Michael Steele

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Recovering Politician

THEN: Chairman, Republican National Committee, 2009-2011, Lieutenant Governor (MD) 2004-2008 NOW: Attorney, Political Analyst Full Biography: link

Carlton Weddington: ODRC’s Escape Goat

carlton weddingtonOn September 12, 2014 the headline news in Ohio and trending nationally was that the Chardon High School shooter had escaped prison along with two other Ohio prison inmates. The best dissertation that most of the mainstream media in Ohio could come up with was that T.J. Lane struggled to adjust to prison after being convicted for killing three students and receiving three consecutive life sentences.

Depending on whom you ask, Lane’s short lived escape success was no big feat. Inmates will tell you that Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution is so laxed it is “sweet” here. This was in fact the second attempt from Ohio’s Protective Control Unit which houses Ohio’s notorious and high-profile inmates. An inmate from E-2 block made it over the first perimeter fence but got caught up on the second perimeter fence. This same inmate was put in segregation under investigation for being in possession of potential escape paraphernalia while in the W-2 block before being transferred across the hall to E-2.

Why weren’t more security measures implemented then? What if other inmates who were more mature, violent, willful, and wanton made the trek along with Lane and the others? A far greater shock and awe would have occurred. The bankrupt narratives that have followed this major story to date have yet to answer the question of how this happened and who is responsible for this breach of security.

The past two years, I have been incarcerated at AOCI in the Protective Control Unit both E-2 and W-2 Block currently, with a very unique perspective. I served on the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee as a former House member of the Ohio General Assembly from 2009 – 2012, inspecting and evaluating facilities statewide and addressing issues of personal safety, conditions of confinement, institutional programming and general problems and concerns. I feel like the “Undercover Boss” in unfortunate circumstances.

The issue of security management was noted and bought to the attention of AOCI and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections through a CIIC report conducted in April 2014, five months before the September 11, 2014 escape. The report also spoke to the safety concerns of the inmates in the P.C. unit, poor healthcare responsiveness, poor service and quality of food, less than adequate programming and lack of morale among correctional officers. The survey conducted among inmates also suggested minimal leadership and oversight by local and central office administration. Yet still six months later many of these issues have not been addressed.  Why?

The Administration and staff at AOCI had intel in advance about the September 11th escape plot that used thousands of dollars in law enforcement man power and resources, put Lima residents on alert, families of the victims into a frenzy and finally brings attention to the lack of leadership and management of Ohio’s PC unit and the re-tooling of Director Mohr’s three tier system. It hurts the head less to say that this was an isolated incident rather than admit that maybe a change is warranted of the institution’s leadership and ODRC’s policies.

The noble thing for the current AOCI administration and Unit Staff to do is resign amid the security gaffes that have occurred rather than to “lock the barn door after the horse has already run out.” How do inmates get locked on the recreation area, without present supervision to obtain a ladder, man-made or existing, to scale a single fence, and jump off a roof to freedom. A similar escape was made in a Mansfield, Ohio prison when an inmate got a hold of a maintenance ladder to scale the prison wall. Here at AOCI, the window dressing during the investigation and then returning back to business as usual should be unacceptable by both Director Gary Mohr and Governor Kasich. It is the culture of the current facility administration and some staff to conduct business in a lackadaisical manner.

Lazy analysis of this matter is a microcosm of the vicious idiocy that attempts to provide dog and pony shows for Columbus suits when they visit, rather than address the entrenched bureaucratic school of thought that I have found, has created better spin-masters than my former colleagues at the Statehouse. Let’s get real, down and dirty about what happened here in Lima: Somebody dropped the ball. Stop ducking the truth, using security and ongoing investigation claims as to why the public has not received answers to how, why, and who is responsible? After all, it is the taxpayers of Ohio who carry the burden. Few dare venture into these uncomfortable but necessary conversations, but I hope I’m wrong. Bad inmates are easier to blame than the real structural, economic, and political issues that still need attention. We need to get into a solutions-based discussion about the institutional ills afflicting ODRC and facilities like Allen-Oakwood. If not, we will see another escape, and maybe worse, a killing at AOCI. The writing is on the wall, but who will read it?

