The game is changing and changing fast.  In 2008, Republicans took a whipping as much because of the economy as anything else.  However, the Obama campaign also put on display the greatest application of electronic campaigning possible.  Obama did benefit from the horrible economy and conservative and independent dissatisfaction with the performance of President Bush and Congressional Republicans.  And Obama was an effective and inspiring orator to many, though with the passage of time, we recognize the vague vapidness of his message.  Without a doubt, Obama’s ability to utilize social media became the gold standard for political campaigns.

Four years earlier, it was the liberal insurgency of Howard Dean that first introduced the modern political world to utilization of electronic means to create a grassroots movement and to raise money.  It wasn’t truly the social networking or new media that we see today.  Generally speaking, political operatives do the same things over and over.  They take what has worked in the past and repeat it until its proven substandard by the new kid on the block.  The new kid on the block generally isn’t the leader of the pack.  If you have the money and resources, you employ those that worked in the past applying yesterday’s methods in today’s and tomorrow’s elections.

Howard Dean was an unknown underdog.  While his campaign ultimately failed to sustain itself (his wild scream in Iowa didn’t help), he demonstrated that an unknown, underfunded candidate can creatively employ underutilized tools to put themselves on the map.  In 2004, Howard Dean used a platform called MeetUp to bring like-minded, motivated people together in a coordinated (and inexpensive manner).  That, in and of itself, was noteworthy.  But Dean took it to another level and successfully raised significant money using the technology.

Social networking in politics was now “on the map.”  Campaigns experimented with it in the next election cycle, but it wasn’t perfected until Obama’s 2008 Presidential primary campaign against the favored Hillary Clinton.  Without his utilization of social networking and electronic communication, the upstart, relatively unknown Obama would never have beaten Clinton in the primary.  Arguably the aforementioned environment would have propelled any Democrat into office in the general election.  But Obama’s “movement” grew exponentially via electronic (and instant) communication with supporters and their ability to grow their network and fully integrate fundraising, messaging, response and grassroots organization was remarkable.  By-and-large, they utilized email and text messaging.

Since then, President Obama has tried to continue his progress but the growth has come to an end with the disappointment and dissatisfaction that so many are experiencing with the Obama Presidency (including many Democrats and independents who thought and hoped they were getting something different with Obama).

Now, it is the right that is maximizing the social networking or new media foundation to instantly communicate and network with one another, organize, raise funds and overcome the filter of the “mainstream media.”  And though it was just 17 months ago that Obama was elected, that social media environment has changed dramatically.  MySpace was the predominant social networking platform, it was primarily young and the general public was hearing disturbing stories of pedophiles and sexual predators prowling the MySpace network.

How many of us were even on Facebook in 2008?  Well now on a worldwide level there are over 400 million Facebook users, 100 million of which access Facebook on a mobile device.  The Facebook we know today did not even exist during Obama’s campaign in 2008.  In 2008, Twitter was confined to the world of techie geekdom and today it boasts over 105 million registered users.  In 2008, many of us who started to get our news online instead of through traditional means did so by visiting and/or subscribing to blogs.  Many predicted the end of blogs with the growth of Facebook and Twitter. In fact, I would suggest the opposite has happened.  Rather than prove to be an alternative to blogs, both Twitter and Facebook have proven to be the network by which blog posts, video and photos are broadcast immediately to the masses.  The significance of blogs has grown, rather than declined because of these developments.

And when a big story breaks, whether it be the unrest related to the Iraqi “elections” or the earthquake in Haiti, you see less of the “Twitterworld” following broadcast news, than broadcast news trying to get information through our networks on Twitter and Facebook.  Additionally, we’ve seen the enormous growth of Google, ads on Google and Facebook (and soon Twitter) that target information and messaging to the most interested audiences and the creation of Google Buzz which hasn’t yet settled in to a comfortable spot in this world.  YouTube is settling in nicely and providing an outlet for messaging that both avoids the “filter” of the mainstream media and is much less expensive and more targeted than traditional advertising.

This world is made for us as conservatives.  While the liberals danced in the streets and celebrated the inauguration of Obama and ascendency of Pelosi and Reid’s influence, the right got angry and got busy.  And so far, we’ve gotten Scott Brown (more important because he’s #41), Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell.  This is no time to stop now.

The left has enjoyed a huge benefit by a mainstream media that at a very minimum tilted to the left and looked distrustfully on those who held conservative views.  Well, FOX News more than anything has provided an alternative for TV viewers exclusively and TV viewers who Facebook, “tweet” and YouTube.  The ability of the left to control, or at least dominate, or at least enjoy much greater influence over the ability of the masses (us) to receive information has diminished more in the last ten years than at anytime in our history.  And notably, it’s declined more in the last year than the rest of the last ten years combined.  That levels the previously slanted (in their favor) playing field.  And that is our greatest opportunity to make something of this movement in opposition to higher taxes, bigger government, less individual liberty and an ever-increasing nanny-state.

