Tax-and-Spend Policies Costing Politicians Their Careers

Published November 1, 2004

During this year’s election primary season, the issue of taxation was a decisive factor in races across the country. Numerous incumbents who had voted to raise taxes, or had refused to clearly rule out the option of tax increases, saw their careers come to an abrupt end.

Voters continued their rejection of politicians who taxed them at irregular rates, and they continued a trend that began earlier in the decade with voters taking to the polls to reject tax hikes by large margins at the ballot box.

Anti-Tax Trend Firmly Established

Two years ago, for example, Virginia voters rejected a sales tax increase in the Tidewater area and in the more liberal northern area of the state.

One year ago, after citizens rejected Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s (R) $1.2 billion tax hike by a 68 to 32 percent vote, residents of Seattle, Washington, known for their liberal sympathies, rejected a measure that would have added a 10 cent tax to every espresso drink.

In California, years of fiscal profligacy by the state government led to the unprecedented recall of Gov. Gray Davis (D). He was replaced by actor-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ran on a no-new-taxes platform. Schwarzenegger kept his word: California’s 2004 budget did not include any tax increases.

In Oregon, a tax increase passed by the legislature in 2003 was put on the ballot by people’s initiative and went down to a crushing defeat in February 2004.

Only weeks later, Californians again spoke out against higher taxes, defeating a proposal aimed at weakening the state’s tough, two-thirds supermajority requirement for tax increases.

On the same day on the opposite coast, voters in the small ski resort town of Killington, Vermont protested high property taxes by voting to secede from the state and petition New Hampshire to take them in.

Tax Hikers Losing Debate, Jobs

“The last few years have clearly shown that tax hikers are on the losing side of the debate,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). “This summer, with primary battles heating up, the issue became personal. Politicians seem to think their constituents are stupid–but, as this year’s primaries showed, there is no such thing as a permanently sleeping electorate. Taxpayers know who their friends and foes are, and have chosen to cast their vote accordingly.”

This year’s unseating of tax hikers began in Nebraska, where Republican voters rejected the presumed leading candidate, Curt Bromm, in the race to replace retiring Congressman Doug Bereuter (R-1). Voters had not forgotten that Bromm, as speaker of the unicameral state legislature, had pushed several tax increases through the assembly over a veto by Gov. Mike Johanns (R). Voters chose Jeff Fortenberry, a Lincoln City Councilman and signer of ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

The momentum was also evident in Oregon, where the tax increase of 2003 was repealed by referendum in March of this year.

“The 2004 Oregon primary still felt the shockwaves of the defeated $1 billion tax increase, with most Republican House members who voted for it not re-running, and high-profile defeats in the primary, when a serious challenger was involved,” said Jason Williams, executive director of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon.

Voting for higher taxes cost the Republican Party nomination for State Sen. Jackie Winters, who sought a seat in Congress, and State Rep. Vic Backlund, seeking re-election. Key Republican representatives and supporters of the tax increase, including Rob Patridge, John Mabrey, and Patt Farr, decided not to run for re-election. Realizing voters were likely to withdraw their support because of their votes for the tax increase, State Reps. Max Williams and Lane Shetterly accepted high-profile jobs in Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s (D) administration.

Other Taxers Kicked Out

As Karl Peterjohn, executive director of the Kansas Taxpayer Network, reported in the September issue of Budget & Tax News, Kansas voters continued a “Kansas revolution” and rejected Bill Kassebaum and Cindy Neighbor, the two GOP legislators who led a recent, unsuccessful push for higher state taxes. Fiscal conservative incumbents Kay O’Connor and John Faber successfully fought off challenges from self-identified moderates.

Kansas Sen. Dave Corbin, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, backed several tax increases and was challenged in the Republican primary by former Rep. Peggy Palmer, an ATR pledge signer with a good record on taxes. Palmer won in a landslide.

In South Carolina, the leading newspaper, The State, endorsed a candidate who had refused to rule out tax increases over a candidate who had pledged to protect taxpayers’ interests. Republican primary voters in the Palmetto State did not listen to the liberal-leaning publication, choosing Joan Brady over the potential tax hiker and teacher union-backed Susan Brill.

In Georgia, a signer of ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Sen. Joey Brush (R), learned the hard way that rhetoric is not enough. In April 2003 Brush voted to increase taxes by $180 million, thereby breaking his commitment to taxpayers. He was defeated in this year’s primary. In a runoff primary for an open seat in the House, pledge-signer and former representative John Wiles faced Lance Cooper, a more liberal-leaning, union-backed candidate, who refused to sign the pledge. Wiles soundly defeated him.

Political Deal Backfired

In North Carolina, several pro-tax representatives learned raising taxes did not further their careers. The close election in 2002 had left the state House split 61-59 in favor of Republicans. Moderates, led by Rep. Richard Morgan, refused to back the GOP nominee for speaker, and Republican Rep. Mike Decker switched parties to make the split 60-60.

