Cheap Shots in Alabama

by Quin Hillyer

Things are getting nasty, all from one direction, in what otherwise has been a mostly positive but vigorously contested Republican primary battle for a House seat in a deep-red district near Birmingham. The race involves numerous heavy hitters, and already is demolishing statewide primary fundraising records with two full months left before primary election day.

Anyway, a Tea Party–aligned candidate named Chad Mathis, a medical doctor, has been struggling to gain traction, in large part because several of the other candidates are demonstrably solid conservatives as well. So Mathis seems to be panicking. He’s out with a radio ad characterized by the local paper as letting his “claws come out.” In it, he takes shots at the four strongest other candidates, calling them a “gang of four” while lobbing various attacks at each of them — several of which seem dubious. I can’t vouch for the responses of three of those four, but the attack against Gary Palmer, longtime head of the conservative Alabama Policy Institute think tank, is particularly ludicrous and meretricious.

The ad accuses Palmer, without attribution, of once supporting hikes in property taxes. Based on earlier claims from Mathis, it appears the entire basis of this attack is a single stray comment in an old Palmer column that eventually the state will indeed need new revenue. The comment came in the course of an entire column devoted to opposing a package of tax reforms/revenue-raisers that then was being bandied about the state capitol. As any supply-sider can tell you, one need not raise tax rates of any sort in order to get more revenue. Jack Kemp himself was fond of saying that the way to cure deficits was by the government gaining more revenue — specifically from massively higher private-sector growth, not tax-rate hikes. As a supply-sider, Gary Palmer quite obviously meant exactly that, considering that the entire column was an argument against tax hikes.

As it was, I remember that issue very well, and was in frequent touch with Palmer that year, because I was writing editorials and columns for the Mobile Register about the state’s looming budget crisis. And Palmer was absolutely consistent: The state government, he said, eventually would need more revenue — but only about a third as much as the eventual ballot proposition called for. Palmer vigorously opposed the proposal at issue, saying that the way to create the new revenue was via economic growth. What’s more, Palmer’s entire career of more than two decades at API is one of a strongly anti-tax-hike supply-sider. In fact, he’s the one who fed me the data necessary when I advocated a local sales-tax cut in Mobile.

To run an ad accusing Gary Palmer, of all people, of being a tax hiker is as absurd as it would be to say the same about Arthur Laffer.

Any sentient follower of public affairs in Alabama knows that Palmer and API are low-tax advocates. Nobody with a conscience would dare assert otherwise. Chad Mathis ought to be ashamed of himself.