Remembering Jim Broussard: A Congenial Conservative


Befitting his lack of out-sized ego, the obituary for Professor James Broussard was one entirely in line with Sgt. Joe Friday’s standard admonition: “Just the facts, ma’am.”  While conciseness can be a great virtue in our frequently verbose world, in this case it short-sheets a durable legacy.  So to borrow from the late Paul Harvey, here is the rest of the story.

Most Pennsylvanians came to know Jim through his 1989 opposition to what was dubbed the Casey Tax Plan, a property tax substitution effort that initially seemed to have unstoppable momentum for voter approval.  Jim emerged as part of a small vanguard of people raising concerns and registering objections.  His folksy manner of expression and wry humor set him apart from the opposing swarms of officials who served a stew of fabulous promises and mind-numbing details.  He did not need outrageous behavior or screaming headlines to be effective and influential.  His homilies were disarming.  His demeanor did not change whether in a small group of like-thinking individuals or in a big room of fanatics thirsting for red meat rhetoric.  Bombast was not his ballgame.  When the ballot question went down 3-1, Jim earned a fair measure of credit and achieved all-important street cred.

At a time when local taxpayer groups were banding out of mutual dislike of property taxes, particularly those underwriting schools, Jim founded a statewide group with a no-nonsense mission and unassailable name: Citizens Against Higher Taxes.  In our commonwealth, there are two or more sides to every political and policy argument.  Tellingly, no counter group ever stood as Citizens For Higher Taxes.  Instead, groups pushing higher spending and taxes sought to camouflage their agenda under innocent sounding titles.

CAHT became a recognized brand.  Candidates who received the “Taxpayer Hero” designation garnered a nice boost for their aspirations, especially in small communities where old-fashioned ideals such as thrift and accountability carry great weight to this day.

Jim was not the kind of guy to be satisfied with dispensing oracle commentary from a suite in Harrisburg or a bunker in Annville.  Invitations came in constantly from far and wide, and he was peripatetic in popping up for local contests as well as those with a larger bearing on state politics.

More than a few people were amazed to find that a conservative could chair the history and political science department at a small liberal arts college.  After all, popular stereotyping depicts such institutions as breeding grounds and indoctrination centers for liberalism.  Seeing a conservative flag flying was noteworthy.

Scholarship, inclination and ability, was a measuring stick for him.  He practiced in his own right what he taught in the classroom.  History provides an incredible roadmap to the future, when it is not being rewritten or selectively edited or downright ignored.  Jim was quite insistent that history remain in the nonfiction section.  Bending history to suit an agenda or a movement of the moment was not his style.  Thus, memorial contributions were directed toward a fitting destination – the Center For Political History he was nurturing at Lebanon Valley College.

Jim wrote, and his style was spare and understandable.  Notable historians and journalists have produced hefty volumes trying to capture the essence of Ronald Reagan, with widely varying degrees of success.  Jim did an excellent job in describing the life, the driving forces, and the words of Reagan in just over 200 pages.  Ronald Reagan: Champion Of Conservative America is an enlightening and worthwhile read.

His speech had a southern courtliness to it, leavened with the measured tones of the professor.  He practiced the art of being firm in principle without being grim in his assessment of others.  Opponents could be misguided or misinformed or erroneous in their conclusions.  They did not have to be castigated as communists or America haters.

Jim Broussard was a superb conversationalist and storyteller.  His friends and admirers will miss the entertaining discussions and easy-going fellowship Jim so generously shared.  Now we reluctantly say goodbye to a good guy, cognizant that he did his best to make a difference while here, and to lay a firm foundation of faithful history and conservative thought for others to build upon.

David A. Atkinson is a Research Associate with the Edward H. Arnold Institute for Policy Studies at the Susquehanna Valley Center.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Susquehanna Valley Center.

Nothing contained here should be considered as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any legislation before the General Assembly.