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Robb: Fiscal conservatives need unity

More than 3,000 taxpayers expressed their feelings during Tucson's Tax Tea Party April 15 at El Presidio Park.

More than 3,000 taxpayers expressed their feelings during Tucson's Tax Tea Party April 15 at El Presidio Park.

From the political notebook: Ordinarily, protest politics aren’t my cup of tea.

Protest rallies aren’t places where reasoned arguments get made. And they aren’t really an indication of public sentiment.

When the pro-immigration forces were staging marches around the country, one of the largest occurred in Phoenix.

Yet Arizonans have voted in overwhelming numbers for every ballot measure attempting to make life uncomfortable for illegal immigrants that has been put before them.

Nevertheless, the tea parties that were held around the country April 15 may be the start of something significant.

Fiscal conservatism remains a strongly held sentiment within the body politic.

Fiscal conservatives want lower taxes, smaller government and freer markets. They worry about public debt as representing a tax burden for the future.

Fiscal conservatives also tend to have a strong streak of individualism, philosophically and as a personal trait. So, they are difficult to organize politically.

As a result, their views tend to get under-represented.

Although fiscal conservatives supply a large share of the votes for the Republican Party, it has been taken over by social conservatives, who are more prone to organizing and collective action.

Now, there is a large overlap between fiscal and social conservatives. Many people are both. But one strand tends to be more important to most dual conservatives.

And the extent to which social conservatives have become the dominant face of the Republican Party has alienated some social moderates who are fiscally conservative.

The representation of fiscal conservatism in Arizona has improved markedly as of late.

The Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a local version of the national Club for Growth, was formed.

An Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity took over the less organized Arizona Federation of Taxpayers.

Both groups have young, energetic and capable staff leadership in Steve Voeller and Tom Jenney, respectively.

Jenney’s group was one of the key organizers of the tea parties here in Arizona and estimates that a total of 20,000 people showed up.

But, typical of the “don’t tread on me, don’t put my name on any list” nature of the constituency, their names and contact information wasn’t fully captured. Contact information on only about a tenth of the attendees was acquired.

Fiscal conservatives nationwide are fired up over bailouts, stimulus spending and deficits. In Arizona, they are somewhat riled over Gov. Jan Brewer’s tax hike proposal.

The question is whether they can get organized enough to make a difference. The tea parties are an interesting start.

Simcox’s challenge

The announcement that Minuteman founder Chris Simcox will challenge John McCain in the 2010 Republican primary would ordinarily presage a lively, and potentially difficult, race.

Immigration will obviously be the big issue. Republican primary voters are overwhelmingly in favor of more restrictionist policies. And Congress may take on immigration reform before the next election, giving the issue even greater salience.

There is, however, a mixed record on the extent to which immigration moves the choices of even Republican primary voters in candidate races.

An immigration restrictionist, Randy Graf, won an open congressional primary in Tucson in the 2006 election. But an immigration challenge to Jeff Flake fell considerably short in 2004.

My guess is that Barack Obama will prove to be a great Republican unifier in 2010. His proposals to expand the federal government have stunned Republicans and reminded them of what they agree on.

McCain is likely to have a pretty high profile in fighting the Obama administration on a number of fronts. And on the issue of government spending, there’s not been a more aggressive hawk.

If immigration reform does move in Congress, McCain will be in a tough spot.

But, paradoxically, I think Obama will make Republican primary voters highly reluctant to trade a proven fighter for a neophyte of unknown political moxie over immigration.

Robert Robb, an Arizona Republic columnist, writes about public policy and politics in Arizona. E-mail: robert.robb@arizonarepublic.com

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