opposed it.

As nothing points to these votes being anomalies, they suggest that, on average, 100 Republicans, or 40 percent of all House Republicans, usually vote with the Democrats. On average, only about 94 Republicans usually vote for what would be considered Republican positions.

Votes taken in the Senate suggest that there is a significant rift between Republicans in that body as well.

For example, Republicans split 8-8 on a measure that would have set a minimum age of 18 to obtain the “morning after pill” without a prescription, while all eight Democrats opposed the measure. And nine Republicans joined the Democrats to pass Senate Bill 125, which imposes greater regulation on the health insurance industry.

So what’s a New Hampshire Republican who is not a Democrat in drag to do? Well, according to Rep. Robert Giuda — whose voting record makes clear he is no political cross-dresser — the first step is replacing Speaker Doug Scamman.

But Giuda’s choice for a replacement, Rep. Mike Whalley, voted with the Democrats on every vote described above. Indeed, the New Hampshire House Republican Alliance, an association of House Republicans on the losing side of these votes, reports that even before these votes Whalley only voted the Republican position 60 percent of the time. Which suggests that making Whalley speaker would have the same effect as shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The empirical evidence suggests that a substantial number of Republican state representatives and state senators vote with the Democrats most of the time. The hard questions that Republicans who don’t agree with these votes need to ask themselves are these: Does continuing to affiliate with Republicans who vote like Democrats help promote a culture of life, give parents more control over their children’s education, permanently get rid of an income tax and advance other principles that Republicans are supposed to believe in? Rather than reshuffling the deck chairs, perhaps the time has come to board a new ship.

Ed Mosca is a Manchester attorney and former chairman of that city’s Republican Party.

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