Carlton Weddington: The Caged Pol Sings, Part Three

“Ex-inmates life chances shrink because few institutions or programs are prepared to give them the tools and job training to get work and become productive citizens. Many become burdens to their families, and some end up homeless.  A good number of ex-inmates develop mental problems, which often go untreated.”

– Come on People, by Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint.

carlton weddingtonNationally, 1600 men and women are released from prison each day. Many will return to communities throughout the country with no more education, programming or sense of purpose than when they arrived to prison. The burden to help and service these individuals falls on the public. Locally, the state of Ohio boasts to be one of the nation’s largest prison systems and releases more than 28,000 ex-offenders each year. However, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) has failed Ohio and Ohioans with its lax and meager standards in operation and programming for re-entry.

Ex-offenders are at the highest risk of committing a new crime or violating probation or parole immediately (within the first three months) following release from incarceration. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that within the first six months of release, almost 30% were rearrested and the rate increases to 44% within the first year. If Ohio wants to be a leader among states, it must do a better job of taking care of a potential segment of its most valuable commodity – its human capital. The fragmentation of services, lack of coordination, and leadership must be addressed. A clear focus, not dispersing of energies is needed in order to solve this problem.

The support and help of the public and private interests should be sought for inmates who are in need and desire quality programming that will enable them to be successful upon release, because well equipped and determined ex-offenders are less likely to return to a life of crime and help build the economy. The creation of a successful re-entry program enhances public safety, reduces costs and improves lives. Families and advocacy groups need to be diligent in making the best use of the limited programming and resources the prisons offer, but ODRC needs to get its act together and start educating the individuals they house as if they mattered. The cumulative effects of poor prisons for communities in which these ex-inmates return to is one very good reason why recidivism perpetuates.

I refuse to believe that the practices of ODRC are the best Ohio can offer inmates and their families in 2014. I’m urging taxpayers, political leaders, inmates and their families alike to speak their minds about the affairs of rehabilitation and corrections in Ohio. Inmates who feel that society has no positive role for them are likely to conclude they have nothing to lose by abandoning the difficult path of study, self-discipline, and rehabilitation for the instant gratification of prison life that lead, to the continuation of the street life that brought them to prison.

Carlton Weddington: Living with a Serial Killer

carlton weddington

Our newest contributing RP, former Ohio State Representative Carlton Weddington, is currently serving a three-year sentence at the Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio for charges of bribery, election falsification and filing a false financial disclosure statement.  

Read his full bio here.

Read part one of “The Caged Bird Sings

Here’s Part Two:

Columbus seems to be unfortunately well represented in protective custody (PC), but fortunately, very few people recognized or know who I am.

I am a little surprised that so many know very little about politics or government. Cleveland and Cincinnati also are represented, and the neighborhood, side of town, or project you came from will dictate what kind of reception you receive from others.

Association with a gang is prevalent as well: The Aryan Brotherhood (AB) dominates among white inmates and Heartless Felons among black inmates — Gangsters’ Disciples, Bloods, and Crips also are represented. Religious affiliation provides some with a sense of protection if they are Muslim. If merely housing men who have broken the law is all that is desired of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC), they have met the standard. These men, if they get out, will return home with no more education, programming or sense of purpose than when they arrived, and those that remain within the system are destined for a life’s experience of mental, physical and social ills that ODRC is not equipped to handle.

Never in a million years did I think I would be sitting behinds bars in a state prison interacting with some of Ohio’s notorious high profile murders, rapists, pedophiles, drug dealers, robbers, drug addicts, gang members, and snitches; but in 2012, that became a reality. A who’s who of individuals that you heard about on the news, read about in the papers or that T.V shows did reports about; they all seemed to have ended up in A.O.C.I. in protective custody.

Almost two years later — these same men who if I were told I would have to be confined with for more than 2 minutes, let alone 2 years, I might have taken my own life in fear that whatever heinous act that got them here — I might meet the same fate, but now I have no fear of. In fact, mostly I feel sorry for them because my mental strength and education out-matches whatever means they used to victimize others on the outside.

Read former State Senator Jeff Smith’s powerful story of sex, lies and love behind bars.