Republicans in Congress got “Twitter savvy” far before any of their Democratic colleagues and continued to move forward.  And those of us that are libertarian or conservative in our view of the role of government in society are way ahead and more motivated than our statist contemporaries.  We need to keep going.  Connect with your friends and relatives.  Connect with like-minded, politically active believers who want to make a change to the direction of this country.  Donate online to true, proven conservatives who have put their conservative principles before their allegiance to parties or good old boys networks.  Get your like-minded friends on Twitter and Facebook.  Subscribe to your conservative candidates accounts on YouTube.  And while you watch FOX News or any other outlets, don’t do it at the expense of getting online and discovering the myriad of instant critiques and alternative views that present themselves and put pressure on the media to be more unbiased and honest.  And yes, express your views and share your opinions but try to occupy the moral high ground.  Be principled, be responsible and be ethical.  But if you aren’t out there and you care about the country, get out there.  And get your like-minded friends out there too.

This is our home field.  Let’s own it.

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The tea party movement in Arizona and nationally has exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.  There is a lot of credit to go around. A big part of the credit has to go the Obama administration’s persistent efforts to put a stick in the eye of the movement and insult the millions of activists from around the country who have awoken from their dormant sleep, gotten increasingly concerned about the direction of the country and demanded to be heard.  Without a doubt, credit should also go to the freedom fighters who have met weekly at coffee shops, contacted their neighbors, created websites, email lists, Facebook groups and Twitter accounts to share information.

The movement has served an extremely valuable purpose in creating a vast network of overlapping groups and individuals who are energized behind a variety of different causes, and generally united behind a few shared causes such as reduced taxes, limited government, opposition to Obamacare and promotion of Constitutionalism and individual liberty.  The left was at first dismissive of the movement, then annoyed and finally threatened by it — at which point they commenced a concerted effort to tar the movement as a tool of the Republican Party, racist, violent and limited primarily to “angry, white males” none of which happens to bear any resemblance to reality.

In the past, when the public’s access to such information was limited to the filter of the mainstream media, such tactics worked.  However, much to the chagrin of the left, the effectiveness of their tactics has been marginalized greatly by our ability to communicate instantly via email, Facebook, Twitter and other “new media” techniques.  The lesson that all of us should learn is that whenever possible, make sure you have a video camera present (and use it), take pictures, tweet, post, blog and share.  Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign still stands as a model for utilizing and maximizing available new media.  However, the social media world has changed significantly since then.  And, while the left was doing cartwheels and glowingly gazing at their multi-colored “Hope” posters, it’s been the right, and not the left, who has taken those learnings and put them into practice much more effectively since the 2008 election.

All of that being said, the ten million dollar question remains:  What impact will the tea party movement in America ultimately have upon the 2010 elections?  And, secondarily, what can be done to harness the enthusiasm, energy and anger of the movement and bridge that passion to meaningful political action that impacts the elections to the maximum extent possible?  That was the focus of the first meeting of the Arizona Patriot Caucus, a project of Liberty First PAC, held today (Saturday, April 3, 2010) at the Four Points Sheraton in Phoenix.  One can only hope that today’s meeting will be noted as an historic day in putting expressed anger, fear, frustration and concern about the direction of the country, into affirmative, positive, meaningful action that makes a difference.

Admittedly, it is difficult to understand where all of the various tea party organizations fit into the bigger picture, how well they work together (or don’t), which are legitimate and which are not and how they are interconnected with the wide variety of other groups and organizations that have been sprouting across the country like spring flowers.  I’m not going to even begin to explain (or suggest I understand) the flow chart that would attempt to outline that universe of frustration with the Obama administration.  I will let you know, however, that the Patriot Caucus nationally and the Arizona Patriot Caucus in our state are worth recognizing and understanding.

The meeting today was organized and hosted by the Arizona Patriot Caucus and included three extremely talented speakers.  Keith Sipmann is the Chair of the Arizona Patriot Caucus and opened today’s meeting and explained the relationship between the Arizona Patriot Caucus and the national Patriot Caucus.  Eric Odom, national Chair of the Patriot Caucus, gave a complete overview of the tea party movement and how the Patriot Caucus is wholly dedicated to turning the organization and passion of the tea parties into manageable, tangible, meaningful action in the upcoming elections.

