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The SC Arts Commission Veto: Collision of Ideas

For conservative Republicans, the SC Arts Commission veto became the intersection where policy and politics collided. Though the veto was overridden by a large margin, many conservatives held their noses while voting to continue funding the commission.

The reluctance of conservatives to accept the value of the commission had nothing to do with valuing the arts. Contrary to the hype surrounding the veto, conservatives understand that community based arts enhance the quality of our lives.

Conservatives are wary of the SC Arts Commission – and other state agencies – because they understand the danger of the codependent funding relationship between the federal government and state agencies. This codependency was created by Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs of the 1960’s. He managed to put federal dollars into every facet of ordinary citizen’s lives – mostly by having federal dollars flow through state agencies. By allowing state legislatures to become dependent on federal dollars, Johnson weakened the constitutional balance of power between federal and state governments.

This shift in the balance of power has created the single largest impediment to solving our national debt crisis.

Reforming the funding relationship represents a major challenge to conservative Republicans. For years, the typical strategy for spending reform has been the “Just Say No” approach. While this strategy can be effective against new government spending, it does not work against existing spending.  

Time and again, this reform strategy has failed in South Carolina through the noblest of intentions. Gov. Mark Sanford used it to draw attention to issues that were never ultimately reformed. Gov. Nikki Haley used it in her SC Arts Commission veto. She argued that the agency was inefficient. She suggested that other agencies or educational institutions might facilitate the grants. She vetoed the commission’s funding so that it would shut down immediately. Her veto revealed a legitimate political issue but did not offer a policy-based solution.

When the SC Arts Commissions spends money, it creates expectations. The “Just Say No” strategy did not offer an alternative method to meet those expectations. When voters recognized that the strategy was reactive rather than proactive, they contacted their legislators who overrode the veto.

Conservatives must accept that proactive reform of any agency requires complex planning that involves state and federal elected officials. It requires unity within the Republican Party that encompasses state and national party structures – something akin to the Republican Party stand against the Affordable Healthcare Act. Most importantly, the strategy must offer a private market alternative that would solve the problems currently held at bay by federal dollars.

In 2008, former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan commented, “the GOP has grown too addicted to ideology, places politics before policy, and is bereft of ideas — and that it’s imperative that the party shift towards a genuine effort to develop concrete policy solutions to people’s problems in order to rescue itself.”

His comments were a call to action after losing control of Congress and the White House to the Democrats. His call came a little too late. If the Republican Party had developed policy-based solutions prior to 2008, we would not have the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Once upon a time, conservatives were the source of ideas for the Republican Party. Duncan’s comments reveal that the current conservative strategy of just saying no does not offer solutions. The voters recognize this and conservatives had better.