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Tom Vander Ark Headshot

The Chamber of Commerce Party

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I had dinner with four Republicans last night. They wonder where their party went. It was a chamber of commerce gala, so I probably had dinner with a couple hundred Republicans and a lot of pro-growth Democrats, but I talked politics with four in particular. The current and former state representatives would still publicly identify themselves as Moderate Republicans. The nonpartisan elected official and business executive would probably introduce themselves as pro-growth independents. They all feel abandoned by party politics.

David Brooks' column on independents suggested there is big unaligned and unrepresented third of voters in the middle. I don't think the middle is quite as mushy as Brooks suggested--the biggest share is the disenfranchised chamber crowd. They belong to Rotary or Kiwanis, they run small businesses, they are pro-growth fiscal conservatives, and they are social moderates. To a starting assumption of limited government, the Chamber of Commerce Party adds key ingredients for growth: education, infrastructure, and safety. They don't want tax credits for adding back jobs, they just want government to stop being a barrier to growth.

The gala was held in suburban Seattle. Washington State is a strange (and wonderful) place. Labor is still fighting a 1950s battle for back-loaded lifetime employment and owns the Democrats. The values-voting Rush & Rove Republicans have rendered themselves irrelevant. The world passed Washington by and Olympia didn't notice. The legislature is shocked that South Carolina will get some Boeing jobs and oblivious to the flat free-trade China-is-going-to-kick-our-ass education-is-everything global economy.

The Chamber of Commerce Party crowd feels abandoned by primaries that weed out pro-growth moderates. Many of them voted for Obama in hopes of a new era of bipartisanship in Congress; the health care food fight dashed any hope for pragmatism. So, what's the Chamber of Commerce Party to do?

Washington has a top two primary, so it's conceivable that a pro-growth candidate for governor could make a runoff in two years. Tuesday's election suggests they won't be alone. It's quite likely that Republicans will gain gubernatorial market share next time around given the disastrous state of state budgets.

One of my dinner colleagues suggested that we will see a Republican controlled congress in 2011 and that, like Clinton, it's possible that we'll see Obama's best work under divided government. Maybe so, but only if the Republicans (and Democrats) pay more attention to the Chamber of Commerce Party.

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