Confessions of a RINO, and no, he’s not a bit sorry

For those of us who are into counting down the days, there are just under 20 before we wrap up the 2014 general election. For those who are chairs of their local political parties, we have just about two months to go in our respective terms.

Congratulations on making it this far without too much damage to your body or your psyche. If you are damaged, don’t worry too much about it, for this too will pass, unless you run for re-election (in which case you’re just crazy).

Last April, a former colleague of mine, Jonathan Farley, lost his battle with cancer. While he and I never worked directly with each other, we were Senate staffers and we prided ourselves on the idea that it was OK to be moderately conservative Republicans. Before he passed away, he posted a great update on Facebook that really summed up what we were looking for in our political world. He wrote:

Wanted: a new name for people like …

See, I’ve been working in the GOP for a long time, and find it disturbing that a growing number of folks seem to be going crazy …

This country was not a utopia until the evil progressives ruined it. Just because some hippies want a bike path, it does not mean that the UN is going to take over our country and establish a New World Order …

The president is NOT going to establish martial law, nor is he a foreign born 5th column communist that will wreck the country in three years …

I don’t look up to people in the party based on their ability to “sock it to the liberals” and I actually read the lame stream media …

I’m also sensible enough to not see tyranny around every bill that gets introduced in a state legislature or the Congress. I don’t have the constitution memorized, nor can I recite it in Aramaic, but I understand how a bill becomes a law and how difficult that is to get done…

See, I never got into labels, but used to call myself ‘conservative’ in the sense that I truly want to be left alone … and am cynical about large groups of humans in any capacity making good decisions…

But now?

It seems more and more that if you don’t believe everything I just mentioned you are a ‘moderate’ a ‘progressive’ or the ultimate slander …. ‘A RINO.’

So I’m looking for a new name. I like “Republican that isn’t bat#@$* crazy,” but am taking suggestions.

I am quite the conundrum for non-RINO’s. (That's "Republican in name only," in the jargon of contemporary politics.) I am a fiscal conservative whose best friend is a liberal Democrat. I am a pro-life Catholic who agrees with the idea of same-sex civil unions. I am a former legislative staffer who understands the art of the legislative process and the ingredients needed to get public policy passed. I am proud to call myself a Republican.

During my time as the Kalamazoo GOP Chairman, I attempted to bring some modernization to my local party’s operations. I pulled together a team of members who built our local treasury back up to a level that could support our candidates. I represented Republicans from all across the political spectrum. And, keeping in mind that the purpose of a political party is to support and get its candidates elected, I also spoke out numerous times about statements regarding homosexuals. These statements lie at the corner of ludicrous and insane, statements that alienate a large part of the electorate.

I was attacked for doing so and was quickly labeled “an Obama-loving RINO” by many non-dues paying members of the party, despite the fact that I chose not to vote for the president -- twice.

Yes, I am a RINO and I am not alone. Many of us in the Lansing Capitol staff and lobbyist community feel the same as Jonathan. We are proud of who we are and as we approach the next election we share a worry. We worry that, on both sides of the aisle, the extremes will win and they will dictate what the next House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader will look like.

If the extremes get their way, the next leaders will only allow votes on bills that have the support of a majority of the majority. Enacting the so-called Hastert rule in the majority caucus will only bring Michigan’s comeback to a slow crawl or worse. Gridlock will come to Lansing and the RINO’s and the DINO’s (Democrats in Name Only) in the room will become less and less effective. We’ll become a dying breed, replaced not by folks who want good public policy, but those who only want to fight for the sake of fighting.

There’s just about 20 days left. What is going to happen to us RINO’s and DINO’s?

