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Texas Gov. Rick Perry leads crowd of conservatives blasting Washington, 'blue states'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Although a sizable chunk of its speaker list stayed in Washington, Saturday’s regional Conservative Political Action Conference kept its focus on its chief message of lower taxes, fewer regulations, a stronger military presence overseas -- and no Obamacare.

That message was aimed at the nation’s capital, as well as the states.

“Stay on offense!” declared Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, the highest ranking state Republican addressing the hundreds attending CPAC’s day-long event in St. Charles.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was among the members of Congress who cancelled their scheduled appearances to remain in the Capitol for the continued negotiations over the budget measure known as the “continuing resolution” that’s needed to prevent a federal-government shutdown as of midnight Monday.

Only Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, flew in from D.C. to deliver his remarks – garnering a standing ovation, particularly with his call for conservatives to stand firm against the federal health insurance program officially known as the Affordable Care Act. Most of the program’s insurance exchanges are scheduled to begin enrollment on Tuesday.

“Sitting back and doing nothing is not acceptable,” Lee declared.

CPAC’s morning emcee, conservative commentator Dana Loesch, appeared to reflect the mood when she criticized unnamed Lee colleagues – which included Blunt – who backed Senate voting procedures that resulted in blocking the efforts of Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to delay a Senate vote that stripped out the U.S. House’s mandate that the budget measure repeal Obamacare.

Although Blunt made floor speeches last week highlighting his opposition to the health insurance program, some local Republican activists had said they planned to show their dissatisfaction with Blunt if he showed up at CPAC and took to the stage as scheduled. Some tweeted jabs when it was clear Blunt was staying in Washington

The crowd of Missouri Republicans in the U.S. House also cancelled their appearances, including Reps. Ann Wagner of Ballwin, Blaine Luetkemeyer of St. Elizabeth and Jason Smith of Salem.

ACU Chairman Al Cardenas told reporters that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had asked Blunt “to be a bridge with the House members" and stay in Washington. Cardenas also said House members were “just not allowed to leave Washington.”

“He called personally and I spoke to him,” Cardenas said of Blunt. “And I fully understand the magnitude of his responsibilities. And that’s the reason why he’s not here.”

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group, told reporters that he thought the House Republicans’ push Saturday for a one-year delay in Obamacare’s implementation might be able to snag a few Democratic votes – and possibly force the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate and President Barack Obama to go along. The delay could then be extended annually, Norquist said.

Brenda Talent, wife of former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and executive director of the St. Louis-based Show-Me Institute --  one of the CPAC sponsors -- drew hearty applause when she declared, "Three more years before the end of Barack Obama’s presidency."

Illinois, Missouri get special attention

Meanwhile, financially troubled Illinois was touted as the poster child for an overtaxed state – and an example of the Democrats’ economic views -- during a panel forum that compared the Land of Lincoln with states like Kansas and Texas that have cut taxes on income and businesses.

Illinois’ economy “is in a death spiral,” said panelist Ted Dabrowski with the free-market Illinois Policy Institute.

Patrick Ishmael, a policy analyst with the St. Louis-based Show-Me Institute – one of the conference’s sponsors – called on Missouri to revisit the effort to cut the state’s income tax, which failed earlier this year. “Do not allow Missouri to become like Detroit,” he said.

The repeated calls for eliminating state income taxes fit in with Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s role as a spokesman for a new national group – Americans for Economic Freedom – that is seeking to spread the low-tax discussion to all 50 states. (See the Beacon article on the new low-tax group.)

CPAC speakers, including Kinder, also called for states to curb union clout by adopting “right to work” legislation that prevent unions and employers from collecting dues from workers who are represented by a union, but decline to join it as a member.

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, who is running for re-election next year, used his speech to attack Missouri Democrats -- notably Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.  Schweich referred to Koster, expected to run for governor in 2016, as "Benedict Arnold" because Koster is a former Republican who became a Democrat in 2007.

Perry, a possible candidate for president in 2016, reaffirmed on Saturday his effort to promote Texas’ lack of an income tax as a model that other states should follow.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks to the media about the General Assembly's failure to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a tax cut bill.

But Perry also joined other speakers in condemning Obama’s foreign policy. Perry jabbed at the administration’s threat of military action against Syria’s government because it is believed to have used chemical weapons against its own people in that country’s civil war.

Perry contended that Obama was all talk, and little action. Conservative commentator Oliver North, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, touched off cheers as he asserted that the president was “kowtowing to foreign leaders and apologizing for America.”

Among those dropping by the conference was former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, who lost a bid for the U.S. Senate last year to incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill.  Akin said he came to "see old friends."