Most inmates I encountered abandoned the difficult path of study, self discipline, and rehabilitation for the instant gratification of prison life that leads to the perpetuation of the street life that brought them here. In PC alone, my first year in East 2 Block (where they house us are called blocks), I lived among “The Angel of Death”, “The Handcuff Rapist”, The 1-75 Murderer”, Matt Hoffman who murdered a family and stuffed them in a tree, and since then in West 2, “The Highway Shooter” and T.J. Lane “The School Shooter”.

Weddington and Harvey

Weddington and Harvey

For 6-plus months I celled with one of America’s most notorious serial killers — although now in his early 60’s this soft spoken, openly gay and unassuming man was once know as the “Angel of Death”. Donald Harvey still scares many of PC’s other inmates even though he’s a stroke survivor, and he moves a little slower than usual. His resume proceeds him, even after serving 25 years of a life sentence for murders associated with his work as an employed medical assistant at the local VA and hospitals in Northern Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

Read the rest of…
Carlton Weddington: Living with a Serial Killer

A Caged Pol Sings — Former State Rep. Carlton Weddington Reports from Behind Bars on Sex, Violence and Survival

carlton weddington


Our newest contributing RP, former Ohio State Representative Carlton Weddington, is currently serving a three-year sentence at the Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio for charges of bribery, election falsification and filing a false financial disclosure statement.  

Read his full bio here.

Here’s his report from behind bars:


It is still early yet, but I feel like I can survive at least two years without any major problems or issues. Arguably my biggest challenge to date is that some of the inmates being held in Protective Control (PC) just don’t give a fuck.

This is business as usual for the career inmates, and they are the ones that make the time hard to do. We will see what happens.

The politics of PC is dramatic and intense — inmates continually jockeying for positions of power. Extortion, gambling, drinking, smoking and sexual favors are the strategic norms used without thought or question. On a daily basis, I witness the constant chatter and sidebar conversations that take place about the next play, hustle or shot to be taken. It is an ultra-surreal, action-packed story of mini-tragedies within themselves.

Guys are anxious to find compatible cellmates since they have begun to implement a more “strict” tier system. A few have already asked to cell with me without even asking me, but going directly to the case manager or unit manager. Luckily, both managers are sharing with me who is asking and showing me some respect because of my status and former position as a state legislator. The bold ones just ask me directly; some are cool, but that doesn’t mean I want to cell with them.

I remember one inmate saying: “Yo man, I put in a kite to cell witchu cause I know you ain’t gawn be no trouble.”

I was quick to say: “I don’t think I am going to have a cellmate, but thanks anyway.”

I am having a hard time grasping the fact that many of the inmates are living double lives on the low. Other inmates call them ‘homo thugs.”

I was shocked when I heard a gang member openly tell one of his horrifying tales:  “Yo, I fucked his boy, he ain’t shit! …” was all I can really remember, but that was all I needed to know. Not only was he a gang hit man, but he spoke of his assaults on another inmate as a badge of honor. Big, bad and ready to “fuck or fight”!

For whatever reason, this mentality is a prison norm, with many of these same men having girlfriends, wives, and children on the street. I’m lobbying hard to stay in a cell by myself until I can figure this shit out and get my bearings together.

Read former State Senator Jeff Smith’s powerful story of sex, lies and love behind bars.

Unfortunately, a majority of the inmates in this unit are serving long sentences, and quite a few have life — some have even returned for their 3rd, 4th and 5th times. The mentalities of these men are unbelievable and distorted; their reality is clouded from the lack of outside contact and communication. The world is constantly changing and evolving without them; these men who are stuck in a warped, retarding environment that threatens to further sicken their ill hearts and minds through violence and other vices. Even though I am considered a “short timer” with a foreseeable outdate — back to reality of the chaos of the outside world unscathed, jaded and abused — I still must walk a fine line.

Prison_bars_Wallpaper_4a34tAn inmate from my city calls me “lil Barack o’Drama.” He would say, “You ain’t no politician no more, you’s a criminal.”  It didn’t bother me as much as when another inmate said, “Nigga, you think you betta than us but you in here wit us now!”

