Eighth District Congressman Reid Ribble was swept into office with the “Tea Party Class” of 2010. And he was the prototypical Tea Party candidate: a successful small business person with no political experience. Ribble defeated two term incumbent Steve Kagen in 2010 and easily defeated Jamie Wall for re-election in 2012.
But in recent weeks Ribble has seen his conservative bona fides come under intense scrutiny from the base that was critical to both his election victories. First; he voted for the “Fiscal Cliff” agreement that raised taxes on the top earners. Then Ribble announced that he was one of 25 “problem-solvers” in Congress who have affiliated with “No Labels,” a group that emerged in December 2010 with a decidedly centrist pedigree. After floundering for two years the group re-launched in January trying to shed the centrist label (after all, it’s “No Labels”) and touted it had recruited congressman from both parties, including Ribble. Conservative callers to my show were disappointed by Ribble’s “Cliff” vote and suspicious of his association with “No Labels.” Ribble appeared on my show January 31 and tried to allay those concerns.
Ribble said “nothing has changed about me; this is consistent with how I operated since I got there.” “There are two ways that we can go ahead and promote conservatism; we can continue to preach to the choir or we can go out and create converts. I prefer to go out and create converts.” Ribble says he’s not more willing to compromise than he’s been in the past, but rather he is going to find places where there is already agreement with the left. Ribble points to the “no budget no pay” provision as something both sides can agree on without compromising principles.
Ribble stresses that his involvement with “No Labels” is about collegiality and talking with the other side and to show that can be done without checking your principles at the door. The reality is Republicans have only one lever of power in Washington right now; the House. The conservative base needs to realize how limiting that lack of power really is. President Obama and Democrats get to call the shots right now; elections matter. That said, the base also expects the House to be a firewall, of sorts. Conservatives can’t expect House Republicans to dictate policy to any meaningful degree until(and unless) the balance of power changes. But they do expect Republicans to at least try to slow the forward motion of the liberal agenda.
With barely right of center Republican Jon Huntsman and Democrat Joe Manchin as the group’s new national leaders, the base is skeptical. Ribble will have the next two years to prove that the only thing that has changed about him is his willingness to engage the other side in thoughtful discussion. His constituents in the 8th CD will be watching.
You can hear Jerry Bader’s interview with Reid Ribble here.
Jerry Bader is host of "The Jerry Bader Show" on WTAQ in Green Bay. His show also airs on stations in Wausau and Sheboygan.