Let’s be honest with each other – and with ourselves

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Public discourse is so polarized today that Americans can’t even agree on certain obvious facts for fear that they may discredit “us” or lend credibility to “them.”

Intellectual honesty is indispensable to self-government.  If we are honest with ourselves, we can determine what is true or factual.  However, that discernment is complicated by agenda-driven journalism that presents facts or allegations selectively and without context.

Let’s consider some obvious facts:

FACT: Donald Trump’s campaign team was willing to find “dirt” on Hillary Clinton by consulting foreign sources, including Russians.

FACT: Hillary Clinton’s campaign team was willing to find “dirt” on Donald Trump by consulting foreign sources, including Russians.

FACT: President Obama and his administration knew that Russians were working to influence the 2016 presidential election but did nothing to stop them.

FACT: The disparity between the establishment media’s treatment of President Obama and of President Trump is undeniable.

FACT: When Obama asserted, with a straight face, “We are probably the first administration in modern history that hasn’t had a major scandal in the White House,” the establishment media repeated his claim as fact.  The “fact-checker” at the Washington Post merely said the statement “needs context.”

So, consider Obama’s non-scandals:

In each of these non-scandals, the establishment media simply reported and moved on without obsessing.  If you believe they would have reacted similarly had these events occurred under Trump’s watch, you’re not being intellectually honest.

Now contrast the current investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose mission is defined: “to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections.”

Thus far, the investigation has charged 26 Russians with various crimes related to interfering with the 2016 election.  Paul Manafort and his associates have been charged with financial crimes (unrelated to their work with the Trump campaign) and with lying to the FBI.  Separately, Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, which experts argue weren’t even against the law.

None of these charges show any coordination between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.  The worst that we know is that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer thinking she could provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Yet the media breathlessly covers the Mueller investigation as if discovery of impeachable offenses is imminent.  Concluding that many in the media think it is their mission to overturn the 2016 election requires little imagination.

The Washington Post virtuously declares “democracy dies in darkness.”  But legitimate journalism dies when the media is so obviously biased that they can’t be trusted and Americans get their news only from selective sources that tell them what they want to hear.

Most Americans have very reasonable expectations of the media: to report the all of the facts, no matter which cause it may advance or harm.

Unfortunately, objective reporting is now an endangered species.

Polis’ health care hypocrisy

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Just two years after Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a costly, unworkable universal health care ballot measure, Rep. Jared Polis, the Democrat candidate for governor, is sidling up with the same kooky progressives who brought us the failed ColoradoCare proposal by touting “Medicare for all.”

Coloradans should be skeptical that Polis, the $387 Million Man, really means, “Medicare for you – but not for me.”  After all, he can buy his way out of a lousy government health care system after he wrecks health care for the rest of us.

Amendment 69 was rejected 79% to 21% by Colorado voters who were wary of its enormous cost and outrageous expansion of government.  At $36 billion per year, ColoradoCare would have more than doubled the size of state government but offered no guarantee that health care would be any better.

While Polis publicly opposed Amendment 69 in 2016, he co-sponsored federal Medicare-for-all legislation (HR 676) which is even more costly than ColoradoCare.

In a campaign ad, Polis now parrots Amendment 69 propaganda that “Health care is a human right.”  That sounds noble and makes a nice bumper sticker, but health care is not a right – it’s an entitlement that must be paid for by someone.

If health care is a right, then what about food and housing?  Is everyone entitled to food and housing at taxpayer expense?

Progressive politicians like Polis are mimicking socialist countries where heavy-handed governments magically bestow “rights” on people to appease the masses.  But transforming an economic disparity into a government entitlement doesn’t solve the problem.

ColoradoCare’s cost-control provisions would have limited benefits (rationing), increased co-pays and deductibles (paid by consumers), and reduced payments to doctors and hospitals (resulting in fewer doctors and hospitals).  Everyone would equally share in rationing, higher costs and shortages.  Everyone except the ultra-wealthy, like Jared Polis.

That’s democratic socialism – equal distribution of misery.

Forty years ago, health care and insurance weren’t so costly.  People paid doctors and hospitals for their services and relied on insurance to cover high-cost procedures.  Then do-gooder politicians decided to mandate that insurance companies offer and consumers pay for certain coverages.  Government can mandate all the “goodies” it wants, but they still cost something, so the very consumers who receive these benefits, in turn, pay more for insurance.  Health “insurance” became a coerced system of financing our medical bills.

Economist Thomas Sowell reminds us, “The first law of economics is scarcity: There’s never enough of anything to go around.  The first law of politics is to ignore the first law of economics.”

In the last 10 years under two Democrat governors, the number of Coloradans who receive health care through Medicaid has nearly tripled to 1.4 million (almost one-fourth of us).  During that time, state spending on health care and human services programs has grown five times faster than spending on K-12 education and eight times faster than spending on transportation.