It was true that I had a college degree, wrote legislation that impacted 11.9 million people in the State of Ohio, and traveled the world; but the perception that I thought I was better than them was hard for me to handle. I considered myself the staunch advocate for the underdog, less fortunate, and minorities, even amid the inmates being housed in the facility.

To keep safe of any ill feelings someone might have of me, I would tell inmates who asked what I did for a living: “I was a low level analyst.” It worked for awhile, until word got around that I was more than I claimed to be. My name appeared on the letterhead of a response letter from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee that several inmates had received — not to mention that it was stapled to the information boards in all the housing blocks. I immediately asked that it be removed and updated.

Read the rest of…
A Caged Pol Sings — Former State Rep. Carlton Weddington Reports from Behind Bars on Sex, Violence and Survival

Michael Steele: U.S. sanctions on Russia look a lot different from space

446px-Michael_SteeleThe untreatable international agita over Russia’s meddling in Eastern Ukraine is taking on otherworldly overtones here in the United States, where the Putin regime’s hegemonic bullying of its next-door neighbor is reaping unforeseen cosmic repercussions in the heavens, in the halls of diplomatic and military power, and in the courts.

Leave aside, for moment, the general concept of punishing sanctions, which haven’t hit hard enough to convince the willful Russians not mess with Ukraine. Forget, too, the internationally accepted and expected notion that sovereign nations should be left to set their own destinies. Insistence by pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine on moving forward with an intentionally provocative “self determination” referendum, and subsequent declarations of “independence” by the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, seem to all but assure that a deeper and perhaps bloodier conflict will soon engulf part or all of Ukraine.

In just days, roughly one third of Ukraine’s territory could effectively become a Soviet-style satellite. The current, minimalistic sanctions regime the Western powers have put in place has done nothing to stop the Russian power grab that is controlling the separatist movement from the Kremlin.

But aside from the immediate geopolitical price to be paid for indecisive Western reaction, there are other consequences to leading from behind. Here in the United States, satellites of quite another variety are becoming a new, central focus of the Ukraine crisis — our spy satellites.

Arguments abound in political, industrial, military and legal circles about the folly of the US defense sector’s reliance on Russian industry and technology to heft the Intelligence Community’s eyes on the world into low Earth orbit. You read that correctly — US surveillance satellites cannot attain their perches in the heavens without the aid and acquiescence of the Russians.

At particular issue here is the astonishing US reliance on Russian rocket engines for a longstanding heavy space launch program overseen by the US Air Force. Launches conducted by that program, known commonly as EELV, short for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, have been sole-sourced to industrial behemoths Boeing and Lockheed Martin since the program’s inception in the mid-1990s.

In the years since the program’s founding, however, the relationship between those two rival firms and the US Government has grown quite cozy. Boeing and Lockheed Martin formed the consortium firm United Launch Alliance (ULA) in 2006, and since then, ULA has entrenched itself as the Air Force’s single source for heavy launches, most of which involve depositing “national security payloads,” or spy satellites, over troubled areas.

Other quite capable American firms have tried to enter this arena in recent years but have been rebuffed by any variety of unfair means.

ULA’s workhorse rocket is the Atlas V. The Atlas V is itself a fascinating historical artifact, designed by Lockheed Martin prior to the founding of ULA but after the Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union was thought to be vanquished, and Russian-American industrial and economic cooperation hit new, previously unimaginable heights.

At its core, the Atlas V was once looked upon as a symbol of US-Russian goodwill and technical collaboration. Those were different times, indeed.

The first Atlas V lifted off in 2002, soaring into the skies under the power of the Russian-designed-and-built RD-180 rocket engine, which still powers this mainstay even today. No Atlas V leaves a launch pad without at least one RD-180 attached to it. The rocket simply isn’t designed to accommodate anything else.

This means exactly what you have just deduced – the US intelligence agencies that need ULA’s services, not to mention the other government entities that launch their own machinery into space, are at the mercy of the Russian Federation. By its own admission, ULA has only two years’ worth of RD-180s in its stockpiles. That’s it. Either ULA will have to buy a whole bunch of rocket engines from the Russians before sanctions for Russia’s Ukraine misadventure are expanded, (at outrageously inflated prices, one would think), or the EELV program grinds to a halt in short order.

