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ORANGE COUNTY VOICES : Elections Denote Conservative Tide : Disgruntled voters spoke loud and clear in November races--but liberal pundits misread their message.

<i> State Sen. John R. Lewis (R-Orange) represents the 35th State Senate District, located in north-central Orange County</i>

The meaning of the Nov. 5 elections has been hotly debated. With their attention focused on the Pennsylvania Senate race, the consensus among the conventional wisdom-mongers who dominate the media is that Americans are clamoring for old-time tax-and-spend programs like national health insurance. They are wide of the mark. While recognizing the outbreak of anti-incumbent fever, they misdiagnose the underlying causes.

From the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania to the school board elections in Orange and Santa Ana, the voters’ message was loud and clear: They are tired of excessive and capricious taxation, government catering to special interests, career politicians and business-as-usual politics.

In the Orange Unified School District, voters catapulted three newcomers to their school board: Bob Viviano, Bill Lewis and Maureen Aschoff. During their campaigns, the victors rode the anti-tax wave as vocal opponents of the so-called “maintenance assessment district,” or MAD, tax that Orange Unified, along with several Orange County boards, tried to impose.

Bob Viviano’s opponent was a two-term liberal Democrat endorsed by much of the local political Establishment. Though posing as the man who defeated the MAD tax, this incumbent had in fact helped shepherd it to enactment. Perhaps smelling the intense opposition sooner than his board comrades, he flip-flopped at the last minute on the pretext that it contained no exemption for senior citizens.

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Orange voters saw through his smoke screen and elected Viviano by a 66%-to-33% margin. This same anti-incumbent, anti-tax feeling was evident in the election of Rosemarie Avila to the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Education. Avila, who received the most votes in a field that included three incumbents, campaigned on a platform of opposition to MAD taxes and health-care (read: birth control) clinics on school campuses. It is a warning to self-serving incumbents everywhere that this throw-the-rascals-out attitude has filtered down to the school-board level.

In Mississippi, a conservative, anti-tax GOP candidate defeated the incumbent, a liberal Democrat, to become the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

Perhaps the clearest bellwether of the American political future occurred in New Jersey. The astonishing results there were all but ignored in the media, but they carry the greatest meaning. Fueled by voter anger over $2.8 billion in new taxes enacted by Democratic Gov. James Florio and a Democratic state Legislature, the Republicans swept to veto-proof two-thirds majorities in both houses. It was the first time in 20 years that the GOP had won control of the New Jersey Legislature in that heavily Democratic state. Republicans also made major gains in Virginia’s state legislative elections.

These developments were given predictably short shrift by liberal opinion vendors, who instead focused inordinate attention on the special U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania. There, appointed Sen. Harris Wofford, a Democrat, pulled off a tremendous come-from-behind victory over Republican Richard Thornburgh, just-resigned U.S. attorney general, popular former two-term governor and consummate political insider.

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Desperate for any public vindication of their discredited ideology, left-wing pundits proclaimed it a victory for national health insurance, the last frontier of American big-government liberalism. Everyone recognizes the mounting demand for affordable health insurance. However, these selfsame political observers conveniently overlooked that Wofford never mentioned how he would pay for his costly health insurance scheme. It was a classic case of promising a “free lunch” to voters caught in a recession.

Also ignored was the fact that Wofford’s campaign was conducted in the classic Reagan conservative mode: calling for tax cuts and railing against a remote Washington governing elite beholden to the special interests--hardly a liberal message.

The trend in Pennsylvania--and in Orange County, New Jersey and Mississippi--was clear to discerning observers. Voters want elected leaders who will end misguided government policies that punish the hard working and reward the indolent.

The November elections herald our arrival at a crossroads; we can walk again the high road of freedom and self-responsibility or travel with the liberals down the low road to mediocrity and government dependence. I believe, perhaps unfashionably, that this month’s elections are a welcome indication that more Americans are choosing the high road.


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