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Jim Murray
Fri, 10/17/2014 - 2:38pm
Brilliant column Dave
Jim Lancaster
Fri, 10/17/2014 - 3:48pm
As someone who considers himself as a conservative Democrat, I can relate to this as how I sometimes feel. I have many Republican friends who shake their head at what is going on at their side of the aisle. I sometimes shake my head at what Obama is doing. The middle gets lost in the muddle.
Paul DuBois
Fri, 10/17/2014 - 3:50pm
I would like to propose a radical solution to the takeover of radicals. The moderates of the party that wins a house of the legislature should offer their leadership a choice, either select a moderate as leader or they will conspire with the other party to elect a moderate from their ranks. As long as we confine ourselves to our tribes and allow the tribes to dictate our actions we will never break the current trend.
John S Porter
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 7:30am
Right on !
Dick Hooker
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 7:37am
Well said; if only there were more RINOs and DINOs, I might even be convinced to take that most drastic of steps....joining a political party!
Roger Martin
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 7:39am
Ditto, David.
Don Wotruba
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 8:07am
Great commentary! Time to change our primary system so the moderates of both parties can get elected. It will just have to be at the general election running against the crazies of their own party.
Jimmy Greene
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 8:24am
Dave, You've described me to a tee :) A Black Catholic Republican who is a strong adovcate in the face of opposition from both Church & Party; for Gay Rights (and yes that emcompasses Marriage). Ironically one of my very best friends a Liberal Democrat who is in fact Lesbian and ran for State Office (lost in the Primary). I've been Republican for over 30 years and I've come to a conclusion that with some exception; Black people that grew up like I did; in Flint Michigan Projects, that wish to make a difference in our communities whil hanging on to our identities simply are a different kind of Republican. That's not to say that our values are different because most often than not; they aren't. But it's the "empathy" gene. When you come from where I come from you view the world differently. It's not as Black and White or as simple as those not from that environment can understand, thus you get sympathy at best or a complete disconnect at best. You cringe tat discrimination when you see it and it's no longer a "color" thing but a gender thing or a religious thing, or in any other genre; you can see it clearly. So in Republican world sadly, that gets viewed as "RINO-like". These days the Jack Kemp Republican is an antiquated model but it's my model and the continued embracement of it will always predispose me to a RINO Label but I've come to accept it as a compliment :)
Brian Connelly
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 9:01am
As a former chair of the Republican party in Washtenaw County and a former member of Republican State Central Committee, I couldn't agree more. You speak for many of us, Dave.
Robin Sanders
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 9:45am
I appreciate the tone of this article but must take issue with the particulars. It is my contention that there is no such thing as a Rino or Dino in today's politics. The current process of public policy is that it is sold to the highest bidder, especially in Michigan. With the fairly recent report on the Governor and the Legislature exempting themselves from FOIA, it is very revealing that corruption in Michigan government is still the order of the day. I speak from experience as a Public Safety Advocate to the legislature, that so called public policy may as well be called private interest policy, because the only time the public is even considered as at vote harvesting time. The "moderates" are largely black balled by their own parties if they do not cooperate with the corrupted political system. I can also attest to this by having been a State employee for over 20 years, and know how the process works.
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 11:12am
The only label I have for David Worthams is thoughtful. Having worked across the aisle from him for six years while he was Republican staff, David always brought honest, thoughtful, an diligent work to our deliberations and debates. While we were occasionally at odds, more often our shared commitment to a better state helped shape better legislation. Thanks for this editorial.
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 11:16am
Well said, David. Well said. I long for the days of understanding of mutual respect for opinions and that its ok to "agree to disagree".
Bill Nowling
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 11:56am
Truth spoken to power, David.
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 3:27pm
I have to admit I am a bit weary of people who bemoan how other people don’t understand them and place labels on them that they don’t like. I don’t understand what the Republicans and especially the RINOs want to be associated them with. Being raised a (‘yellow dog’) Democrat I learned what their guiding principle was/is. But I never have learned what Republicans and especially RINOs have as guiding principles. If you can’t describe your guiding principles then why should you be surprised when others label you? As for the ‘radicals’ and the ‘moderates’, both are labels of convenience, and when a ‘RINO’ labels others I have less understanding of his complaints. As best I can tell the ‘radicals’ have more passion about their guiding principles (albeit counterproductive) then the ‘RINOs’. What do ‘moderates’ have passion for? I feel Mitt Romney phrased it well when he explained how he would share his guiding principles and encourage the Congress to develop laws accommodating those principles. He was willing to say how he approached issues but was not so locked into the methods that he would not uses all ideas. We know the alternative to that approach, “We have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it,”. You have to understand I am not a ‘moderate’ on any issue, I am not a ‘radical’ on any issue I simply want actions that are (accountable) for results, I am passionate about results. By the way if RINO, even ‘Obama loving RINO,’ is the worse you hear then I have to say you have lived a more sheltered live than I have, and I feel mine has been sheltered. I have a rating system, to feed Mr. Worthams need for labels. There is ‘whine’, ‘with cheese’, and ‘with cheese and crackers’. Mr. Worthams’ article earns a ‘whine.’ Oh by the way, what will happen to the RINOs and DINOs on November 4 is they will need to start serving 'cheese' and probably 'crackers.'
