Washington, DC, is a terrible place. It is a company town dominated by grasping, aggressive, trivial courtiers who spend their time thinking about the calculus of power, which destroys their ability to function as anything approximating a normal person.
Everyone once in a while, though, the town and its exigencies call forth good people who spend a lifetime toiling, usually without thought of personal fame or gain, for the country they love and her citizens.
Ernie Christian, who died recently, was such a person.
A proud and chauvinistic son of Gonzales, Texas, Ernie was born in the deepest moment of the Depression. He attended the University of Texas for both undergraduate studies and law school. Over time, he became one of the top tax experts in the United States.
He used his expertise not to amass a great fortune or to help others amass great fortunes. Rather, he turned to a life of public service characterized by sharing his knowledge with all – Republicans, Democrats, Independents — who sought to improve the lot of ordinary Americans. This advisor to presidents, cabinet secretaries and Members of Congress never let his focus wander from helping create and sustain good-paying jobs for working men and women.
Ernie served as a deputy assistant secretary for tax policy in the Ford administration and later was part of President Ronald Reagan’s transition team that helped produce the historic tax reforms in the 1981Tax Act. His signature contribution to the Reagan tax reform was accelerated depreciation, now known as “expensing” or “bonus depreciation,” which has been a staple of Republican tax policy for the last 40 years.
He worked as a senior partner at Patton Boggs, LLP for a few years, but for the final 28 years of his life, he was the director of the influential Center For Strategic Tax Reform, which brought together people from different ideological, philosophical, and partisan places to address the economic problems that challenge our nation.
Ernie wanted America to be the best place in the world for manufacturing jobs, and for four decades, he was one of Washington’s most energetic advocates for changes to the tax system that would encourage manufacturing, make the tax code simpler, and encourage economic growth. His views were unfashionable during the era of globalization and offshoring jobs to China, but Washington has finally come around to his way of thinking.
He testified on dozens of occasions before the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee on both specific tax legislation and various issues concerning tax reform. He helped Sen. Richard Roth (R-DE) and others in a proposed redesign of business taxation in 1985. He drafted the comprehensive rewrite of the income tax code sponsored by the late Sen. Peter Domenici (R-NM) and former Sen. George Nunn (D-GA) in 1995 and created a newer and simpler version of that in 2006 for then-Congressman Philip English (R-PA).
He wrote frequently for The Washington Times. He also wrote for The Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, The Financial Times and The Washington Post. His work was routinely referenced in Fortune, U.S News and World Report, Business Week, Barron’s, National Journal, The Christian Science Monitor and The New Yorker.
In short, he was an evangelist for American exceptionalism in all its forms, especially the economic ones.
More than any of that, he was a friend and mentor to hundreds of people across the public policy world. His influence, which was born of his wisdom and knowledge, was expanded and enhanced by his unmatched generosity and kindness to countless people, most of whom were – like this columnist — young and who needed guidance when they first encountered Ernie.
Ernest Christian was a good man who loved his country and did his best to show that love by helping to make the nation and its citizens as prosperous as possible. He shared his time and expertise freely for most of his professional life. He was gracious and patient with those who knew less or had less experience. Most importantly, he worked every day of his adult life – right up until his last – to make his nation better. The United States and its citizens are poorer today because Ernie is no longer with us.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, co-hosts “The Unregulated” podcast. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.