Frank Scaturro: A Call For Conservative Reform




A Call for Conservative Reform

text of Frank Scaturro Rally speech, June 14, 2014


The spirit of freedom is a powerful thing.  It gave us our independence.  It gave us our Constitution.  It emancipated the slaves.  It drove despots abroad into the dustbin of history.  Generation upon generation sacrificed—many making the ultimate sacrifice—to make America the greatest country the world has ever known.  

Since I first ran for our congressional seat, I’ve met thousands of our neighbors in our congressional district, which covers about half of Nassau County.  They come from every walk of life, from different races and religions, and they have different stories.  Some were immigrants, as my own father was, and they demonstrated how well the immigrant work ethic reinforced the American work ethic.  Like so many of my neighbors, I was brought up to cherish faith, family, character, respect for every person’s dignity, and a commitment to playing by the rules—which, as I got older, became a commitment to the rule of law.  These are the values that built the American dream.

Many saw that dream come true because they were willing to sacrifice and take risks.  Today, it’s a different story.  We see people losing their jobs with nowhere to go.  We see the “for sale” signs outside of more and more houses.  For perhaps the first time since the industrial revolution began, the next generation is being told they will face a lower standard of living than their parents.  Who can doubt that their future is being mortgaged away when our national debt is over $17.5 trillion?  That’s larger than our entire economy.  And Washington still looks for more and more ways to spend our money and raise our taxes.  Look at Obamacare.  It undermines our health care system.  It destroys jobs.  It also breaks promises.  We were told by its proponents they would not raise taxes, but it amounts to the largest middle class tax increase in modern times.  We were repeatedly told if you like your doctor and like your plan, you can keep it.  There’s another promise broken as over 6 million Americans and counting have had their health care coverage cancelled.

The dishonesty doesn’t stop there.  A problem like illegal immigration that has been festering for years without congressional action has gotten worse with the administration’s dangerous partisan gamesmanship along our southern border instead of focusing on border security.  We are told again and again about the need to cut spending and that we’re doing it.  But look at the details, the shifty methodology, and you’ll see that we’re not cutting spending—unless you count cuts to defense spending so draconian that they threaten our national security.  No, we’re spending more.  And we’re getting less and less in return.  We can no longer count on basic, traditional government services like our roads being properly maintained.  Our schools are no better for the money spent on Race to the Top or Common Core; in fact, many teachers realize they are better off without money when there are strings attached that compromise education.  Even our space program is at a low point.  But of course, there are those who are doing well.  It’s not the people who, like you and me, work hard and play by the rules.  It’s those who find ways to “game” the system.  The rest of us suffer as government spends a larger and larger chunk of our economy, at our expense.

What we now face is a crisis of opportunity.  It’s a crisis that traps low-income Americans in failed government programs.  It’s a crisis that makes the shrinking middle class less secure than it has been in generations as it faces the difficulty of finding jobs with an escalating cost of living while still having to pay taxes.  At the top of the pyramid is the network of politically connected special interests that unfairly profit off our system, often described as “crony capitalism.”  This is reflected in the giveaways, loopholes, and subsidies that unfairly favor some businesses over others.  Consider our federal tax code.  It is filled with lobbyists’ loopholes and giveaways, and at over 3 million words long is more than three times the length of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

I make these points because it is not enough simply to trot out the same old labels and platitudes.  I admit it feels a bit like shadow boxing when I find myself in a primary contest with an opponent who offers no substantive agenda, who seems to think using—and abusing—labels like conservative or liberal are substitutes for offering actual ideas.  I am not content simply to offer you the label of conservative.  What our country needs is conservative reform—a comprehensive agenda aimed at addressing the crisis of opportunity by empowering people to achieve upward mobility, from the poor who want to escape poverty to a middle class that needs to be secure and to grow.  That is what I present to you today.  Fundamental reform means not just lowering taxes, but replacing our convoluted tax code with a flatter, simpler system.  It means eliminating the alternative minimum tax.  It means lowering a job-killing corporate tax rate that is now the highest in the industrialized world.  It means eliminating an anti-family bias in our tax code and acknowledging the cost to parents of raising children—who after all will be paying the benefits of future retirees and working to build a better future than the one they inherited. 

Remember that our government’s main problem is not a revenue problem, but a spending problem.  That’s the part of fiscal responsibility we hear less about, because people running for office know that voters would rather hear about lower taxes than less spending.  True reform means not just lowering spending.  It means having the courage to address the main drivers of the debt that threatens the next generation and to reform a broken spending process from top to bottom.  Programs like Social Security and Medicare are on an unsustainable path.  Elected officials on both sides of the aisle know this, but nothing gets done because too many are afraid that demagoguery will rear its ugly head and cost them the next election.  It’s time to roll up our sleeves and fix these programs so they will be there for the next generation of retirees. 

When it comes to our budget process, both houses of Congress need to cap our spending or debt at a percentage of GDP more reflective of the levels of spending that preceded the recklessness of recent years so that we can achieve a balanced budget within the next several years.  We can do so without destroying our national defense, as the current sequestration process threatens to do.  But we need to go through every dollar of federal spending, identify waste, fraud, and abuse, and cut programs entirely that we do not need.  Politicians often promise they will do something like this, and then do nothing after they’re elected.  Since we have appropriations committees in place to determine how we spend money, it only makes sense in today’s fiscal crisis that the next Congress have a de-appropriations committee to cut discretionary spending.  We should change the budget process created 40 years ago so that the president has the discretion not to spend our taxpayer dollars on projects that fail to serve a federal purpose.  We also need to reform the Federal Reserve’s mandate so that we can secure a sound and stable dollar, which would lay a foundation for long-term economic growth.

About 90% of the federal government consists of large bureaucracies that are increasingly unaccountable.  They have been given too much free rein to adopt job-killing regulations, waste our money, and abuse their power.  We have seen the worst of this abuse in scandals like the IRS targeting of conservative groups for audits and the VA’s coverup of waiting time at health facilities that have caused untold harm to our veterans and wounded warriors.  Much of the blame for this goes to the president, the CEO of the federal bureaucracy, who has shown little appetite for the difficult and unglamorous work of managing our unwieldy federal bureaucracy.

Congress is also to blame.  It has abdicated much of its oversight responsibility.  Through its committee system, Congress has the power to hold agency officials accountable for deficiencies.  Yet oversight—carried out by way of hearings, briefings, letters, budget holds, and reports—is the most underutilized of all congressional powers.  Typically, members allow themselves to become divorced from conditions on the front lines of government until they smell publicity from the news media.  I know.  I was a whistleblower who reported neglect and concealment by a federal agency, and after my experience, I realized that all others in my position who could help hold our government accountable should have a voice in Washington.  Congress can’t stay on the sidelines and then blame others when things go wrong.  It must do its job.  It can start by adopting the REINS Act so that unelected bureaucrats will not be able to adopt new rules with a major impact on the economy unless our elected officials in Congress approve.  It is also well past time to enter the 21st century and replace our ossified, inefficient civil service with a modern management system.  And we should avoid wherever we can the assumption that anyone we seek to help must be confined to a government institution.  We seem to be learning this lesson the hard way in the case of our veterans, who are alleged to have suffered an untold number of health problems including preventable deaths in government-run facilities.  Our veterans made great sacrifices to protect the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and they should have the option of a voucher to provide them the private health care options that members of Congress enjoy.  They should not be limited to a government bureaucracy.

In the same spirit, those who face poverty should not be trapped in government programs that impose artificial barriers to building careers and improving their lives.  The Obama administration has taken us away from the idea that welfare programs should aim to make poverty temporary, not an acceptable permanent condition.  This administration, along with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, seem to see the government’s role as increasing the dependency of more and more people on government.  One of government’s worst faults in recent times has been to destroy our ability to work, because that destroys opportunity.  And that is no more acceptable for able-bodied people capable of work who are below the poverty line than it is for those in the middle class.  We need to restore work requirements for work-capable people without dependent children receiving public assistance such as food stamps and add incentives to make the most of their opportunity to build a better life.

When we talk about welfare reform for those in poverty, we can’t forget the need for corporate welfare reform.  We need to end subsidies and other giveaways that unfairly play favorites between one business and another.  It was telling to see in a recent study that the Energy Department’s government-backed loan program provided 80% of its loans to companies that were either run or primarily owned by financial backers of President Obama—all without actually creating energy.  Solyndra was just the most visible example.  This nonsense must stop.  Government programs that accomplish nothing beyond putting our tax dollars into virtual slush funds for the politically connected must be ended.

On the broader subject of energy, we see how much the government can do to destroy opportunity when it loses its respect for free markets.  Our country is on track to achieving energy independence, but this has happened despite the Obama administration’s policies, not because of them.  It is well past time we reaffirm our belief in free markets by authorizing the Keystone Pipeline and oil and gas exploration at the ANWR reserve—which, incidentally, will create an enormous number of jobs while contributing to our energy independence.  In this and in other areas, we must reject job-killing regulations that have contributed to the crisis of opportunity and done nothing to measurably help the environment.

Some of the greatest obstacles to opportunity surround education.  At the primary and secondary levels, our government has misstepped by pushing Common Core, a thinly veiled attempt at imposing a national curriculum that would undermine the scope and quality of education offered at many schools in our district.  We should instead focus on providing choice for those in failing schools.  In higher education, we face another potential financial crisis in the form of the growing bubble of student loan debt.  Before we once again learn the hard way, we must reform our current unaccountable system to remove incentives for colleges to continue to jack up tuition far beyond the pace of inflation.  We must also open up opportunities for a wider range of post-high school educational programs, from individual or specialized courses to vocational training.  This would help many whose talents or life responsibilities—say, a single parent who also works—demand additional options.

Of all the measures we have seen from Washington in recent years, none does more to stifle opportunity than Obamacare.  I pointed out earlier how much of it is proving to be a lie.  In fact, it attempts a full-scale takeover of our health care system—one that is not only devastating the quality of our health care, but also destroying jobs—especially in Nassau County, where several of our largest employers are health care providers.  I will not support any measure that compromises the high quality of care that Americans receive or stifle the application of life-saving breakthroughs in medical technology.  That’s why we must repeal Obamacare and replace it with meaningful health care reform that restores medical decisions to doctors and their patients.  People of working age should be able to go across state lines to select from a large number of health insurance options for themselves and their families.  They should have health savings accounts, which will go a long way to restoring individual control and overall accountability in our health care spending.  We should introduce meaningful tort reform legislation so doctors no longer feel compelled to procure unnecessary medical procedures to avert baseless malpractice lawsuits.  We should provide the terminally ill access to experimental drugs that have passed early approval by the FDA rather than having what could be their last medical hope obstructed by bureaucratic delays.  We should end the taxpayer-funded bailouts of insurance companies authorized by Obamacare.  And regarding our most basic rights, we must respect religious freedom and the freedom of conscience and not override them with measures like the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate.

The opportunity we have come to know as Americans would not be possible without generations who have made the ultimate sacrifice.  We must remain vigilant to the greatest challenge that faces us abroad in the 21st century, and instead of describing it with euphemisms like “workplace violence,” we need to identify it for what it is: terrorism spawned by radical Islamic extremism. 

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s foreign policy has empowered our enemies and alienated our allies, especially Israel.  In his 2009 speech in Cairo announcing a “new beginning,” President Obama implied that America was to blame for many of the world’s problems.  Since then, the President has scaled back our leadership role in the Middle East.  The most dangerous country in that region, Iran, now has a new lease on its nuclear ambitions, and America’s leadership role has bizarrely given way to Russia’s.  We can undo some of the damage by passing the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act to tighten sanctions that the administration foolishly relaxed.  For the longer term, however, we need to create a new partnership of free nations to defeat radical Islamic extremism.  I would build on the NATO alliance and immediately admit Israel, Australia, and Japan.  This alliance would garner its resources to make sure that Islamic states threatened with violent jihad do not succumb to that threat—that they have basic human rights, the rule of law, and an educational system that does not poison its young with a murderous ideology.

The ideas I have shared with you arise from a desire to see our country move forward while restoring respect for our nation’s deepest values, so many of which are in the Constitution to which every public official in America takes an oath to defend.  Unfortunately, when you run for office in Nassau County, you discover just how little say the people have in their government.  No doubt that is why Nassau County faced a financial crisis years before the nationwide crisis of the last six years.  So many special interests were taking so much of our taxpayer dollars that one of the wealthiest counties in America could not make ends meet.  Instead of changing Nassau’s spending habits, our leaders, led by my opponent in this primary, raised taxes—several times—and they still couldn’t balance the budget.  Their mistakes, which triggered Nassau’s governing crisis of the 1990’s, even included a health care fiasco long before there ever was Obamacare: The legislature rubber-stamped the Nassau County BPA health insurance deal, which turned out to be a corrupt bribery scheme that cost our residents $70 million dollars and led to the criminal conviction of many county officials.  Nassau County became notorious as the worst managed county in the nation, and my opponent was defeated for re-election as Republicans saw an end to generations of Republican dominance in the county.

From the first time I ran for this congressional seat in 2010, party bosses—the same party bosses who were running the Republican Party during the 1990’s—did all they could to destroy what I was doing.  As several long-serving party regulars later told me, the county Republican chairman was not going to endorse me because I was not someone he controlled.  He never even asked me about a single policy issue.  That’s not what he cared about.  I was not beholden to him, and the very notion of letting you, the voters, pick your nominee in a primary election had to be crushed, because it would weaken the chairman’s control over the process.  Party bosses know that those who control the nominating process control the government, and those who control the government are using it as their own personal piggy bank.  That’s why the bosses are afraid of fresh leadership that doesn’t come from a tiny circle of insiders.  It’s bad for business. 