Now, progressive Democrats like Polis want to raise taxes for education and transportation, but those tax increases wouldn’t be necessary if previous Democrat governors hadn’t expanded social welfare entitlements in the belief that “health care is a right.”

Ten years ago, K-12 education received 43% of the general fund budget; health care and human services received 30%.  If today’s budget were allocated at the same rate, K-12 education would receive an additional $763 million.  That’s a 15% increase – enough to increase school funding by $803 per student and to entirely wipe out the erstwhile “negative factor” that siphons money away from public schools in order to pay for Medicaid spending.

This year, Colorado voters face a critical choice that will decide whether we take an irreversible step to become Little California by electing an out-of-touch Boulder progressive as governor and passing massive tax increases.

Instead, we should reject the fallacy that “health care is a right,” insist that our public schools be properly funded without raising taxes, and require government to live within its budget – just like we, the taxpayers, must do.

Let’s talk common sense and facts about guns

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

In the debates that rage after each highly-publicized mass shooting, one side claims that more restrictive gun laws could prevent future such tragedies while the other side counters that the rights of law-abiding gun owners shouldn’t be sacrificed because of the horrendous act of someone who disregarded existing laws.

It’s never been easy to have a rational conversation about guns, but in today’s hyper-charged political culture, voices on each side too often think that being loudest means you are winning.  My friend and former state Sen. Alice Nichol often recalled her father’s maxim: “The louder you are, the ‘wronger’ you are.”

Insulting gun owners polarizes the debate.  Outspoken Florida high school students may motivate those who sincerely wish that laws would prevent mass shootings, but their condescension and incivility also infuriate defenders of gun rights.  The loudest voices usually make the least sense because loudness is no substitute for logic or reason.

Survivors are sympathetic figures, but they have no special insight into preventing the next shooting.  Why does the media, in this circumstance, confuse proximity with expertise?  Nobody considered survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing to be instant experts on terrorism.

Gun owners reasonably ask for evidence that new burdens on their rights will produce the promised results.  The evidence is thin.Read More

The True Meaning of Independence

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

As we observe the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence this Fourth of July, we should consider the unique form of government for which our Founding Fathers chose to risk “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” against the militarily-superior British.

The definitive passage in the Declaration reads:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

In these 57 words, the Founders established that:

  • Our rights — better understood as “freedoms” — are given to us by a power higher than government. No matter what you believe about creation or evolution, you must acknowledge that government did not give us life.
  • Government’s legitimate purpose is to protect the rights of the people. Just as government did not give us life, it did not give us our rights.
  • Government’s legitimate powers are limited to only those given to it by the people.

“The whole point was to show how government might arise legitimately, not to assume its existence,” writes constitutional scholar Roger Pilon in The Purpose and Limits of Government.

These insights are particularly useful because, as a libertarian, Pilon does not advance a religious conservative agenda.  Yet he acknowledges that the Founders’ common view of “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God” provide the cornerstone for all that follows:

We hold these truths to be self-evident….

The signers of the Declaration didn’t negotiate and compromise to define truth.  They agreed that certain fundamental truths were obvious.  For example:

…That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…

In that each of us exists because of the same creative process, our individual are necessarily equal.  Such rights are best understood as freedom from interference, whether by government or by other people which, of course, implies that others are entitled to be free from our interference.

Freedom encompasses not simply the opportunity to make choices but the responsibility for those choices.  Freedom does not mean that, because my choice seems superior, I can bend others to my will through the power of government, nor does it mean that when I make an irresponsible choice I am immune from consequences.

…That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Once the Founders established a broad universe of rights, they discussed government, its sole purpose to protect those rights.  Again it is imperative to understand “rights” as freedoms — not as an entitlement taken at the expense of someone else.

When government legitimately protects our freedom, it simply does that which we have a right to do ourselves.  By contrast, government does not act legitimately if it secures my rights by taking the life, liberty or property of someone else.

When the rights of two people may conflict and neither can fully exercise freedom without adversely affecting the other, the Founders reasoned that in these circumstances, the boundaries between competing rights ought to be drawn by the people whom government serves.  However, “consent of the governed” does not empower majority rule to deny freedom to the minority.

This concept of a vast ocean freedoms and tiny islands of government power bears little resemblance to our federal government today, which is why it is so vitally important that we understand the foundation of our government before electing someone to lead it.

As Ronald Reagan warned, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Capitol critics ignore reality of changing Colorado

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Ideas inspire both philosophers and legislators, but the two jobs differ considerably thereafter.

That distinction is critical to understanding the current dust-up between the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara and several Republican lawmakers.

A thoughtful, assertive voice for liberty, Caldara is a friend and an ally.  He and the Institute advocate tirelessly for personal freedom and limited government – principles that are as dear to me now as they were when I served in the Colorado Senate.

