Opinion

BIDLACK | The Kochs — of all political playmakers — stick to principle

Author: Hal Bidlack - August 3, 2018 - Updated: August 2, 2018

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Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

The future — or was it the past? — of the Republican Party visited Colorado Springs this week. As reported in Colorado Politics, the famously rich and politically active Koch brothers visited Colorado, hosting their twice-yearly rich guy donors meeting at the swanky Broadmoor Hotel. The Kochs, David and Charles, hosted a gathering of some 500 or so very wealthy folks, each of whom has pledged to donate at least $100,000 per year to achieve their political ends. As CP reports, “the (Koch brothers’) conservative network remains one of the nation’s most influential political forces.”

A third brother, Bill, also has a Colorado connection, and has built an Old West town on his 6,400 acre ranch near Paonia (roughly, it is reported, about a 15 minute rich-guy-helicopter ride from his estate in Aspen). On those grounds, the third Mr. Koch has built five saloons, a jail, a firehouse, church, bank, theater and library. He explained, “It all gets back to trying to create a place where I can enjoy life and enjoy my family and friends without having to worry about my enemies. And I’m doing it because I can.” The site is not open to the public.

And so it was very interesting to read about the more famous Koch brothers’ meeting and to note what they didn’t do…

The Kochs have long been a puzzle. They have been overwhelmingly conservative in their donations and actions. Their wealth initially came from their dad’s oil business, and today Koch Industries is the second-largest privately held company in the nation. David and Charles are worth roughly $60 billion each, and they tie as the eighth-richest people on Earth. So Big Oil money and huge sums spent on hard-core conservative candidates should make them hard to love for most progressives, except for that PBS thing.

It seems the Koch brothers, in addition to their massive spending to support their political and business agendas, also give buckets of money away to support medical research, education, environmental projects, criminal justice reform and the arts. And PBS. If you watch much of that lefty network, as I do, you’ll often see in the list of sponsors for many program the name Koch. Local 5th Congressional District Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn has repeatedly tried to defund PBS, which his monetary patriarchs seek to support.

Which may help to explain what remarkable things happened in Colorado Springs. It seems the Koch brothers are not entirely happy with the Trump takeover of the Grand Old Party at, it appears, nearly every level. Remember the “never Trump” Republicans? Well, most of them have developed the big “A” that help a conservative politician remain loyal to Mr. Trump even when he blows up the budget, cozies with Putin and more: amnesia.

But the Koch brothers seem an exception. This week, they publicly declined to endorse the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in North Dakota (or as my friend who voluntarily lives in Bismarck calls it, “Baja Manitoba.”). This is very significant because North Dakota represents one of the GOP’s best shots at picking up a Senate seat. Incumbent Heidi Heitkamp is considered perhaps the most vulnerable Democratic senator up this election. The Kochs refuse to aid the Republican nominee, whom they feel has not demonstrated leadership on key issues. Now, the Kochs are many things, but they are not stupid. They know that the road to keeping the Senate in GOP hands most definitely runs through North Dakota. And they know that Mr. Trump has been a strong supporter of the Republican candidate. So, what gives?

While the Koch brothers appear to have a deep conservative streak running through their very essence, I suspect there is another, even deeper streak – libertarianism. Recall that libertarians, though they vary by degree, argue for less government overall. Thus, fewer restrictions on business, but also reduced or eliminated drug laws.

Which brings us back to why such politically active people would stand down in North Dakota? I suspect they are more offended by Mr. Trump’s policies than they are his dishonesty, his lies, his arrogance, and more. Rather, they are troubled by a Republican president who thinks boosting the annual deficit to over a trillion dollars is ok. That amnesia thing that seems to work for so many Republicans doesn’t seem to work for the Kochs. They remember the idea of small government and reducing spending. They recall that self-inflicted trade wars not only hurt the farmers and workers of the nation, but ultimately the rich guys too, as the entire economy shudders.

And so, I say to Mr. and Mr. Koch, I hope you enjoyed Colorado Springs. It’s a great place to live. And thank you for supporting PBS and all the rest. And thanks for North Dakota?

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.