While some US firms like Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) have challenged ULA’s monopolistic hold on the EELV program, others are looking more specifically at the reliance on the RD-180 and don’t like what they see. One of these is Sen. John McCain, who has taken up the laboring oar to assure that competition in the launch market frees the United States from this bizarre and inexplicable dependency.

Current US sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea and for further agitation throughout Ukraine’s East single out select individuals close to the Kremlin’s power structure. One of these figures is the man that oversees the Russian aeronautics firm that manufactures the RD-180. A federal contracts court based in Washington just this last week found itself grappling with the notion that engine purchases from this company could violate the economic restrictions placed on that individual, Twitter-hound and gadfly, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.

Rogozin bit back on Tuesday, announcing that Russia would ban RD-180 use by the United States for its military launches. The situation thus morphed from the ridiculous to the absurd.

Meanwhile, the United States could, in theory, still be sending millions, perhaps billions of dollars into Russian defense sector coffers to keep its rockets in flight, even with a coming deeper freeze in bilateral relations. For reasons of national and economic security, not to mention the future of US space exploration, this cannot stand.

(Cross-posted, with permission of the author, from TheGrio.com)

Why Obama needs to ‘Build Baby Build’ the Keystone XL pipeline

Steele MMO_1368-EditIn a speech before the 2008 Republican National Convention, I unveiled the “Drill Baby Drill” battle cry to reduce our nation’s dependency on foreign sources of oil and to encourage more domestic oil exploration and increase oil refining capacity.

However, since the 2008 election, our nation remains dependent on foreign petroleum sources while the Obama administration continually blocked exploration and drilling which in turn would have helped lower the cost of gasoline.

Once the long-awaited State Department’s final environmental analysis of the $5.4 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline was announced, its positive report increased pressure on President Barack Obama to approve the 1,700-mile Canada-to-Texas pipeline. The fact that experts say the pipeline would ultimately employ about 20,000 Americans while working to achieve the bipartisan goal of energy independence makes not approving the pipeline a bit problematic for the president when the economy is still growing jobs at an anemic pace.

Release of the report has triggered a 90-day review period so Americans will know within that time frame whether the president is serious about immediate job creation and ultimate energy independence.

Politically, Keystone XL is supported by leading Republicans, Democrats and some of America’s largest labor unions. However, environmental progressives, a core constituency of the Obama political base, are promising acts of “civil disobedience” if the president signs off on the project and, in their eyes, undermine their “green agenda.”

Others, like former President Jimmy Carter have warned President Obama he risks standing on the wrong side of history should he approve the Pipeline. “You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change.”

But for all of the dire predictions and threats of political retribution, it is particularly noteworthy that more Democrat members of Congress, particularly the Senate, are finding their voice in support of the pipeline. As recently as last week, eleven U.S. Senators sent a letter to the President asking approval of the Keystone Pipeline by May 31st.

The letter was written by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and co-signed by Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Walsh (D-Mont.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).

In it, the Senators pleaded “The time to act is now Mr. President. Please use your executive authority to expedite this process to a swift conclusion and a final decision so that we can all move forward on other energy infrastructure needs in this country. We ask that you bring this entire process to an end no later than May 31, 2014, and that your final decision be the right one, finding that the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest.”

Read the rest of…
Why Obama needs to ‘Build Baby Build’ the Keystone XL pipeline

Politico: The Man of Steele Returns

Awesome piece by Roger Simon in today’s Politico on recovering politician Michael Steele:

Steele, who is a resident fellow at the university’s Institute  of Politics, manages to traverse the entire breadth of the Midway before the  inevitable happens: A passing car comes to halt, and the driver lowers her  passenger window and hails Steele as an old friend, even though they have never  met.

While Steele was once the (first black) lieutenant governor of Maryland and  the (first black) chairman of the Republican National Committee, today he is far  better known than he was then. This is largely due to the airtime he gets as an  MSNBC analyst and his appearances on “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “The  Colbert Report.”

He is outgoing, bright, magnetic, recognized on streets and in airports and  is the one thing he was not while he ran the Republican Party: popular.