Odom’s extensive and detailed outline of the Patriot Caucus’ plans followed a very energetic and moving presentation by Senator Pamela Gorman, a conservative candidate in Arizona’s third Congressional district.  Gorman’s speech focused on taking the “passion to the pavement” and lauded the efforts to date of the tea party movement in bringing together ordinary Americans who, like her, are concerned about the direction of our country.

Gorman outlined the experience of speaking to 1300 tea party activists a week prior and how those activists and others can work with the Patriot Caucus and their respective tea party groups and other organizations to take specific actions to support candidates who embody the ideals that run throughout this movement.  Uncharacteristic of most political speakers these days, Gorman encouraged the tea party group leaders and members to look at the records of all the candidates in all the races, determine one or two or three who have been working effectively on issues important to them and apply meaningful action — knocking on doors, stuffing envelopes, donating money, making fundraising calls to others and other activities that will impact elections.

Odom followed Gorman’s speech and built upon her plan for action and explained how the Patriot Caucus was conceived and what it’s doing nationally — with Arizona being a primary target — to implement exactly the types of activities previously referenced.  The national Patriot Caucus is doing the yeoman’s work of securing resources (yes, that means you should give money to them and candidates that embody our shared ideals), and applying those available resources in targeted fashion where it can have the most impact in changing the makeup and direction of our government.

The audience consisted primarily of tea party and other group leaders — and average concerned citizens — who have long been committed to the same causes of opposing Obamacare, fighting increased taxes, promoting smaller government and individual liberty.  The tea parties have been enormously successful in attracting earned media, in creating a serious buzz of new media on blogs, Facebook and Twitter, and in recruiting new activists to the cause.  The Patriot Caucus is working with tea party groups nationally and in specific states (Arizona included) to turn that remarkable success in energizing the masses into purposeful and meaningful action designed to make the most difference.

As Eric Odom explained in his outline, raising money, asking others to donate or putting aside a few hours a week to undertake specific and meaningful activity to make a difference in elections often makes people uncomfortable.  Explaining how our revolutionary leaders faced hanging as a result of their efforts to create our nation, Odom said that “it’s about time that we all got a little uncomfortable in 2010 while working to preserve what they created for us.”

Every state in the nation has peculiar political traditions and laws that make it a mess.  And being the perceptive creatures that they are, people often recognize that their particular system is a mess.  Not having the perspective of experiencing the systems in different states however, most people are wrong.  Generally speaking, states are equally messy and imperfect.  It’s a creature of democracy.

Here in Arizona, however, things are particularly bad.  There are (at least) six different changes that true conservatives and those interested in good government should look to make.  Each of the six by themselves may have been well-intentioned.  Each may have some benefits.  But, without a doubt, each of them has more significant costs as well.

As conservatives, we’re the thoughtful ones.  Liberals have it easy.  Do you love kids?  We’ll take care of kids!  Want to help the poor?  We’ll help the poor!  Their solutions are simple.  Their programs are like point of sale displays at the checkout counter designed to make you feel good.  All too often, we make the purchase.  It’s our cross to bear as conservatives.  We’re forced to argue three points (on the easy issues) to make our case.  They only need to state one shared desire, while they hand out a piece of candy that no one needs but everyone wants.

Some states experience the positive and negative (mostly negative) consequences of one or two of these policies.  None that I’m aware of suffer the consequences of all six.  Combined, the negative consequences of all six create the perfect storm for political disaster here in Arizona.

First, we have term limits.  Term limits seemed like a wonderful concept when Tip O’Neill served as Speaker over a Democratic Congress that seemed like it would exist into perpetuity.  The powers of incumbency are enormous at the Congressional level (and at lower levels to varying degrees).  As conservatives, we champion the idea that government should not be entrenched.  It should be more about the people, through the electoral process, having the power to change the system.  Before Newt Gingrich became Speaker, it seemed like the only way conservatives and Republicans had any chance at cracking the Democratic stranglehold was through term limits.  As an additional benefit, term limits encouraged an end to the idea of the professional politician.  Because of Newt Gingrich’s ascension to the Speakership and houses of our Congress changing hands since then, we understand that the framers had it right.

In practice, term limits are a disaster.  First of all, let’s discard the notion that elected officials are the real creators of policy in Congress or in the state capitol.  There are some “hands on” legislators in our state legislature and our Congress, but make no mistake they are the exception, not the rule.  In most cases, long-term staff (and long-term lobbyists) have more power than most people know.  Even without term limits, elected officials look to their more seasoned and experienced staff and say “what should I do?”  Those are the powerful elected officials.  In reality, most of our “leaders” have staff that say “you need to be here at this time, you will say this and not that, and you will speak personally to these three people and then we’ll get you out the door.”  Even without term limits, staff wields enormous power.  With term limits, the influence of staff (and lobbyists), and the disconnection from the people, grows exponentially.