Early Saturday, about 20 protesters with labor and progressive groups showed up outside the convention hall to underscore their opposition to CPAC’s message.

“The economic agenda being pushed by CPAC has been devastating to working people,” said Lew Moye, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. “Instead of finding ways to help CEOs ship jobs away from our country, it is time to close unfair tax loopholes and hold corporations accountable to ensure good jobs for our community.”

Perry laments failure of tax cut override

During a media availability after his Saturday speech, Perry lamented -- as he had at his earlier event Friday -- the failure of the Missouri General Assembly to override Gov. Nixon’s veto of a bill cutting business and personal income taxes.

Perry became intertwined in the fight, including making an appearance at a St. Louis County rally for proponents of the override. He was also featured in advertisements trying to convince Missouri businesses to move to Texas.

“Unfortunately, you didn’t have enough members of the legislature that were willing to stand courageously with the citizens,” Perry said.

Perry told reporters the fight over the tax cut “furthers the conversation about blue state versus red state policies,” which has been his big political theme for weeks.

“There are going to be businessmen and women who look at what the decision was made in Missouri and say, ‘You know what, I’m going to go somewhere where they really respect what I do that doesn’t want to overtax me, overregulate me or overlitigate me,” Perry said. “And they’re welcome to come to those states.”

Perry also opined on the possibility of a government shutdown, saying, “I don’t think anybody thinks shutting down the government is a good option.” But he went onto say that the reality is that either “Washington through their moves over the next few days will defund Obamacare or the American people will.”

“The American people will defund Obamacare, because it’s not going to work,” Perry said. “And then the states are going to have to come up with most likely the ways to try and implement this. And again, it goes back to the concept of why are we so focused as a country on solutions coming out of Washington, D.C., when they have been abject failures for the last five years in particular?”

Cardenas told reporters that there’s “no split on whether to defund Obamacare.” He echoed Norquist in observing that the only challenge “is what is the best strategy to follow.”

“Frankly, I think both sides are very helpful to the effort,” Cardenas said. “If we did not have the ‘take no prisoners approach’ to defund Obamacare, this wouldn’t have gotten much coverage from the media and all of you. The American people had not had a chance to take a second look at Obamacare.”

“Now that we understand the political balance in the Congress and the president’s veto power, we have to see what we can come up with,” he added. 

Brownback says "change is coming from the state"

Meanwhile, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback struck a similar chord as Perry. Brownback too was intertwined in Missouri’s tax cut fight. His aggressive tax cutting of income and business taxes was seen as a rationale by Missouri Republicans to cut taxes in the Show Me State.

He told reporters that “change is coming and change is coming from the states.”

“Ronald Reagan pushed to change welfare reform – did it for a long time,” Brownback said. “Didn’t get it done as a president. It wasn’t until Wisconsin and Michigan did welfare reform that the system had migrated to Washington.”

Like Perry, Brownback contended that there’s a “red state model” and “blue state model” on how to institute policy change. He described the “red state model” as “less government and family values,” while contending that the “blue state model” included “higher taxes and more government.”

“And one of these models is going to ultimately win,” Brownback said. “And the red state model, I would contend, leads to us being America again. The blue state model leads to a European model of America.”

Brownback also touched on a “border war” that’s been taking place in recent years between western Missouri and Kansas, which essentially involves the use of economic incentives to attract businesses to either state.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback talked to reporters about potentially ending the practice of using incentivizes to get businesses to relocate.

When asked whether he would be willing to call a “moratorium” on the two states offering tax credits for businesses to cross the state line, Brownback said: “I am.”

“I don’t like the idea of subsidizing businesses to locate in a state,” Brownback said. “I want to have a better business climate.”

While he said he would be willing to “start negotiating,” he added that he didn’t believe a governor could haggle with another state over tax credits. But he added “I’m willing to do so and offered that over a year ago.”

“I’m all for competition,” Brownback. “I think a better way to compete is on tax structure, and our taxes are much lower on the Kansas side. What you’re seeing happen in the area is the businesses that can get subsidies will play for them. But most small businesses can’t get that.”

When asked about the conservative anger over the continuing resolution fight, Brownback – a former member of the U.S. Senate – said, “I am encouraging everybody to do whatever they can to slow or stop Obamacare from being implemented."

He also said he didn’t expect the government to shut down or for Congress not to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

“I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” Brownback said. “What has typically happened in the past on debt negotiation ceilings is this is when you get a leverage point to get something through. … I really believe that the folks in Senate leadership – especially on our side – are using this to try and get some leverage onto the president who doesn’t want to deal with the debt or deficit. And my hope that they’re going to get some progress.”

“It’s not going to be everything we want,” he added. “But we need to start doing this.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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