The man behind the no-tax pledge

January 13, 2011 7:48:16 PM PST
A well known anti-tax crusader named Grover Norquist is leaning on Republican lawmakers in Sacramento. He's warning them not to put the governor's proposed tax extension measures on the ballot next June. ABC7 spoke with Norquist about this topic on Thursday.

Norquist heads the Americans for Tax Reform organization and their goal is to cut taxes and shrink government. Last week he sent a letter to Republican members of the state senate and state assembly telling them any vote to put a tax extension on the ballot would come with consequences.

In his letter, Norquist underlines the message: "Voting to send tax increases to the ballot would violate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written commitment that you made to your constituents to 'oppose any and all efforts to raise taxes.'"

"Well most of the Republicans in the state legislature have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge," says Norquist.

Norquist says his group just intends to make sure those lawmakers abide by it.

"Either voting for a tax increase or placing a measure on the ballot that is a tax increase would violate that pledge," says Norquist.

And Norquists' organization is willing to spend millions of dollars in an election cycle to punish those who stray.

"We highlight the people who've kept their word and the people who've broken their word," says Norquist.

In Sacramento, St. Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, the Republican leader of the Senate, says he's not bowing to Norquist's pressure, but he's also not going to vote to put a tax extension on the ballot.

"The voters elected me to make those decisions. I have more information. I know the budget better than the voters do," says Dutton.

It's the same for Assm. Connie Conway, R-Visalia, the Republican leader of the Assembly.

"It's not something I want to do. I'm not going to do that," says Conway.

St. Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, calls Norquist's demand reprehensible.

"'You voters will not speak. I, Grover Norquist, will decide this for you.' That's what they were saying at this press conference today," says Leno.

"This strategy that Grover Norquist is pursuing is something that has worked in California very successfully since about 1998," says ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain, Ph.D.

But as Cain points out, the rules have changed. Districts are being redrawn to make them more competitive. And the new top-two rule means that instead of separate primaries, Republicans and Democrats will run together an open primary. And making lawmakers toe the party line may not be so easy.

"They're going to have to weigh now the possibility that they're going to be running in different districts and that they have to appeal to different voters than they've appealed to in the past," says Cain.

It's a big gamble for Republicans. It all depends on how voters are feeling about extending those taxes that are due to expire. We should have a better idea when the first polls on the governor's budget plan sometime in the next 30 days or so.