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Group Sex News | Standard-bearer rallies conservatives r

Standard-bearer rallies conservatives

By the end of this year, tax activist Grover Norquist predicts, all except six states will have regular gatherings of what he calls the Center-Right Coalition.

Washington --Grover Norquist has neither a public office nor a famous name. Yet few people in the nation's capital wield more influence in Republican circles.

Every Wednesday morning, Norquist hosts a standing-room-only meeting of more than 120 top conservatives, business leaders and party activists to swap information and set strategy.

Here they are served bagels and coffee and the inside skinny. They hear from White House staffers and senior aides from the House and Senate leadership, who come to seek support and sometimes hear dissent from a range of Republican views, even on issues such as abortion and budget deficits.

Seated in the middle of it all is the bearded, bespectacled and sometimes bemused Norquist. He directs the crisp order of the rapid-fire discussion as speakers hold forth on issues such as President Bush's re-election poll numbers, the controversial CBS docudrama on President Ronald Reagan and the alleged group sex imagery in the Christmas catalog of teen clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch.

The meetings, begun a decade ago to mobilize opponents of the Clinton administration's health care proposal, have landed the 46-year-old Norquist in a crucial role as unifier for the right.

If you were going to say who is the executive director of the conservative movement of America, I'd say it's Grover Norquist, said Charlie Cook, publisher of the Cook Political Report. It's hard to say who would be a distant second.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich came to the Wednesday meeting last week as a one-stop-shop to deliver the message that he's behind the new congressional Medicare legislation. In an interview, the Georgia Republican said of his long-time political soulmate, Grover is, I think, the seminal figure in the conservative movement today.

Even adversaries have grudgingly acknowledged Norquist's effectiveness. He's playing a coordination role, getting [the various groups] all to sing from the same page in the hymnal, said Roger Hickey, an official with the liberal Campaign for America's Future. It's impressive.

Norquist, who says he wakes up each morning asking himself What do we need to do today? to further the conservative movement, is far from satisfied, however.

Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform, an activist group that lobbies for tax cuts. He says the nonprofit organization's $5 million annual budget is funded by 100,000 donors through direct mail and gifts of about $10,000 a year from about 50 companies.

Norquist has begun passing out maps of the United States in which every state that has a version of his Wednesday meeting is colored red. The red states now number 37, including the District of Columbia. By the end of this year, Norquist predicts, all except six states will have regular gatherings of what he calls the Center-Right Coalition.

It's not the cranky right. It's not flaky, he said. It's not the crowd that says, 'I quote Leviticus, so you have to agree with me.' Norquist says the participants are the broad center right, who don't ask the government for anything except to leave us alone, by not increasing taxes and by respecting private property rights, religious faith, gun rights and free choice in education.

This month, Norquist flew to Atlanta for the first Georgia meeting. About 15 people attended, including officials from state government, Roman Catholic activist and businessman Mark Hanna III and Sandy Thomas, a former Libertarian Party candidate for the U.S. Senate.

The idea is to meet once a month to bounce around ideas and issues and to find areas where people can help one another, said Sadie Fields, executive director of Georgia's Christian Coalition and moderator of the new group.

Former Georgia Republican Party Chairman Ralph Reed, a longtime friend of Norquist, said he hopes the group will not only serve as a font of ideas but also would build a grass-roots support network for a conservative agenda of lower taxes and limited government, stronger families and safer neighborhoods in the state.

Weekly meeting popular

That is already happening elsewhere, say participants in other states. Lawyer Rick Watson co-moderates the weekly Thursday Group in downtown Tallahassee. Watson said the weekly meetings have helped Florida conservatives join forces to win tort reform and a reduction in worker compensation costs for employers.

In Texas, as many as 80 people crowd into an art gallery in Austin every other week for Krispy Kreme doughnuts and an open forum. The goal of the meetings, which have been going for two years, is to discuss state policies and help build coalitions, said Michael Quinn Sullivan, an official at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a research institute that favors limited government.

Norquist's vision for advancing the conservative cause dates to his childhood, when he was already steeped in politics. I was 14 years old and on the bus coming from school on Church Street where it hits Route 117 in his hometown of Weston, Mass., he recalled in an interview last week.

That's when the idea hit him that the Republican Party needed to have a recognizable brand that could be as trustworthy as a trademarked product. He decided this brand should be a guarantee that Republicans won't raise taxes.

After finishing two Harvard University degrees, a bachelor's in economics and a master's in business administration, Norquist moved to Washington, where tax reduction soon became the central theme in his chosen mission to shrink government.

I'm not in favor of abolishing the government, he insists. But he often repeats the line, I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.

Promoting no-tax pledge

With his fondness for gruesome images, Norquist also says the Republican Party must protect its no-tax-increase image with the same vigilance that, say, the Coca-Cola Co. uses in guarding the contents of its drinks.

When Alabama's Republican Gov. Bob Riley championed a tax increase, Norquist said that was the equivalent of finding a rat's head in the soda bottle.

Since 1986, Norquist set out to protect the party brand by enlisting Republican office holders to take a no-tax-increase pledge, which he launched with a signature from his political hero, Reagan. Today, more than half of the House members and 42 senators have signed the pledge.

Among Republican lawmakers, I can only think of one guy in the last six or eight years who's been elected who didn't take the pledge, Norquist said. He added that since 1992, no Republican congressman or senator has voted to raise taxes.

Now he is taking the pledge to the state level, where about 1,120 of the estimated 7,300 state legislators have signed since 1995. Norquist wants to sign up 90 percent of the Republicans, who hold just under half of the seats in the statehouses. He predicts that could take 10 years.

But the time lag doesn't discourage the ever-optimistic Norquist, who enjoys planning for the long haul one step at a time.

High on his to-do list is leading an effort to honor Reagan that includes urging every county in the country to name a building or a road for the former president, even as he lines up backing for replacing Alexander Hamilton's likeness with a picture of Reagan on the $10 bill.

Norquist's other outline for the future, which he has carefully written down and even charted on a timeline, includes a plan to reduce the size of government by half in relation to the national economy in the next 25 years. His aim is to do that by cutting taxes, privatizing Social Security and other government pension programs, selling off public lands, privatizing the postal service and giving universal vouchers for schools.

The goal is an anathema to his critics, who charge that he merely wants to put more power and money in the hands of the corporations.

Norquist calls his vision ambitious and reasonable, as he wrote in a column for the conservative Heritage Foundation in 2000.

If the plan could be achieved, what does he propose? I have a recommendation: to cut government in half again by 2050.

Full credit for this group sex news article goes to: Atlanta Journal Constitution, GA

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