Jindal, Hanaway call for GOP to focus more on its achievements and less on Democrats
If Republicans want to start winning statewide elections in Missouri and take back the White House, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal suggested that the GOP revamp its message and its target.
Jindal, widely seen as a possible future presidential hopeful, said the Republican Party needs to ditch its current image as “the party of austerity" and frame itself instead as “the party of growth.”
“We seem to have an obsession with government bookkeeping," Jindal said.
The governor went on to explain that while he agreed with budget-cutting – he has trimmed 26 percent from Louisiana’s state budget – he thought Republicans were talking too much about government spending and not enough about private-sector job creation.
Most voters, he contended, are turned off by all the focus on "number crunching."
"As conservatives, we are falling into the sideshow trap," Jindal told more than 300 Missouri Republicans attending Saturday night's closing banquet for the state party’s annual Lincoln Day festivities this weekend in downtown St. Louis.
"As Republicans, we’ve got to be the aspiration party," said Jindal, who recently took over as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. ”Balancing our government's books ... should not be our primary objective."
The way to frame the GOP’s argument for financial change, he argued, was to declare that “if Washington’s debt is going forward, America’s economy is going backward.”
Above all, Jindal cautioned against "navel-gazing" about past defeats.
His audience appeared to welcome his message, as Missouri Republicans seek to rebound from a disappointing 2012. Although the GOP holds huge majorities in the state House and Senate, its candidates lost four of the five statewide posts on November ballots.
The mood throughout the weekend was a mix of frustration and excitement, as party activists hope for better showings -- especially in 2016, when most of the statewide offices will once again be up for grabs.
Hanaway considering 2016 bid
Some prominent Republicans are already preparing to jump into the candidate pool.
Former state House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, a Republican from St. Louis County, said in an interview Saturday that she is "seriously exploring" a bid for attorney general or governor in 2016.
“I am spending 2013 traveling the state" and talking to Republican donors to gauge their interest and support, said Hanaway. She was the first – and, to date, only – female speaker of the Missouri House, serving in 2003-04.
In late 2004, she lost a close race for secretary of state to Democrat Robin Carnahan. Soon after, Hanaway was chosen by then-President George W. Bush to serve as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. In 2009, she left that position to join the law firm created by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, also a former Missouri governor and U.S. senator.
Missouri has never elected a female governor or attorney general. Then-state Auditor Claire McCaskill came close to becoming the state's first female governor in 2004, when she lost narrowly to Republican Matt Blunt.
As the featured speaker at Saturday's Lincoln Days luncheon, Hanaway said that her message -- by coincidence -- meshed with Jindal's remarks a few hours later.
"I don't believe we need to re-examine our core values. I think that those are winning principles," Hanaway said, as she summarized her address. "We really need to look at tactics. And chief among those tactics is how we communicate who we are."
"Those in the Democratic Party have tried to characterize us as rich, anti-woman and exclusive," she said. But rather than refute that portrayal directly, Hanaway asserted that Republicans should instead illustrate by example that its values are "really for everybody."
"If we were to focus on one value, it would be freedom because I think it's the foundation of everything," she said.
The two-day gathering of Republicans at the Renaissance Grand Hotel in downtown St. Louis is the state GOP’s biggest social gathering of the year, offering an opportunity for party rank-and-file activists and operatives to connect with the party’s top leaders and elected officials.
This year's chief overseer -- Kurt Witzel, a Republican committeeman in south St. Louis County -- said this gathering was the largest Lincoln Day showing in St. Louis in 12 years, with more than 600 registering to attend the weekend festivities. The event rotatess among the state's three largest cities, with Springfield slated to be the 2014 host.
Attacks on Medicaid, Nixon and Koster
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder joined in the revelry by hosting his annual afternoon ice cream social, this year with the assistance of House Speaker Tim Jones.
Kinder lost a bid earlier this month to win a nomination to Congress in the 8th District, where veteran Republican Jo Ann Emerson recently resigned. Kinder was among a crowd of GOP contenders who lost to state Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem.