“I am the most misunderstood man in politics,” Steele tells me.

Steele was elected to a two-year term as Republican Party chairman on Jan.  30, 2009. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Barack Obama had moved into  the White House, and a lot of people were talking about a “post-racial” America.  Nancy Pelosi was running the House, Harry Reid was running the Senate and it  didn’t seem as if the Republican message was selling all that well.

So maybe it was time for a change.

Except Steele’s election took six ballots and, though Steele had conservative  Republican credentials, the reaction of some of the party kingpins ranged from  displeasure to dismay. And then there was the race thing. Maybe the country was  not so post-racial after all.

“After I was elected chairman, there were some people who refused to shake my  hand,” Steele says of some Republican bigwigs.

He was a different kind of chairman. He got involved in controversies that  earned him the wrath of Sen. John McCain (not that hard a thing to do, actually)  and made a series of statements that some found baffling.

He said the war in Afghanistan was a war “of Obama’s choosing” and that he  was going to tell local Republican chairmen, “Don’t think this is a country club  atmosphere where we sit around drinking wine and eating cheese and talking  amongst ourselves. If you don’t want to drill down and build coalitions to  minority communities, then you have to give that seat to someone who does.”

Some of his ideas were actually pretty good. He said he wanted an “off the  hook” public relations offensive to reach out to “the young, Hispanic, black, a  cross section” and apply party principles “to urban-suburban hip-hop  settings.”

This earned him the wrath of Rush Limbaugh, which could be considered a badge  of honor, but Steele was the chairman of the Republican Party, a party  that didn’t actually think of itself as being that “off the hook.”

Click here to read the full piece.

Michael Steele: CPAC — Who Best Articulates Modern Conservatism?

By all accounts the gathering of grassroots conservatives for the American Conservative Union’s CPAC event in Prince George’s County, Maryland offered the right mix of hot rhetoric and new faces; reflection and assessment.

CPAC is often a good way to get a sense of the state of the conservative movement but more important, the state of its relationship with the Republican Party.

For many conservatives, that’s a tenuous relationship on a good day. As Erick Erickson, co-founder of RedState.com, noted, “I think CPAC is really RPAC these days and is as much, if not more, lobbyist oriented than grass-roots oriented. It is like church homecoming for the Republican Party.”

As the weekend proceedings wrapped up with a rousing call-to-arms by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, some basic questions remain for a movement in transition: Coming into the 2014 elections, are conservatives gaining strength or treading water? And how does any of this really translate to the rest of the country?

Polls show political conservatism is still very healthy despite liberal wailing to the contrary. In terms of electoral politics the conservative base and liberal base basically cancel each other out, with each side striving to reach enough independents in the political center to win nationwide or statewide elections. So, for the most part, it’s a draw.

But some of the polling of the CPAC attendees also reveals some interesting challenges and opportunities for conservatives. For example 41 percent believe marijuana should be legalized and taxed for recreational and medical use (21 percent believe marijuana should be legalized only for medical purposes when prescribed by a doctor) while 31 percent say it should remain illegal.

446px-Michael_SteeleSimilarly, 78 percent cite their most important goal is to promote individual freedom by reducing the size and scope of government, while only 12 percent cite promoting traditional values by protecting traditional marriage and protecting the life of the unborn as their most important goal. Such findings are consistent with the libertarian leanings of the participants (46 percent of whom were between the ages of 18-25) but also are a sign of a changing demographic within the conservative movement itself.

While themes of freedom, faith and family were echoed throughout the weekend, speaker after speaker seem to have in mind those changing demographics inside and outside the hall as they came repeatedly back to strategy and what it will take to win in 2014.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich cautioned “we must stop being the opposition movement, and we must become the alternative government movement that will help make the life of every American better so that they understand what we would do that would be right, not just what the left is doing that is wrong.” U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx), a Tea Party favorite, urged conservatives to stick with core beliefs to win elections. “They say if you stand for principles, you lose elections. That is a false dichotomy.”

Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.), insisted conservatives embrace a governing agenda that would help Republicans succeed this November and beyond. “We don’t get to govern if we don’t win. So please, let us come out of here resolved not only to stand for our principles, but let’s come out of this conference resolved to win elections again.”