Morgan cut a deal with Democrats to share power under a co-speakership, and a large tax increase was passed under their joint rule. Conservative Republicans challenged at least 11 of the turncoat Republicans. Twelve-year incumbent David Miner, one of Morgan’s longtime allies, was defeated, as were two of his supporters in the House of Representatives, Reps. Rex Baker and Michael Gorman. Two of Morgan’s prominent foes during the tax debate, Reps. Sam Ellis and Russell Capps, defeated challengers who had sided with Morgan on the tax issue.

Decker switched back to the Republican party for the primary. Voters rejected him and chose his challenger, Larry Brown.

Strong Anti-Tax-Hike Message in Nevada

Again in September, voters took to the polls to deny tax hikers the chance to seek office in the legislature.

In Nevada, Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) worked with Democrats and a number of GOP members in 2003 to pass an $833 million tax hike. A number of Republican legislators held out by voting no, but ultimately they caved, one by one. The first representative to agree to the increase was Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons. Like her colleague and tax-hike supporter Josh Griffin, she chose not to seek re-election.

Assemblyman Bob Beers, a fiscal conservative and pledge-signer who did not give in and support the increase, sent tax-hike supporter Sen. Ray Rawson into early retirement. Although longtime conservative Ann O’Connell abstained on the tax increase vote because of a conflict of interest, the abstention was sufficient for a novice to challenge her successfully.

“Clearly, primary losses by Republican incumbents who supported and voted for tax hikes last year sent a loud and clear message to the Nevada GOP,” said Chuck Muth, a political commentator and chairman of the Nevada Republican Liberty Caucus. “Voters do not elect Republicans to raise their taxes. If they want to give the government more of their money, they can vote for Democrats. The Nevada primary results show that Republicans who wander too far off the No-New-Taxes ranch are likely to be permanently booted out.”

Jim Clark, a vice chairman of the Washoe County Republican Party, put it more bluntly in a September 10 article in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza: “Memo to Nevada politicians: Don’t raise taxes, and avoid scandals unless you have a day job, because you ain’t going to be in office long.”

Arizona, Wisconsin Send Taxers Packing

Arizona tax hikers suffered a fate similar to that of their tax-hiking peers elsewhere. In the Grand Canyon State, 14 GOP representatives had teamed with Democrats to pass a big-spending budget for 2004-05. Four of the 14 were defeated in their primary elections. In the Senate, Slade Mead (R) pushed a series of spending increases totaling $1 billion, and Linda Binder (R) also pushed for higher spending. Mead was defeated in the primary by State Rep. John Huppenthal, a pledge-signer with a spotless record on taxes.

Binder retired rather than face voters again. State Rep. Bill Wagner (R) sought the open seat, but having sponsored the only tax increase package in the House this year, he was defeated by conservative anti-taxer Ron Gould. Sen. Jack Harper (R), a pledge-signer with a record of opposing tax hikes, defeated teacher union-backed candidate Susan Burke.

In the last round of Republican primaries, one race in Wisconsin stood out. Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer had reportedly worked behind the scenes to sabotage an effort to pass a strong Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR). Her efforts were leaked to the public, and voters rejected her bid for re-election, favoring pledge-signer Rep. Glenn Grothman.

Trend Likely to Continue

Virginia activists, residents, and taxpayer advocacy groups are already looking beyond November and turning up the heat on the tax hikers of 2004 who will face voters in 2005. Serious challengers who have committed themselves not to raise taxes have arrived.

The vote for higher taxes already has claimed a casualty there: State Sen. Ken Stolle (R), who voted for a $1.6 billion hike passed by the legislature in April 2004, sought the Republican nomination to replace retiring Congressman Ed Schrock. He lost to State Rep. Thelma Drake, a pledge-signer who opposed the tax hike. According to Virginia Club for Growth President Peter Ferrara, “Grassroots sentiment among Republicans in the state is overwhelmingly against the increase and those who voted for it, but business groups are already raising lots of money for the pro-tax incumbents.

“Leading elected Republican officials are also stating that they will support all incumbents, but the Virginia Club for Growth will be taking the position that the party and other elected leaders must stay out of primaries until a candidate is chosen, or else be tagged with the pro-tax label themselves,” Ferrara said.

The trend to reject tax hikes and the politicians who support them became quite evident this year, and it is measurable not only in primary victories for anti-taxers and the rejection of tax increases at the ballot, but also in another areas, as NTU Director of Government Affairs Paul Gessing pointed out.

“At the state level, with balancing the budget more of a necessity, the backlash against taxes can also be measured by the sheer number of Taxpayers Bills of Rights (TABORs) that are under consideration,” he said. “With dozens of states considering the adoption of TABOR, including Wisconsin, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and many others, we are hoping to push legislators to act proactively against the need for future tax hikes, not just to punish them after the deed has already been done. If the trend of punishing politicians for their ‘tax-and-spend’ votes continues and the TABOR is adopted on a more widespread basis, taxpayers will be the ultimate winners.”

Sandra Fabry ([email protected]) is a state government affairs associate at Americans for Tax Reform.