State GOP should be Committed to Openness

March 23, 2009 9:16PM

By Justin Owen Shaka Mitchell offers some advice to Tennessee Republicans, who recently found themselves in control of the state legislature for the first time in modern history. This article originally appeared in the Tennessean. After playing second fiddle in Tennessee politics since the time Queen Victoria ruled England, the state Republican Party made history on Election Day by gaining a majority of seats in the House and increasing its majority in the Senate. The coming weeks and months present the newly minted GOP majority with exciting opportunities to lay bitter, partisan politics aside and work to create an open, accountable government committed to encouraging individuals to pursue the American dream. But will they? Urban philosopher, that is, rapper “T.I.” has a hit single titled Whatever you like. Newfound wealth causes T.I. to shower his girlfriends and associates with gifts. This song resonates in the halls of the state Capitol, since some Republicans are already salivating at the prospect of using their new power to raid state coffers and reward campaign contributors and special interests with taxpayer-funded political bling. Many times during their time as Tennessee’s minority party, Republicans called for a more open and responsible government. That was before they could benefit from backroom deal-making. Republicans often condemned Democrats for abusing power. But were Republicans more principled, or did the GOP simply lack power to abuse in the first place? Republicans have the opportunity to make good on their claims of openness and responsibility. House and Senate Republicans should lead the way in making all government spending information easily accessible online to citizens. Republican leaders should put partisanship aside by resisting the temptation to pass excessive legislation and non-binding resolutions that do little more than annoy Democratic colleagues. Remember, Republicans, that just because you can name every bridge in the state after Ronald Reagan doesn’t mean you should. Similarly, squandering your political capital on abortion and illegal immigration resolutions that aren’t really state issues and have no chance of becoming law would be an irresponsible use of the powers entrusted to you by voters. All politicians would do well to remember that while the goal of campaigning is getting elected, the purpose of elected office itself is being a responsible steward of powers put in your care. Finally, the changeover in Tennessee is an indication voters just want to be left alone. It has been said that most bad government results from too much government. Republicans at the national level found that to be true when they strayed from their principles and quickly became the minority party. Republicans at the state level should not forget that lesson. Should our state’s Republicans begin to wander from the ideas of limited, transparent government, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research is here to hold their feet to the fire. Our criticism won’t be for the good of the GOP — it will be for the good of our state and its future. Shaka Mitchell is the executive vice president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.