Will Ted Cruz’s Primary Victory Finally Awaken Florida’s Establishment Republicans?

Published August 8, 2012

How many times must a Ted Cruz, a Richard Mourdock, a Marco Rubio, a Rand Paul, a Nikki Haley, a Mike Lee, etc., put a drubbing on Establishment Republicans before the career politician wing of the Republican Party “gets it” on selling out conservative principles? While Establishment Republicans scratch their heads over Cruz’s “upset” win last week in the Texas U.S. Senate primary, Cruz’s victory reflects the limited-government, free-market principles of conservative Republicans throughout the nation.

Nowhere is the difference between principled conservatives and Establishment Republicans more apparent than energy and environment issues. Establishment Republicans typically view energy and environment issues as an opportunity for compromise where they can talk about feel-good environmental principles and try to show independents and liberals that they really aren’t so conservative after all. It is a cold political calculation designed to win November elections, but grassroots conservatives know that appeasing environmental activists by opposing affordable energy produces dramatically negative economic consequences. As a result, Republican primary voters are predictably and rightfully defeating Establishment Republicans in in primary contests before Establishment Republicans can sell out to environmental activists in November elections.

David Dewhurst learned this lesson the hard way last week in Texas. Conservative primary voters did not quickly forget Dewhurst’s stated inclination to sell out affordable energy in anticipation of the 2012 general election. As the Austin American-Statesman reported in January 2011, “This month, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said that he’s putting together a plan to encourage utilities to shut down their old and dirty coal-fired power plants and replace them with facilities powered by cleaner natural gas.”

Natural gas is becoming more cost-competitive with coal, but conservatives want the market, not politicians and bureaucrats, to determine when it makes sense to produce more electricity from natural gas rather than coal. And if politicians and bureaucrats nevertheless decide to make such decisions themselves, conservatives want those decisions to be made based on sound economic analysis, not appeals to environmental activist agendas.

Nowhere is the disconnect between grassroots conservatives and Establishment Republicans more apparent than in Florida, the site of the upcoming Republican National Convention. On the one hand you have the career-politician, Establishment Republican wing of the party, which was previously led by Charlie Crist and is now led by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and State Rep. Scott Plakon. On the other hand you have the grassroots-conservative, Tea Party wing of the party, led by Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio. Establishment Republican leaders seek to maintain their political power by whispering romantic sweet nothings into the ears of grassroots conservatives, but they continue to govern as if they are the reincarnation of Republican-turned-Independent (and soon to turn Democrat) Charlie Crist.

Next week, the sellout of conservative principles by Florida’s Establishment Republicans will be on full display at Putnam’s Florida Energy Summit. Putnam is hosting a three-day energy conference with the purpose of providing political cover for government intrusions into the marketplace on behalf of politically connected renewable power companies. It is as if the Solyndra debacle never happened, or at least was never reported in Florida.

The agenda and speakers’ roster are a Who’s Who of renewable power insiders and politically connected crony capitalists. For example, the opening panel is titled “The Economics of Solar in the Sunshine State,” with the four speakers being three solar industry insiders and one person who recently put solar panels on his roof. The title of the panel may lead people to believe the panel will provide a balanced, academic discussion of solar power economics, but the speakers were clearly cherry-picked to provide political cover for Putnam’s Establishment Republican advocacy for expensive, inefficient, politically connected solar power.

Where are the free-market economists? Where are the advocates for affordable energy? Where are the objective voices on the panel? Conservative Republicans in other states may seek them out, but they are clearly not welcome at THIS conference.

Worse yet, the Florida Energy Summit is more than a sellout of conservative economic principles. It is career-politician, Establishment Republican political grandstanding. This is most appallingly demonstrated in an August 16 panel titled “Florida Energy Policy – Implementing HB 7117.”