Additionally, term limits completely distort the leadership system within a legislative body.  Let’s look at the past year as an example.  First, our Governor gets appointed to the cabinet.  Thus, Jan Brewer becomes Governor.  That’s fine.  Ideally in such situations, you have a Governor who was never elected to the post, counterbalanced by a Speaker and Senate President who have not only been elected, but been engaged in the legislature long enough to rise through the ranks of their seasoned (and new) caucus members and become leaders.  In such cases, you have a Speaker and a Senate President who really wield more power than the Governor.

Because of term limits in Arizona, however, we had a Speaker (though I disagreed with him on some fundamental issues) who really did a pretty remarkable job holding his caucus together and navigating these treacherous waters as best he could given the fact that he was a rookie Speaker.  Kirk Adams possesses the skill and ability that could have righted this ship as a participant.  But as a rookie Speaker, it would have been unrealistic to expect him to overcome the total incompetence we’ve seen from the Senate President and the Governor.

One might look at Bob Burns and say “term limits didn’t make him Senate President, he’s an experienced leader!”  One who would make such a comment would be right on the “experienced” part, but couldn’t be more wrong on the “leader” part.  There is a reason that in his lengthy career Bob Burns never became Senate President.  First, he is not a leader.  He’s a valuable grunt.  If this past challenging experience with this legislature has demonstrated anything, it’s that Bob Burns is not a leader.  He’s achieved during his career because when the leaders called and said “jump!” he asked “how high?”  But the world has past Bob Burns by.  In the instant communicating world of the internet and ever-changing legislators (because of term limits), he expected his caucus (and his caucus leadership) to do what they were told.  Having the communication skills of Frankenstein’s monster didn’t help.  He told his caucus “jump” and pass the tax increase.  Thankfully, at least two members said “hell no!”

Term limits are a disaster.

Clean elections.  Thankfully we have the Goldwater Institute that has the ideological commitment to not only speak eloquently about the problems of clean elections, but to fight them based on their Constitutional shortcomings.  And let’s stop using the term “clean elections” from the start.  That’s us talking their language.  If they control the messaging, they are halfway to winning the battle.  There is nothing “clean” about clean elections.  If we had successfully framed the issue years ago, we’d have won this war long ago.  The system we’ve been experiencing here is more appropriately identified and framed to the people as “your tax dollars for basically anyone who wants them, to pay for sleazy, self-serving political ads.”  Sadly, that’s seeing “clean elections” in the best light.  In reality, candidates are securing the funds, running phony campaigns, transferring funds to the political parties (primarily to the Democratic Party, not because they are more corrupt, but because the Republican Party leadership in Arizona is incompetent and untrustworthy at best) and “donating” excess funds to some charity that the candidate’s spouse runs out of their basement.  There is nothing “clean” about clean elections.

Each of these first two policies independently are damaging.  Combined, they are a disaster.  First, through our term limit law, we toss legislators out of office who have the knowledge and experience to stand against staff (and lobbyists) and really direct the government.  So, not only do we have a massive body of inexperienced legislators, but we give tax dollars for anyone and their brother (or puppets of lobbyists and insiders) to fill those seats.

In 1992, voters in Arizona approved term limits overwhelmingly.  Voters, through the ballot initiative, also passed taxpayer financing of political propaganda (previously known as “clean elections”) through a ballot initiative which brings us to the third problem we experience here in Arizona.  Voter (and ballot) initiatives.  Like term limits, the voter initiative seems like an empowering opportunity for the people to have a voice.  Sounds good, but let’s be honest.  Ballot initiative are bad in two ways (at least).  First, remember when we discussed how liberals only need to make one general statement of an agreed goal and hand you a piece of candy to make their case and we conservatives need to string together three arguments to get you to even consider our position?  Well, that’s tailor-made for ballot initiatives.  Additionally, ballot initiatives (whether voter-initiated or not) are often well-fund by liberal (tax-sucking) special interests who appeal to the most simplistic desires of the populace.  They create a recipe for disaster.  “We love kids!”  “Yes!”  “Term limits to end professional politicians!”  “Yes!” and we could go on and on.