Kinder, from Cape Girardeau, said he planned to help Smith win the June 4 special election. Smith will face Democrat Steve Hodges, also a state legislator. Kinder added that his focus now was on "being a watchdog" monitoring Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat and favorite GOP target throughout the Lincoln Days weekend.
Kinder said he is assisting with a new website critical of Nixon, which is aimed at inviting Missourians "to report what they see as waste in state government."
Jones also offered a few pointed jabs at the governor at the Saturday afternoon forum and in remarks at the banquet after Jindal spoke.
At the forum, Jones contended that Nixon "changed his tune dramatically" since his re-election, by now publicly embracing the Medicaid expansion proposed in the federal Affordable Care Act and sought by the Missouri Hospital Association, among others.
The governor was "incredibly silent" on the matter before Nov. 6, Jones said.
Jones reaffirmed his opposition to the Medicaid expansion, casting doubt on the federal promise to fund the expansion for three years and asserting that the state's contribution will be far more expensive than the 10 percent share stipulated by 2020.
Jones contended that the expansion would add "300,000-400,000 able-bodied Missourians onto the Medicaid rolls."
He asserted that the 24,000 jobs that supporters claim would be created by the expansion would be "bureaucratic administrative jobs to basically manage and oversee a massive entitlement expansion."
"Those aren't the kind of jobs that are going to put Missourians back to work and improve and expand our economy," Jones added.
Jones also lobbed several verbal shots at Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat (and former Republican until 2007) who is widely expected to run for governor in 2016. Jones contended that Koster has been "quiet as a church mouse" on various major issues, including Medicaid expansion.
Jones was among several speakers Saturday who declared that Koster must be defeated in 2016.
Pledges to eliminate income tax, pass 'right to work'
At the Saturday afternoon public forum, Jones and other legislative leaders reaffirmed their plans to push for legislation, dubbed "right to work," that would curb union rights. State Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin and the majority floor leader, said debate will begin within days on a bill to bar payroll deduction of union dues.
Richard and Jones ignited applause as each said such measures would make Missouri more attractive to businesses. (Republicans also dislike unions because many are seen as allies of the Democratic Party.)
"Right to work" would bar closed-union shops, in which all workers pay dues if a majority vote to join a union. Kinder predicted that, through legislative action, "within five years, Missouri will be a right-to-work state, and it could happen within the next year."
The 90-minute session focused on proposals to reduce or eliminate corporate income taxes. David Stokes, an economist with the conservative Show Me Institute, told the crowd that the corporate tax cuts could be paid for by curbing or eliminating Missouri's tax credit programs, which he noted are costing the state more than $600 million a year -- more than what the corporate income tax brings in.
Kinder contended that Missouri's economic future could well depend on whether it can follow the lead in Kansas and other states, including Florida and Louisiana, where governors -- including Jindal -- are phasing out their income taxes.
Talent calls for GOP to 'hold the line'
Amid all the speeches from candidates and officeholders, former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., offered arguably the most cerebral and emotional appeal for Republicans to stick with their fiscal approach -- and their identity.
As he accepted the state GOP's lifetime achievement award at Saturday's closing banquet, Talent contended that the nation's future was at stake.
"We have to ask ourselves as a party, 'Who do we want to be?' " asked Talent, saying he was concerned that any Republican softening on key issues could doom the country.
"I believe the success of this party, in the long run, means the success of this country," he said.
Talent, a national expert on national security issues, had been an adviser to unsuccessful GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. Talent most recently has been named to an independent panel reviewing the Department of Defense.
Talent said in an interview that he strongly opposes the automatic spending cuts mandated by "sequestration" within a few weeks, unless an alternative deal is cut between Congress and the White House. That said, he also believes overall cuts in federal spending must be made.
Talent sparked a standing ovation at Saturday night's banquet when he told the story of a key battle in World War I, when the Germans made a dramatic military turnaround in May 1918. With French troops fleeing and shouting defeat, Talent said that a group of 8,000 U.S. Marines rushed in and -- despite huge losses -- blocked the advance by a much larger German force.
Republicans disheartened by the November losses, "can say 'it's all over,' or we can be like the Marines," Talent said. "We can march to the front and we can hold the line."