Michael Arney
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 6:16pm
David, this piece is perfect. Thank you for putting out there how a lot of moderates feel.
John Q. Public
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 6:57pm
Starting a new political party isn't hard. What's stopping all the poor "moderates" from doing that? I suspect that they're far more enamored with power than they care to admit, and they know that the big-money players who provide power aren't interested in moderation. Actions speak louder than words, and for all the complaints the "sensible center" has, I don't see many of them leaving their parties.
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 7:36pm
I am wondering why an entire article is spent bashing the absolute GOP insanity we have seen recently ends with the all too common and totally false "they both do it" mantra? There really is no equivalent on the Democratic side. Dems are not eating their own with tea fueled primary challenges. Dems are not being coached on how to talk to a woman. Dems are not shitting down the government or threatening default on our debts in order to get their way. That is all GOP crazy, there is NO equal to that on the left. “This is a historic time … and one side simply has to win out over the other.” - Richard Murdoch after ending the career of moderate Senator Richard Lugar.
Amy Morris
Sun, 10/19/2014 - 9:10pm
Nice work Dave! And the comments give me reason for hope in this season of ridiculousness.
James Lefler
Mon, 10/20/2014 - 9:43am
As a member of the Kalamazoo County Executive Committee, I applaud Dave's difficult task of working with varying elements within our local Committee. Many 'Tea Party' folks are part of the Committee and through his fair leadership we work well together. It is my observation that the majority of the 'work' of our Committee; leading fund raising efforts, organizing Conventions, training precinct delegates and other Committee efforts is being done primarily by those very same 'Tea Party' folks. Their attendance at our meetings is well above the rate for other, non-TP members. They are engaged, interested and working diligently to institute the values they share with other Republicans. They are steadfast in their beliefs, clearly articulate in their principles and walk the walk.Too often, this steadfastness is seen as extreme. Myself, I struggle with just what is a 'Republican', if not a clear advocate of those principles outlined in the Republican Party Platform. The concepts of small government, lower taxes and free markets would appear to me to be easily actionable ideas yet often I shake my head at some of my legislators votes that run counter to those very concepts. How can two Republicans vote in opposite directions on issues like Common Core, Medicaid Expansion and increasing taxes on Senior pensions? Which one was the Republican vote? I've asked this repeatedly and have yet to hear a reply. If expecting answers to such questions is extreme, well, count me in. Lastly, if only those labeled as 'moderates' are welcome, why have two parties? Full disclosure, I am the President of the VanKal Tea Party Patriots, serving both Kalamazoo and VanBuren counties.
Mon, 10/20/2014 - 3:32pm
Is your goal to have harmony in the local Republican party or to affect how government operations by drawing voters to your candidates? What you feel is easy, “The concepts of small government, lower taxes and free markets would appear to me to be easily actionable” is not quite possibly because you are still looking how politics was done and not how those you want to reach are living. People today are much more responsible for their lives, they are much more accountable, and they have much more authority. People today think for themselves more than politicians do and think voters do. Using your three word philosophies leaves everything to the imagination and nothing to apply to everyday living. You seem to think ‘small government’ tells it all and yet it says nothing that people can relate to. Sure we see the fallacy of ‘big government’ that others promote, but you offer nothing of what ‘small government’ will do. I would offer you look to the voters and how they are living their lives and thinking about the everyday. You would be better off promoting value from government, results, and how government can be held accountable then to talk about ‘small government’. Similarly, ‘lower taxes’ tell us nothing about what society will be like. It leaves open how government could borrow more, remove services we value, buy on the cheap and get less for the money (look at roads). Better to be promoting getting value for our current taxes and slow the increased spending so more taxes won’t be needed. As for ‘free markets’ what do you think that means to people, do honestly think they learn that in school (prek-12). You would be better promoting public choice over government choice. We have seen how the government intrusion into medical care payment system is distorting what people have to buy and what they will not use. You need to be describing clearly what will be the guiding principles to be applied to government and the social structure in much more than two or three word bromides. You also need to be developing ways for people/voters to participate in developing innovative approaches to the concerns of voters. Your comments are earn a ‘whine’ because you aren’t looking for change, you only want what hasn’t worked in the past to work now.