Spending approved by voter initiatives requires a supermajority to change it.  It’s pretty tough for the legislature to cut our budget to the extent they need to do so, when you pretty much take a good chunk of the spending off the table because it was passed by feel-good ballot initiatives.  Ballot initiatives also provide elected legislators with an out that we shouldn’t provide them.  We elect them to make policy.  We elect them to sit through hours of boring committee hearings and meetings to understand programs and make the best, most thoughtful and deliberate decisions for our districts and the state of Arizona (maybe we should pay them more than $24,000 … we’ll discuss this on another day).  But voter initiatives and all ballot initiatives give legislators an out.

The current initiative before the voters is a perfect example.  Do you know why a $3 billion tax increase is now before the voters of our state (funded by $50,000 from the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and gads more from every liberal special interest and their cousin)?  It’s because this ballot initiative option gave legislators an out.  Russell Pearce is often held up as a great example of conservatism.  Instead of “What Would Jesus Do” bumper stickers on their cars, many knee-jerk conservatives ask “What Would Russell Do?”  Let’s not kid ourselves.  Russell Pearce is a staunch supporter of strong measures to end illegal immigration.  He has worked hard to earn that reputation.  And, he’s generally conservative (though he supports spending anything and everything for law enforcement, regardless of how it impacts individual liberty or how much it costs).  But one would be a wealthy man if he dad a dime for every time Russell Pearce said in Committee that “I’m not voting for a tax increase.  I’ve never voted for a tax increase.  I think the voters are going to defeat this.  But I’ll vote yes.  But I am clearly against a tax increase.”

We didn’t elect Senators and Representatives to pass the buck.  We elected them to make decisions.  If Russell believed it was bad for Arizona he should have done everything possible within his power to shut this awful idea down before putting it before the voters and joining the “Axe the Tax” (more appropriately named “Cover My Ass”) movement that has raised next to no dollars and is facing the liberal government spending establishment and the money of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce pushing for a $3 billion tax increase on Arizona’s working families.

Voter initiatives and “pass the buck” ballot initiatives complete the first “hat trick” in the first half of the problem that confronts us.

The last three handicaps to having a political and electoral system in Arizona that in any way resembles sanity are the “resign to run” law, at-large legislative districts and two-year Senate terms.

There is no good reason for Arizona to have “resign to run” laws.  They are feel-good and stupid.  In the last several months, we’ve seen Sam Crump presumably run for reelection to his Arizona House seat, “explore a run” for Attorney General, decide finally to stop exploring and run for reelection to his Arizona House seat, and then quickly change directions and decide he was going to run for the Congressional District seat that he believes he was born to fill (even before he abandoned his political career in California to find a place in Arizona where he could fulfill his self-inspired destiny).  Sam Crump obviously is someone who wants to be something, but he just can’t figure out what it is.

Let’s quit the charade that we all know exists.  If you want to hold your seat and run for another.  Run.  John McCain and many honorable men before him ran for President while sitting as Senators or Governors.  Let the voters decide.

Lastly, in Arizona we pride ourselves on having a Constitutional system that was in many ways developed on a framework laid out by our forefathers in the U.S. Constitution.  Well, the U.S. Constitution was developed after many long discussions, heated debates and much forethought.  Where concessions were made in one area, they were painstakingly counterbalanced by particular provisions in others.  Take a few of those provisions out and the whole masterpiece falls apart like a house of cards.

The U.S. Constitution specifically creates Senate terms that are longer than House terms so that the Senate can be a more deliberative body.  The House is designed to be more responsive to the immediate, often short-lived, passions of the people.  The Senate, having longer terms, is still responsive to the people who have the ultimate power to remove them from office.  However, because the terms are longer (and staggered), the pressures of the short-term passions of the people (which the framers recognized as often counterproductive to the long-term interests of the nation) are designed to have less effect on the Senate.  By having two-year Senate terms in Arizona (which by definition can’t be staggered and mirror the two-year House terms) we eliminate the deliberative, somewhat less passionate influences on, and more long-term vision of, that body.

The same abandonment of principles applies to our system of at-large districts whereby two Representatives and one Senator represent the very same districts.  All legislators should have unique districts.  All should disproportionately represent the interests of those districts (versus the interests of the whole) in the greater legislative body.  By having each representative and the accompanying Senator speak for the very same district, and be elected on the very same election cycle, we lose any reasonable ability to claim that our system is developed on a foundation established by the framers.  We have just as much legitimacy making that claim as President Obama does claiming that Obamacare is consistent with the intentions of the framers because it “provides for the general welfare of the United States.”

So, if looking around, you think Arizona’s political and electoral system is a mess, you’re right.  It is a mess.  And yes, it is indeed more of a mess than that of most other states.  And there are (at least) six reasons why and six things that need to be changed:   Term Limits, Taxpayer-funded political propaganda, resign to run laws, at-large legislative districts and two-year (not staggered) Senate terms.