To the voters of New York’s 26th congressional district, Jim Ostrowski, an adviser to candidate Jack Davis, offers a simple dictum: “Send a clear message of change to Washington by voting for Jack on the Tea Party line.”
But the change Davis promises in the special election on May 24 looks awfully similar to the change he promised in 2004 — and in 2006 . . . and in 2008.
That’s because Davis is a one-trick pony.
Years before he donned the mantle of the Tea Party, Davis was a registered Republican. He donated $2,000 to George W. Bush’s reelection campaign. He gave another $2,000 to his future opponent, then-representative Tom Reynolds (R., N.Y.). And when he finally saw the light, it was in the hazy glow of a Dick Cheney fundraiser.
Davis, 78, is a founder of I Squared R Element Co., a maker of furnace parts in Akron, N.Y. After foreign competition supposedly forced Davis to lay off 10 percent of his work force, he decided that the GOP’s free-trade stance wasn’t so grand. “The more I studied it, the more I realized it’s destroying America,” he told the Buffalo News. “That’s when I realized the unions and Democrats were on the right side of the issue.”
Protectionism was the panacea for the nation’s ills, he decided. And he was the man to deliver it.
At a Buffalo, N.Y., fundraiser in November 2003, he confronted then–vice president Cheney vocally about the administration’s policies — so vocally, in fact, that he got himself kicked out. Dissatisfied with the forms of protest open to a private citizen — a full-page ad in the Buffalo News here, a resolution by the Erie County legislature there — Davis decided to run for office.
And so to the Erie County Democratic party he went — his letter of introduction a wad of cash. “I asked [the party chairman] what it would take to get the endorsement and show I’m really interested,” Davis recounted. “He said $500,000. I said, ‘You got it.’”
The Democratic rank and file were suspicious, of course. What did their new standard bearer think of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? “Don’t waste my time on that,” Davis scoffed. “I’m here to save jobs. That shouldn’t even be on the table, but it is.”
He spent the promised $500,000 in pursuit of Reynolds’s seat — and then another $700,000, just for good measure. And then he lost.
In 2006, Davis tried again. It was a blue year, and he was battle-hardened. He also was a better Democrat. Abortion? Why, it was a “woman’s choice” — so much so that he opposed any limitations, even on late-term abortions. And on Medicaid funding for the procedure, “I don’t have a problem with that,” he told a local radio-show host.
In his campaign announcement, Davis dabbled a bit in foreign policy, decrying “the stunning incompetence of our intelligence prior to 9/11, the horrible mistake in going to war with Iraq and the resulting deaths of over 2,300 American servicemen and the wounding of over 17,000 and the estimated enormous cost of $2 trillion.” “We should start bringing the troops home,” he asserted. “But we should not set a date for complete withdrawal.”
Yes, Davis did express some conservative notions. “I will not raise income taxes,” he pledged. “I support elimination of the death tax,” he added. “No amnesty for illegal aliens and seal the borders,” he declared. But his driving issue, his raison d’être, was protectionism.
“My reasons for leaving the Republican party,” he explained, “were: I am anti-globalization, anti-free-trade, anti–offshoring of jobs, and anti-illegal-immigration. They were not.”
That year, he spent $2.25 million, and came within four percentage points of the incumbent Republican. But he lost.
Still, he kept smiling. “They can call me a kook or crazy or anything else,” Davis said, “but the results of my run for Congress did a lot of good” — that is, it forced Republicans to divert money from other races.
Committed to his new team, Davis ran for the Democratic nomination in 2008, endorsed then-senator Barack Obama for president, and accepted $5,000 from Obama’s political action committee. But primary voters rejected Davis in favor of lawyer Alice Kryzan.
Now, Davis’s name sits on the ballot line marked “Tea Party” — a line he fabricated with the help of a petition-signature-gathering firm. Sure, Davis professes belief in low taxes, but he tosses the social-conservative agenda to the wind, and he views foreign policy through the eyes of a mercantilist. And on his signature issue, his hobbyhorse, his idée fixe — protectionism — he is just plain wrong.
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.