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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Independents, Tea Party, Adopt ‘Mrkonic’ Theory

November 8, 2010

As a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I sat next to legendary Democrat Rep. Emil Mrkonic on the floor of the House. Emil was eccentric in many ways, but he was good at what he did, and that was to represent the liberal Democrat district of McKeesport in the Mon Valley region outside Pittsburgh.

He had a catchy campaign slogan that he used to win re-election year after year. He identified himself as, “The Taxpayer’s Friend,” and he became notorious for it.

We cast thousands of votes on a myriad of issues, some controversial, some not, and before each vote, we discussed which way we were each going to go.

In practice, it is hard to read every bill one is asked to vote on, as there are just too many demands on a member’s time from constituents, colleagues, and others, to be able to peruse every piece of legislation coming up for a vote.

So yes, there were times when we didn’t know the specifics of a bill, and on those occasions we fell back on our political philosophy, or asked another member about their take on it, before deciding to cast a “yes” or “no” vote.

Emil though had a unique theory on those occasions; he simply voted “no.”

His theory was two-fold.  He believed government enacted too many laws and instituted too many regulations. Secondly, he was steadfast in his philosophy not to spend taxpayer’s money frivolously, and he flatly refused to vote for any tax increase, ever.

What’s interesting about the philosophy of this little known state legislator is that it now mirrors the vast majority of Republican and Independent voters, and Tea Party members, who turned out to vote in droves last week in the congressional mid-term elections. These voting activists have adopted the “Mrkonic” theory.

Emil understood the voters in his District, who were overwhelmingly Democrat, blue collar, union members, mostly steelworkers, people who worked hard for their money. They simply wanted enough left over from their paycheck, after the government took its share, to enjoy life with their family.

This could be an important lesson for President Barrack Obama and the Democrats as they head into the 2012 elections. Some are wondering if the President fully understood the enormity of the message he was sent by voters last week, who gave Republicans control of the House, and elected six more members of the GOP to the Senate.

The President was mixed in his initial message. He said the election was “a referendum on the economy and the Party in power was held responsible.”  On CBS 60 Minutes, the President said, “Republicans were able to paint my governing philosophy as a classic big-government liberal.”

While that may be true, as far as it goes, voters were saying a lot more. Republicans seem to understand the political movement at hand, and are emphasizing the need to cut government spending, and reduce taxes, as well as the size, scope, and intrusion level of the government. The President is somewhat silent on these issues.

Soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, (R-Va), told television pundits over the weekend, “This will be a cost-cutting Congress.”

The President insists that he was only trying to bring about change in Washington, and perhaps moved too fast, and that special interests fought his every effort. Republicans argue the President took up too many big, expensive programs, that did not help the economy, and that spending levels in his first two years were far too high for an economy in a deep recession.

Next up will be the 2012 presidential election, and President Obama will face a tough re-election, although many questions remain. No one knows who the Republicans will nominate as their presidential candidate, and the economy could pick up between now and then.

Still, the President must listen to what voters said last week, especially their desire for a smaller and leaner government, along with a lower tax burden for everyone. He has a short period of time to convince voters that he has embraced their message, or he, and the remaining Democrats in power, will be on the chopping block once again in 2012.

It’s not that large of a task for the President and the Democrats to implement the kind of government the voters say they want, and they can do it without jettisoning their political philosophy. Many people point to former President Bill Clinton who made a historic move to the political center after Republicans took control of the House during the 1994 mid-term elections. He easily won re-election two years later.

Another example might be a little known Democrat state legislator named Emil MrKonic, or “The Taxpayer’s Friend,” who voted to cut taxes and hold the line on spending, and easily won re-election year after year, and the admiration of voters in his district.

Emil served 17 years. He died in 2002.