Conservatives committed to the cause of a small and restrained government have been casting about in recent months for a standard bearer for traditional conservatism who is not Donald Trump.
Washington Post columnist George Will is one of them.
The political commentator is a Republican in the mold of Ronald Reagan. He’s so turned off by Trump that he left the GOP last year, saying, “This is not my party.” He called Trump’s November victory a “ruinous triumph for the GOP.”
He recently highlighted Arizona’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, in his column, headlined “A new voice for conservatism.” He lauded the first-term governor’s drive to lower the state income tax to “as close to zero as possible” and to let the free market reign. Will compared Ducey to the late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who is widely credited with shaping the modern Republican Party.
When he took office in 2015, Will wrote, Ducey fired a state agency head who (according to Ducey) was intent on putting the ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft out of business. Last year, he signed a bill restricting local governments’ ability to regulate short-term rentals arranged through websites such as Airbnb.
“He does not want Arizona to be part of ‘the permission society,’” Will wrote.
And when the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology objected to a cosmetology student from Tuscon giving free haircuts to the homeless, Ducey intervened on the student’s behalf and asked the board to stop its investigation.
“Today, Americans’ rights are increasingly restricted to those privileges that government grants for its purposes,” Will wrote. And that’s what Ducey is counteracting.
There’s a legitimate debate to be had about occupational licensing, and striking the right balance between consumer protections and people’s right to enter the occupation of their choice. But Will also needs to find a “voice for conservatism” with a credible way to address more pressing issues than a cosmetology student’s ability to give free haircuts to the homeless population.
Ducey doesn’t appear to be it.
In 2014, Arizona had the third highest poverty rate in the nation, and its poverty rate had risen while the nation’s stayed the same. More than a fifth of Arizonans lived at or below the federal poverty line that year. Arizona had the fifth highest child poverty rate in the country.
In 2015, Ducey signed into law the shortest lifetime limit in the nation on the length of time someone can receive cash assistance: Today, a low-income family with children can receive cash assistance for no longer than one year. Of the $469 million in state and federal funds it spent in 2015 under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, Arizona directed only 8 percent to welfare’s core purposes: the job training, child care and cash assistance that are supposed to help low-income families beat poverty.
While conservative politicians have invested substantial political capital into reining in traditional welfare programs, the simplest way to change life’s trajectory for a family in deep poverty is by making sure they have money. Years of research have shown that improvements in a household’s financial condition can lead to improved IQ scores among children; less stress; and improved, long-term educational attainment. A 2015 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that, aside from the health and educational benefits, increases in household income — including through direct payouts of unearned income to poor families — also can cause families to move to higher-income areas where residents have higher education levels.
As Ducey helps Arizona become what Will calls “an oasis of liberty,” the would-be conservative standard-bearer is doing the exact opposite of what the evidence suggests he should be doing to reduce poverty.
There are many deeply poor families in Arizona. It’s noble of Ducey to stand up for their ability to get free haircuts. But he and others in his party — including Maine Gov. Paul LePage — should also be leading a credible fight to improve their financial situation instead of penalizing them because they were born into poverty.