Kevin Horrigan began his Sunday column in the Post-Dispatch by quoting that “liberal lion”, John Ashcroft:

“Almost 200 years ago, the great conservative Edmund Burke wrote that mere stinginess is not economy: ‘Expense . . . may be an essential part of true economy.’ That statement is no less true today. Unless we replace the revenue taken away by the courts, we’re going to find ourselves in the race of international competition equipped with a decent car but with no money to put gas in the tank and thereby run the race . . . .” That quotation comes from a speech to the Missouri Legislature on July 5, 1989, by Gov. John Ashcroft, of all people. He had called a special session of the Legislature to deal with what was then regarded as a major financial crisis.

The Supreme Court had ordered the state to refund taxes to federal employees who had retired.

For Missouri, this meant the state had to refund $150 million to 65,000 retirees, the equivalent of about $264 million today. But today’s a different world, meaner perhaps, and surely less open-minded.

Today, a governor can get up one Thursday morning, as Gov. Jay Nixon did 10 days ago, and whack $301 million from the budget and nobody – except a few of those damned liberals – thinks twice about it.

Twenty-one years ago, Gov. Ashcroft was in agony about the prospect of having to cut $150 million in state spending. He was a conservative’s conservative, a perfect product of Assemblies of God religious conservatism and Ronald Reagan political conservatism.

He would go on to become a stalwart conservative in the U.S. Senate and, as U.S. attorney general, the face of the Patriot Act. Today he’s doing what most ex-politicians do, cashing in on his public service as a lawyer and consultant.

Ashcroft’s journey illustrates what has happened to the state Republican Party in the last two decades. There would be no place for the John Ashcroft of 1989 in the Missouri GOP of 2010.

He refused to cut $150 million from the budget to pay the refunds the state had been ordered to pay. Instead he proposed – horrors! – tax increases.

Jay Nixon, the Democrat?, would no sooner utter the T word, despite the many desperate Missourians, than he would expose himself in public. But John Ashcroft, in his younger, more idealistic days, said all the words we wish we might hear from Nixon. Go and read Ashcroft’s eloquent defense for raising taxes.