- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2000

Groups aligned with their traditionally favored political party have recently taken actions that have turned the primary-election status quo on its head.

On the Republican side, the newly formed Club for Growth has sent shock waves through the Republican House caucus. The Club for Growth, whose board of directors includes Cato Institute economist Stephen Moore, National Review President Thomas Rhodes, and Wall Street investment banker Richard Gilder, has committed itself to raise millions of dollars in campaign funds on behalf of non-incumbent, pro-growth candidates of either party, including those who challenge entrenched incumbents. Modeling itself after the wildly successful EMILY's List, which bundles individual contributions for pro-choice Democratic candidates, the Club for Growth will direct individual contributions from across the country to 10 to 20 "exceptional" candidates. Exercising its First Amendment rights, the Club will also conduct independent expenditure campaigns.

What has some in the House Republican caucus in an uproar is the Club for Growth's initial target, nine-term liberal Republican Marge Roukema of New Jersey. Mrs. Roukema is steamed that the organization will be helping her primary opponent, state Rep. Scott Garrett, whose pro-growth, pro-freedom credentials Mr. Moore considers impeccable. In the heavily Republican district, Mr. Garrett narrowly lost the 1998 Republican primary to Mrs. Roukema. With the support of the Club for Growth this year, however, Mr. Garrett seems even stronger. The economic beefs that the Club for Growth has with Mrs. Roukema include her opposition to Medical Savings Accounts, her lead sponsorship of the Family and Medical Leave Act, her votes for increasing the minimum wage and not exempting small businesses, her strenuous opposition to privatized Social Security accounts and her vote against sunsetting the tax code.

National Journal's latest ideology ratings ranked Mrs. Roukema more liberal than 46 percent of House members, hardly a pro-growth ranking. Moreover, during the first two years of the Clinton presidency, according to Congressional Quarterly, she had the undistinguished record of supporting Mr. Clinton's policies more than she had supported President Bush's policies during the last two years of his term. She supported Mr. Clinton's policies 55 percent of the time as recently as 1997. Not only does the Club for Growth believe that the electable Mr. Garrett would be far more growth-oriented; the Club also believes Mr. Garrett's victory would encourage moderate and liberal Republicans to vote for more pro-growth policies in Congress.

Mrs. Roukema's disgust with being targeted as an incumbent by pro-growth interest groups who are supporting her primary challenger seems somehow misplaced in a party that traces its resurrection to Ronald Reagan, whose conservative-backed campaign challenged incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976. Also, Mrs. Roukema seems to have separate standards when it comes to challenging incumbent Republicans. Indeed, she was among the the first Republicans to attempt to depose the incumbent Republican House leadership after the 1998 elections, specifically targeting Majority Leader Dick Armey. That, of course, was her right. But she can hardly cry foul when pro-growth, pro-freedom conservatives want to replace her with one of their own.

Republicans have long believed that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Now they must get used to the idea that the days of the primary free ride are over. And the nation's democratic foundation will be strengthened by the increase in competition.

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