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September 09, 2005

Beauprez Unplugged

I had a chance to meet Bob Beauprez briefly in the runup to last year's elections, and to see him speak a few times as well. He's always struck me as an appealing figure, with a way of connecting to even large crowds, both feeding from and feeding their energy.

So when the RMA was invited to sit down and chat with him this morning, I was happy tp take the chance. Ben DeGrow was also able to make it, and between the two of us, perhaps we got a little better measure of where the campaign and the candidate stand at this point.

Right now, my overall impressions were of a very confident candidate, sure that he's the right man for both the office and the Republican party, with a good grasp of the basic issues and the politics involved. He understands why he's running, why he wants the job, why he thinks he can win. However, there's a point where the stump speech is going to have to be supplemented by specific policy proposals, even if nobody reads them. It may be too early in the campaign for that, lest they become a target and stale by inauguration time, but calls for substance eventually must be heeded.

Starting off with the politics, I asked Rep. Beauprez about his history as an executive, even though he's a legislator now. Specifically, I've been dismayed by the Republican inability to maintain a deep bench in the state. So, as the incumbent in one of the most competitive House districts in the country, what has he done about succession planning there?

He answered that he was well aware of the problem of succession planning in general, that he had taken great care to put the bank on such footing that it could survive his leaving it. And he was also well aware of the problems that the party was facing in the state on that score. In fact, that was a strong argument for his running, since he believed himself to be the strongest candidate in the state for governor, and that coattails would probably be essential to retaking the legislature, and protecting the Congressional delegation.

That is, while he might have been at risk in the 7th with a weak gubernatorial candidate, he believes he can help carry the seat top-down. In particular, he spoke highly of Rick O'Donnell, who now has four years of state experience and access to more money than he did when he lost to beauprez in 2002.

Cynics will point to his belief that he could well have lost the 7th, but will win the Governor's race as personal political survival, but I honestly think it's more of a happy confluence of interests. And with an executive background, it wouldn't surprise me that he'd be more comfortable as chief executive than as a legislator.

In response to Ben's question about what he brings to the race, and to the downticket candidates, the most interesting part of his answer concerned his legislative experience. Recent experience in Louisiana has shown the difference between a governor who uses his Washington connections efficiently, and state and local governments more interested in protecting their prerogatives. This affects not only disaster planning, but also Medicaid reform and illegal immigration.

Incidentally, Beauprez is one of the few sane Republicans I've seen who understands the potency of illegal immigration as an issue. I'll refer again to my sister in Georgia who almost never votes Republican, and almost never fails to bring it up as an issue.

On Ben's question about education, and specifically about First Class Education as a starting point, Beauprez hedged a little, but basically endorsed the idea, saying that he was "inclined" to support it. His only quibble was whether 65% was the right number, that is, how do we know it's not 62% or 70%?

To me, that's a perfectly reasonable way to object to issues where the government shouldn't be involved, as a way of pointing out the government's inability to micromanage. In this case, though, it seems like an objection that's better off dropped.

I do think Beauprez's got a grasp of the basic problems public education facing, and no rose-colored glasses on how we're doing. He proposes that parents need to get involved pre-K and pre-1, especially pre-3. He certainly understands that throwing cash at the problem won't make it go away. And he supports vouchers and choice as a means of letting teachers exercise their judgment, though one gets the sense that he's driven more by that outcome than by a voucher-ideology.

As for the one thing that could do the most good - increasing discipline in the classroom - the Rep. has no illusions about needing to fight that battle in the initiative process, since the ACLU and CEA keep winning court cases.

Interestingly, Beauprez sees the teachers as allies here rather than enemies, since they suffer almost as much as the kids. I think he may be understating the problem of an intractable CEA, hell-bent on opposing meaningful classroom reform, but given a couple of terms, and teachers willing to vote out union reps and union heads, who knows what can happen?

Not as a trick, but as a lead-in to the Big Question about Refs C&D, I asked about the cost side of higher education. Beauprez surmised without concluding that it had to do with a focus on research rather than teaching. I'd agree to some extent, but with two caveats. Economics tells us that if an industry doesn't get more efficient, its costs will rise as it becomes relatively less efficient. Since teaching now is more or less the same as it was 100 years ago, the costs are relatively higher. But I'd also strongly refer him to this article in the Wilson Quarterly.

Finally, C&D. He points out correctly that C&D raise $2 Billion for a stated $400 million problem, and that they don't actually solve anything. In fact, the problem is short-term liquidity, not long-term solvency or even income growth. So securitizing the tobacco settlement and leasing back some unused state property make sense to get past that.

As for the long-term issues, these short-term problems are only going to recur unless there's some systemic reform, which means rethinking all three parts of the Gallagher-Amendment 23-TABOR vise. Here's where there were no specifics. Beauprez's stated assets is his ability to run a primary race without alienating the opposition. Maybe after he's won the nomination, he can find a way to incorporate some of Holtzman's ideas into a general election platform.

On the whole, yes, I liked what I saw. It's still a long, race though; expect that whole style-vs.-substance thing to rear its head. Again.

Posted by joshuasharf at September 9, 2005 03:37 PM | TrackBack

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