Taxpayers scored a huge victory in North Carolina in the May primary election as longtime incumbent state Rep. Richard T. Morgan (R-Moore) lost his bid for the Republican nomination for his seat to political novice Joe Boylan. John Hood, president and chairman of the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina, said he believes the tax issue ultimately decided the race.
Taxes the Biggest Issue
While there were many factors in play in Morgan’s defeat, “the single most important issue was probably taxes,” Hood said. “Morgan’s GOP faction, allies with state House Democrats, helped make possible two budget deals that included higher taxes, despite the fact that several of the members involved had taken the no-tax-hike pledge.”
In 1998 Morgan signed Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge not to raise taxes, but he did not live up to his commitment. Boylan signed the pledge this year and challenged Morgan over his support for higher taxes.
Morgan and a group of four other Republicans had brokered a leadership deal with Democrats after the switch of state Rep. Michael Decker from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party in 2003. Decker’s move to the Democrats had left the House evenly split. Morgan assumed co-speakership and helped push through a massive tax increase package that year.
Republican primary election voters in 2004 ousted five of the Republicans who voted for this tax increase package. Three of the winners were pledge signers. The anger of taxpayers apparently carried over into 2006.
GOP Leaders Back Challenger
Morgan’s unpopularity with conservatives across the state had reached an all-time high. He had become so unpopular that North Carolina’s GOP leaders made the unprecedented move of endorsing the challenger, Boylan, in the May 3 race. Boylan defeated Morgan with 52 percent of the vote.
Assuming recount results in the 10th House district hold, Morgan was not the only GOP tax hiker in North Carolina who was sent packing this May. Stephen LaRoque (R-Lenoir), who also broke the pledge not to raise taxes in 2003, narrowly lost to Willy Ray Starling. While a recount upheld the result, LaRoque, citing irregularities, took his case to the county board of elections, which sustained his complaint. The decision whether to call a special election now rests with the state board of elections.
In two other cases the results are clearer. Voters in May rejected again two of the former GOP legislators who had been defeated in 2004 after their tax-hike votes of 2003. Michael Gorman and Keith Williams both hoped to win the GOP nomination to run again in November for their former seats. Gorman lost to Michael Speciale, and Williams lost to current incumbent and pledge signer George Cleveland (R-Onslow).
The message of North Carolina’s primary elections is obvious and already resonating in this year’s legislative session, said the Locke Foundation’s Hood: “The lobbies for bigger government and tax increases remain powerful in Raleigh, but at least now it may be easier for voters to tell the sides apart. … Leaders of the North Carolina legislature already knew that their recent history of tax increases had provoked public disapproval. Now the primary results have reinforced that message and some lawmakers are responding with tax-relief proposals in this election year.”
Hoosier Challenger Wins
Another state where a long-time GOP incumbent lost to a signer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is Indiana. Senate president pro tem Robert D. Garton, who had been in office since 1970, lost to political newcomer Greg Walker (R-Columbus), who signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
A few years ago, Garton worked for a lifetime health insurance benefit for legislators, and in 2005 he supported a tax increase. Despite outspending Walker 10 to one, Garton lost 52 percent to 48 percent.
Oregon Tax-Hiker Loses
In Oregon, Charles Starr, a Republican state senator who had voted for a 2003 tax increase voters repealed in 2004, lost to pledge-signing challenger Larry George. While Starr signed the pledge not to raise taxes in 2005, two years after his tax-hike vote, that apparently was too little too late for voters.
These election results leave taxpayer advocates hopeful that after November their interests will be better represented than before.
“Principles matter,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “Taxpayers are fed up with politicians who portray themselves as their friends but then fail to take a stance, or worse, vote against their constituents and for higher taxes. And principles matter more than money and name ID, as several challengers who ousted incumbents did not have much of either.”
Sandra Fabry ([email protected]) is state government affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform.