Thursday, March 05, 2009

Tea Parties are Reminders of Howard Jarvis and Eddie Chiles

When I first got involved in politics as a teenager in the late 1970s, it was during a massive tax revolt against a government that had grown out of control. The highest income tax rate was hovering around 70 percent. This attack on capital formation did not only weaken the economy, but under minded freedom itself and the ability for individuals to pursue their aspirations.

The man who came to the rescue and who fought the battle of middle America who were being pounded by taxes was Ronald Reagan. But, in many respects, Reagan was a product of what was going on in the political culture at that time. For decades Americans were told that the patriotic thing to do was to pay taxes. Many more taxes. Reagan believed the patriotic thing was to hold government accountable for its spending and that the American people fundamentally knew how to manage their money better than government.

Reagan's message resonated because of individuals like Howard Jarvis in California who led the Proposition 13 drive that changed the way people would be taxed and Eddie Chiles of Texas who said that he -- like millions of other Americans -- was "mad as hell" over what the government was doing to American taxpayers.

In the June 5, 1978 edition of Time Magazine you find Howard Jarvis on the cover with his fist in the air. At that moment a grass root movement had finally received mainstream credibility. The article in the magazine stated that "rising taxes are a burning concern all over the U.S. In California, they are nothing less than an obsession, and small wonder." About the movement's leader, it stated that "the furor has turned Howard Jarvis, 75, into a statewide folk hero to millions of Californians, a demagogic devil to others. A retired millionaire manufacturer, Jarvis has been railing against high taxes for 15 years. Jarvis, whose face looks a bit like a California mudslide, has been demolishing debating opponents with his oddly compelling blend of verbosity, profanity and humbug." His supporters included the great economist, Milton Friedman, who did TV commercials for free and it stated that "former Governor Ronald Reagan has rallied behind Jarvis." That last line was an understatement. In June in 1978 when this article was written, Reagan was considered a political "has been" and a perennial candidate who would not have a prayer if he ran for President again in 1980. This tax revolt movement became a major driver that helped to put Reagan in office.

A little further south you had a gentleman I knew named Eddie Chiles, who also rose up in business (while Jarvis was in manufacturing, Chiles was in the energy field) to become an advocate of smaller government who also rose to the scene in the late 1970s. The New York Times pointed out in an obituary for Chiles that "as a businessman, he shared his views in the late 1970's, usually about some government affront to business, through a series of radio commercials in which he proclaimed, 'I'm Eddie Chiles, and I'm mad." The commercials were broadcast on 650 stations in 14 states where Western (Company of North America, which he owned) had operations and spawned almost a million bumper stickers reading, 'I'm mad too, Eddie.'" Eddie helped fuel the flames that led to the rise of Reagan.

People are mad as hell today and you see this in the rise of the new tea parties. Among the thousands who are going to the streets we will find our next Jarvis and Chiles. Also, on the political landscape, we will find the right elected officials who will carry this message to Washington. Some may be merely running for Congress in 2010, others may already be in office, but they all have far more to be mad about today than we did in the 1970s when the anti-tax movement began. The federal budget in 2008 was $2.7 trillion. The government has increased that budget by more than fifty percent in the last six months alone. This will be paid for with funny money (inflation) and by raising the taxes of those who make more than $250,000 a year (the same people who create most of the jobs). I'm mad too, Eddie and so are millions of other Americans.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is Host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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