Caldara’s job is to turn up the heat on lawmakers when they are being cajoled to compromise.  His job is not, however, to consider those same lawmakers’ prospects for re-election or to balance the competing interests that lawmakers face back home.

So, when Caldara calls for the Republican Party to purge lawmakers who, in his view, don’t sufficiently toe the line, it’s time for all of us to take a deep breath and assess the realities that lawmakers must face – or ignore at their own peril.

Legislators have a responsibility to the people they represent.  They are responsible for governing, particularly when their party is empowered with a majority.

In Colorado, Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the state Senate.  Democrats hold a nine-vote margin in the state House, and they’ve held the Governor’s Mansion for more than a decade.

The reality is that Republicans cannot pass legislation without some cooperation from Democrats – and vice versa.Read More

Time for Republicans to suck it up and produce

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

The repeal-and-replace debacle ought to be a cold shower for every Republican in Washington. It demonstrated that with so many Republicans advancing their own agenda, the party’s lawmakers can’t shoot straight – except at each other.

Republicans of all stripes now face the urgent task of proving that they can actually deliver on their promises. Stop racing to the TV cameras and start governing.

Republicans must produce results well before the 2018 election or they will deserve to be thrown out.

This isn’t as difficult as it might appear. President Trump is no policy wonk. With few exceptions, he cares more about “winning” than about details. Help him win, and he’ll be your ally. Embarrass him, and he’ll bargain with Democrats – including for future Supreme Court appointments.Read More

Restoring market forces isn’t as simple as repealing old laws

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

As a believer that market forces are better at serving consumers than are government regulators, I found de-regulation one of the most challenging issues while I served in the Colorado Senate.

When government intervenes, it always tilts the playing field.  Sometimes it does this for ostensibly good reasons – most notably to provide all Coloradans with electricity and telephone service as was done predominately in the first half of the 20th century.

But decades later, de-regulating those areas in order to promote competition turned out to be more complicated than just repealing old statutes.  Technology ultimately made local telephone monopolies obsolete, but before that happened, fights over bills to allow local competition were cutthroat.Read More

What are GOP leaders thinking?

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

As rank-and-file Republicans, we have a tendency to tear down the people we’ve long known and trusted about five minutes after they are elevated into “leadership.” It’s easy to forget that the “burden of leadership,” truly is a burden. Most notably, it’s burdened by the reality of the way things are, as opposed to the idealism of the way we wish them to be.

So, as a conservative who once carried that burden in a relatively minor way and who for the last decade has been quite content to rejoin the grassroots, I encourage my fellow Republicans to take time to consider why our party’s elected leaders sometimes make decisions that run counter to our first instincts.

After all, these are conscientious people who earned the trust of their constituents and their fellow lawmakers. They don’t grow horns the moment they are elected to leadership.Read More

Hard to blame Trump for fighting back vs. media

In Blog, Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

Donald Trump’s congenital belligerence may not wear well with the public over the next four years, but it’s been certainly central to a persona that has regularly defied “normal” expectations and won an ardent corps of loyalists.

Trump’s irreverence for political correctness, the media, and the “establishment” resonates with a large swath of the public that’s sick and tired of being told what to think by people who consider themselves better, smarter and more sophisticated than the rest of us.

Trump’s shut down of CNN reporter Jim Acosta (“Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news.”), during an inaugural week press conference, was a satisfying display of Trump’s punch-back style. He was particularly incensed that CNN had promoted a dubious Buzzfeed posting of an unsubstantiated “intelligence memo” that claimed Russia had compromising information about him.

Most politicians “play nice” to seek favorable – or, at least, fair –treatment from the dominant liberal media. For Democrats, that’s easy because the overwhelming share of reporters supports the Democrat agenda.

Trump’s approach is more confrontational. If the press is out to get him (which, by and large, it is), then why not drop the pretense of mutual respect?Read More

Hard to sympathize with higher ed budget ballad

In Capitol Review by Mark Hillman

The spending lobby at the State Capitol is shameless in its clamoring for higher taxes on Colorado’s families and businesses.  The latest chorus of woe comes from the ivory tower of academia.

Colorado’s public four-year institutions enroll some 175,000 students and employee about 25,000 staff.  Yet during the past seven years, these same schools have added nearly as many employees (3,537) as students (3,664).  That’s right: enrollment grew by just 2% but the number of employees increased by 17% during a period of supposed budget austerity.

Lumping K-12 schools into the same complaint merely employs the tired tactic of using school children as a ploy to bolster spending elsewhere.  Arguments that K-12 schools are shortchanged carry far more weight than cries of poverty from denizens of the ivory tower who supplement taxpayer funds with students’ tuition.

Consider some key figures measuring growth in Colorado’s economy and state budget since 2010:

  • Population, up 10%.
  • Personal income, up 33%.
  • General fund spending, up 49%.
  • Total state spending, up 35%.
  • K-12 general fund spending, up just 16%.
  • Higher education general fund, up 103%; total spending, up 55%.

Read More