We made great strides in our early years in the majority — welfare reform, the first balanced budget in nearly 30 years, and a commitment to smaller government. Since then, we have more to be proud of — tax relief, a strong economy, and no terrorist attack on American soil in five years. But these accomplishments are not enough. We lost the people’s trust.
Now, we as Republicans are faced with a challenge. We must regain the trust of the American people or face being a minority party for a long time. We can regain their trust, but we must return to the ideals that swept us into the majority 12 years ago. The status quo is unacceptable. We heard voters’ message loud and clear. They want change in Washington and that means new leadership and a renewed and shared vision.
When we seized the majority, Republicans promised to deliver on two things; shrink the size and scope of the federal government and remove the ethical cloud over Washington by changing the way it operates. Initially, we made progress, enacted real reforms, and instilled fiscal discipline. In the years since, we have too often forgotten those promises.
Unfortunately, over time, things changed. Federal spending and government expansion increased at an alarming rate. More importantly, we became the party of secret backroom dealing that was sadly reminiscent of the scandal-plagued Democrat Congress we once railed against.
What happened to our promises? Huge government entitlements threaten to bankrupt the federal budget, earmarks exploded and often appeared corrupt and self-serving even if they weren’t, and the budget process has not been reformed. Still, some Republicans were surprised when some of the American people gave up on us and dealt us a decisive blow that quite frankly, could have been much worse.
Yet, in defeat there is a real opportunity for Republicans. We now have an opportunity to evaluate, unite, and change course. We must learn from the mistakes of the Democrats after their loss in 1994, and not spend the next 12 years in the minority. They kept the same leaders and not until they made the necessary changes eight years later did they begin to find a road toward success. If we want to return to the majority soon, we must take corrective action now. We cannot, as they did, count on the others side to make mistakes.
To be successful, our leaders must believe in the principles they are espousing. Paying lip service to reform and principle won’t be enough. The voters saw through it last week and they’ll see though it again. We need new ideas, a shared vision for real reform, and strong, principled, policy positions.
Being a part of the Revolutionary Class of ’94 instilled a sense of optimism and hope in me that still remains. We believed then that we could return our government to the people, and I still believe it now. The American people share the Republican vision for America, but now we must earn back their trust.
We need leaders with new ideas and new energy to reignite our efforts and reclaim our rightful place as the governing party of reform and individual empowerment. These principles will be the keys to our success. We will not regain the majority without them.
— Congressman John Shadegg is a candidate for minority whip in the House of Representatives. He is a Republican from Phoenix.