And it is winning elections that has proven elusive since 2011. The lack of a cohesive message to voters, struggles over the “conservative brand” with its Tea Party base and the poor standing of the Republican-controlled Congress have all taken their toll (for example, 51 percent of CPAC attendees disapprove of the Republican Congress).

But many conservatives, like Sen. Cruz, feel in the end the failure of 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to effectively draw stark contrasts between his governing policies and the Obama agenda stands as an example of watered-down conservatism. As the Senator would make clear in his speech, “All of us remember President Dole and President McCain and President Romney — now look, those are good men, they’re decent men, but when you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate.”

But it would be another Tea Party favorite, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who would warn against purging centrist Republicans, saying, “we as conservatives have got to be far more engaged in finding converts than in discarding heretics.” Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) drove the point even deeper. “You may think I am talking about electing a Republican. I am not,” Sen. Paul said. “I am talking about electing lovers of liberty. It isn’t good enough to pick the lesser of two evils. We must elect men and women of principle, and conviction and action that will lead us back to greatness.”

Senators Lee and Paul are closer to the truth for both conservatives and the Republican Party: It is a false choice we sometimes make between core principles and good governance.

But many conservatives stand on the precipice of conservatism, ready to throw each other off because of such false choices; feeling they have lost their grip on what conservatism means and who is best positioned to articulate it.

As conservatives and Republicans assess their leadership, their strategy and ultimately the impact they will have on American politics in 2014 and beyond, they would be wise to heed the advice of the late conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr.: “Nominate the most conservative candidate who is electable.”

Michael Steele: Martin Luther King proved perseverance breeds success

When I think of Dr. King, I think of his courage, vision, strength, humanity, and most importantly, his perseverance. Dr. King’s perseverance transformed him into a legendary leader but it was his challenge to each one of us that sets him apart—a challenge in this day, in this hour, to “take up the cause of freedom”.

This element of Dr. King’s life is something that hopefully each of us has incorporated into our daily lives. Perseverance breeds success; and it is his perseverance that enabled Dr. King to achieve his dream.

Dr. King knew that his dream—this movement towards civil rights—would begin a new chapter for America—a chapter we are still writing today; a chapter steeped in the hopes of “little black boys and black girls [joining hands] with little white boys and white girls” for true opportunity and equality.

446px-Michael_SteeleWe celebrate this day different from any other American holiday because we use it not only to recall the legacy of the civil rights era and the man who lived and died for the true freedom of all Americans, but also to assess how we are doing in making The Dream real. Like Dr. King, we are not just writing a chapter in the life of the African-American community, we are the authors of the book of life in America.

I know that if Dr. King were here today he would encourage us to persevere in the face of tragedies like the Trayvon Martin shooting, or efforts to roll back hard fought gains in voting and civil rights. He would remind us that “freedom is not free” and the price we must pay keeps the dream alive; that success does not come without sacrifice if you want the dream to live for future generations

And that’s the easy part because the dream lives in each one of us. Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Cross-posted, with permission of the author, from The Grio)

Michael Steele: South Africa stands taller thanks to Nelson Mandela

Imprisoned for 27 years because he fought to be equal and free, a man can become bitter, even angry at his jailers and the oppressors they represent. But as Nelson Mandela recalled “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

For the Mandela family, their loss is personal, but it is a loss shared by a world that has been touched by the quiet strength and fearless determination of Nelson Mandela. While we mourn with them and the people of South Africa, we also celebrate with them the life of a great man.

God blesses us with the precious gift of life. What we do with that gift is the legacy we leave behind.

And what a legacy Mandela has left for us.

He empowered generations of South Africans not just to dream but to do. His vision of equality became a reality for them and a galvanizing force for change for the rest of us.

Steele MMO_1368-EditToday, South Africa stands taller because it stands on the shoulders of Nelson Mandela.

It is freer because he never wavered in his core belief in the advancement of equality and freedom for its people.

And it is richer because he believed in its possibilities. As Mandela once said “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

Well done good and faithful servant. Rest in peace Madiba.

(Cross-posted, with permission of the author, from The Grio)

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