Gene Clem
Mon, 10/20/2014 - 1:00pm
I am a member of the Kalamazoo County Republican Party executive committee. I have been on it for the past four years and have witnessed the changes as the Tea Party conservatives came on board. Dave's evenhanded guidance of the organization has been instrumental in getting as many as possible pulling together in the same direction. His learned use of Roberts Rules has resulted in much more productive meetings when we all get to give our opinions AND actually listen to and understand others' points of discussion. Of course after fours years we all realize that we may not agree all points, but that there is enough for us to bond together and get our team elected. There are some who are 'my way or the highway' types who have left active support of the party from both 'camps' and there will be some in the future who will be hitting the road I am sure. That is the way it is with people. This kind of 'turmoil' is a sign of a healthy organization in my opinion. We have a lot of people across the state who are engaged and active in building the party from the grassroots up. The challenge is to harness all this energy and get it all going in the right general direction towards the goal. A tough task, but with people like Dave in the party I am assured that the brightest ideas will win out in the end as he and others like him are dedicated to getting the best out of our rag-tag crew of volunteers. The purpose of 'the chair' is NOT to impose his will on the organization, but to discern the will of the organization and then get it to move towards its goals. Dave has done this over the past two years. Why, I did not even know that Dave and I do not agree on many policies, but that is OK, I never said that Dave was perfect. My confession: I am the original Tea Party organizer in Kalamazoo, assisted in establishing Tea Parties in Berrien, Cass, Allegan, Eaton, Calhoun and Barry counties, as well as the Michigan Tea Party Alliance. I am also president of the Voter Information Network, a superPAC with board members who are Tea Party and long time Republican Party members from across the state.
Richard McLellan
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 11:29am
I have been a real Republican for 56 years and always thought our job was electing Republicans, not imposing some sort of ideological purity. My grandmother may have gone too far when she would say, "I would vote for the Devil if he was on the Republican ticket," but I learned early on not to demand perfect unity if you want to win. Republicans do need to understand there is a real Hate Caucus in the GOP whose members are as intolerant of differences as are some of the organizations the democracies are battling in the World.
Darryle Buchanan
Tue, 10/21/2014 - 2:46pm
Since so many of my friends and acquaintances are responding, I have to jump in too. This is what is missing in all of our discourse politically, its' an all or nothing mindset which means that very little if anything gets done. Cross the line, you'll pay politically, regardless of whether the outcome was the right one. It's impossible to govern from the extremes of our ideologies and we must replace partisanship with statesmanship. Good ideas are good ideas no matter which side of the aisle they come from.
Conservative Realist
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 2:42am
I have seen several tea party leaders doing a slash and burn at the county parties. "Taking over" and then not having the inherit knowledge to complete all aspects of the party mission. The blame game that the 'establishment' (those that were regular people but simply involved before the tea party are evil rino establishment good old boys) won't or didn't help is absurd. When good valuable people were treated as if they were some sort of Boss Hogg for serving for previous years as volunteers is sad. Many of those gentle folks chose to reconnect with their families, engage in hobbies, and not be subjected to nonsense when they were the worker bees before the tea party. There are few smoky back rooms at the local county party. Sometimes there is a 'click' like any team or organisation. Heck you see that in the PTA, the Church Men's Guild, I even saw it at the Lions and Hunt Club. Pitchfork and torches at volunteers doesn't serve well. In many cases, the Bastille got stormed, but when the misguided winners inherited their volunteer sourced parties, they remained angry that those they threw out as evil stopped coming, or only on rare occasions. Why would those folls stay on after they were berated? Now, a few years later, those that won their primaries as candidates may not be the ideal. The 'new establishment' parties and the several years now experienced tea parties, are not filling the victory centers or sending boots out on the ground for doors. The blame game continues. In a few cases, it really sounds like the Its Bush's fault. Where are the people? Well, some of the old volunteers felt rudely treated and wen on with their lives, doing local politics, helping their neighbors, coming in for signs and donating to candidates. Where are the new people? I'm not sure. I haven't seen them working even for individual candidates they like. As for me, I will continue to help where I can and avoid the drama. That doesn't help change policy or elections.
Garnet Lewis
Wed, 10/22/2014 - 6:14am
'Be the change that you wish to see in the world.' -Ghandi If you so desire a more moderate stance, from both sides of the aisle then, perhaps, it is time for us to expect no less? If we just sit idly by and allow the extremists to prevail....then we, ourselves, are only to blame.