A cynic could ask, what do you possibly mean there are rising stars in the GOP? First of all, the national Republican Party is dead and has been for many years. But what about Ryan, Paul, Rubio and Cruz?
The best counter-argument is that the party has sprouted green shoots at the state level, where it still holds the majority of state houses and where some prospects are developing at the minor league level who show considerable promise.
At the Republican National Committee's recent summer meeting in Boston, of all places, Chairman Reince Priebus introduced four "rising stars" of the party, and he gave them each a few minutes to speak and respond to questions. This article will provide thumbnail sketches of each, then conclude with a few comments, including a necessary disclaimer.
The event also yielded some interesting information about a few personnel changes in Indiana. Presumably, people in Indiana know that former Gov. Mitch Daniels is the new president of Purdue University, but for others, this might be mildly interesting news. The question came up in the context of the bias against conservatives that prevails on most college campuses.
Also, in a personnel shuffle, current Gov. Mike Pence announced that he appointed Dwayne Savage as state auditor, the first African-American statewide official in Indiana.
Of the four panelists, two currently hold statewide office. It is possible to rank them in the order of their long-term potential with little difficulty:
1. T.W. Shannon, Speaker of the House, Oklahoma Legislature. Shannon is African American and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, as well as chief administrator of its enterprises. He has the most advanced political career of the panelists, and Priebus said Shannon has traveled extensively to raise funds for the party.
Shannon expounded his belief in limited government and cited his proposals to sell state land and build its infrastructure as his main issues. He called the GOP the country's "last hope," and he insisted that the federal government has shown itself incapable and unwilling to make necessary policy changes.
When a questioner suggested that Shannon exempt the GOP-controlled House from this criticism, he refused to do so. Shannon also cited tax cuts and workers' compensation reforms as achievements of the Republican administration in Oklahoma.
His family has lived in Lawton for three generations, and he credited these roots and his base in the Baptist church for helping him carry the African-American vote.
Shannon declared that at the end of the day, people deserve a government that works. His political upside appears to be unlimited. (In my opinion, Priebus committed a faux pas when he referred to Shannon as "articulate," an adjective that is considered patronizing and offensive by voters the Republicans are trying to court.)
2. Marilinda Garcia, four-term State Representative in New Hampshire. Garcia was first elected at the age of 23. After working in several campaigns and asking the local Republicans what help was needed, they suggested that she run for the legislature herself. She said she hadn't considered running for office, but she realized that she had acquired the skills she needed.
She has been recognized as one of the 45 leaders under 45 by the Republican Security Council. Women hold a majority of state senate seats in New Hampshire, both U.S. Senate seats and are prominent elsewhere in state government, so Garcia has a bright political future.
3. Karen Agness, founder and president of Network of enlightened Women (NeW). Agnes holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia, and she said she founded NeW, which now has chapters on 20 campuses, in response to bias she experienced when she tried to promote conservative ideas at UVA.
She has been recognized by Maverick Pac and Red Alert Politics as being among the top 40 under 40 and by Forbes among the top 30 under 30. Agness credited her service as an intern for former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., as a spur to further involvement in politics.
She criticized Democrats for targeting women with insulting political ads. She is now a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum. If she decides to seek elective office, she could go far.
4. Scott Erickson, San Jose, Calif., policeman. Born in San Francisco, Erickson earned an M.S. in criminology from the University of Cincinnati and then followed his father into police work in San Jose. He has written articles for the Heritage Foundation on anti-terrorism issues, such as the lessons that should be learned from Benghazi.
He predicted that at the end of the day, potentially divisive issues regarding budgets for law enforcement and pensions for police officers would be resolved. In Erickson's case, his police duties are important, but they might limit his potential to fulfill whatever political aspirations he might have.
An obvious theme is that the rising stars include a couple who represent groups where the Republicans at best struggle, including African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos. History suggests this will make little difference, because it is difficult to overcome trends that are so adverse, and Democrats will redouble their efforts to maintain their hold on subject constituencies; but it does show recognition that there is a problem.
Finally, lurking in the background is Stan Evans' Law that whenever "our people" are elected, they instantly cease to be "our people." As these promising state officeholders rise to prominence, they could adjust their political profiles to appeal to broader constituencies.
I remember when Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich were rising stars. In Republican politics, every silver lining has a cloud. Still, it is August, so one can suppress prudent cynicism for a day.
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