I would not give up.  So one of the bosses told me it would be the end of my political career if I continued.  When I continued and liquidated most of my own savings to build the campaign, another boss said he hoped I would go bankrupt.  People who had earlier expressed enthusiasm to support me suddenly said they could not do so openly, for fear of losing a job or a contract they had with the county or one of the townships.  They feared this would happen if they carried a petition for me, signed a petition for me, donated to the campaign, or even showed up at one of our campaign events.  When I still persisted, the bosses, finding no skeletons in my closet, fabricated the fraud that I am a liberal and a Democrat.  Two cycles later, this past February, I called my current hand-picked opponent soon before he announced he was entering the race, described the fraud that had occurred earlier, and asked him whether he was truly ready to stoop to such dishonorable conduct in order to try to win the nomination.  I guess I now have my answer.  He decided to recycle the fraud both in print and on TV—this despite the fact that it was he who had supported liberal Democrats and was guilty of the very falsehood he aimed at me.  His campaign is fueled by our tax dollars, which are being used to coerce town and county employees into helping him and preventing them from helping anyone else.  This sick system was allowed to exist because, if we the people had the chance to pick our party’s nominee, that would mean candidates would answer to the voters rather than to the bosses who have repeatedly sold us out in Nassau County.

Bruce Blakeman has already lost this election.   By baldly lying to the voters, he breached the bond of trust that must exist with the voters.  Without character, you have nothing to offer.  The question is whether his loss will be our loss in November.  As we learned from our experience with earlier mismanagement in Nassau County, a party label means nothing if it is not backed by principle.  My opponent could not expect to win any contest with the Democratic nominee for this congressional seat.  Given his track record, he simply would not have credibility that he would help lead our nation back to fiscal responsibility or find an acceptable alternative to Obamacare.  In the absence of ideas, he is hiding.  He refuses to debate.  In the general election, he could never get away with hiding from a debate.  The question is will primary voters let him get away with it?

I know a lot of people are not here because of the intimidation still tolerated in this county.  But they will watch this on video.  To those who hold positions of authority, I urge you: Think about our neighbors.  So many people who made their lives here cannot afford to retire here, and it’s even worse for their grandchildren, who leave at a faster rate than their grandparents before they even start their careers.  How bad must things get before you say enough is enough? 

I say we can’t go on like this.  We learn as children to do what is right and stand up to bullies and teach the same lesson to our children.  I say it’s time we blow the whistle on the arrogance, the pay to play culture, the corruption that has denied the people a voice and caused our neighbors to suffer for far too long.  I can think of many words to describe this situation, but it’s not Republican.  It’s not Conservative.  And far more importantly, it’s not American. 

We need leaders who strive first to do what’s right, who realize that election victories are hollow unless we put principle over power.  Abraham Lincoln said:

It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world.  They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time, and will ever continue to struggle.  The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. . . . It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.”  No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.[1]

Before we can wage the battle of right versus left, we must first fight the battle between right and wrong.  To Mr. Blakeman and to anyone looking to be a standard-bearer for the Nassau County Republican Party, I say the GOP is supposed to be the party of values.  It’s time to start acting like it.

Let us not forget Nassau County’s favorite son, Theodore Roosevelt, whose career reflected his statement upon becoming governor of New York: “I owe my position to the people, and to the people I shall hold myself accountable.”[2]  Roosevelt distinguished himself in New York’s history by taking on the party bosses.  The building behind me, the seat of our county government, is named after him, and his statue stands prominently in front of it.  What a sad irony.  His home county remains one of the last places in America where a single party boss is allowed to run roughshod over the people with the complicity of someone like my opponent.  If we don’t change our ways, we would be more honest if we took down this statue and changed the name of this building.

The people want fresh leadership, and we sorely need it—not just to make a fresh start, but to renew those first principles on which the American dream is built.  History teaches that power is to be used wisely and that freedom is fragile.  As President Reagan noted, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream.  It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”  This is ultimately why people like me run—because we care about our community, we understand the meaning of citizenship, we care about the Constitution that is so essential to protecting our freedom.

It’s time to reclaim our future.  It’s time to empower those who work hard and play by the rules.  My opponent had his chance and did not stand up for you.  You know I will because I already have.  I’ve taken on the government before when it stepped out of line, and in this election, I’ll be up against candidates in the primary and the general election who have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are.  That’s what happens when you’re serious about real change.  On this Flag Day, we wave the flag because we believe this country’s best days are ahead of us.  But those days won’t come until people step up and do something about it.  No more excuses.  No more hiding from bullies.  No more nonsense.  It’s time for the people to rise up and tell their political leaders that enough is enough!  If others won’t do it, we will.  If others won’t stand up for freedom, we will.  We the people can once again be the masters of our own destiny.  So on June 24, send the message loud and clear: Government of the people, by the people, for the people is coming back to Nassau County!  And this November, we will take it all the way to Washington!  God bless you and thank you.

[1] Lincoln-Douglas debate at Alton, 10/15/1858.

[2] Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, p. 714 (1979).

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