Renowned tax reform activist Grover Norquist slammed Republican congressional candidate Kevin Raye on Friday over comments the candidate made about the so-called Taxpayer Protection Pledge at a Wednesday debate.
The pledge in question was conceived of by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates explicitly against tax increases. By signing the pledge, candidates promise voters, in writing, that they will refuse to raise taxes in any form whatsoever.
Raye’s only GOP primary opponent, former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, emphasized during the debate that he had signed the pledge and Raye had not. “This is a very clear example of how I differ from my opponent,” Poliquin said, according to the Bangor Daily News.
In response to Poliquin’s statement, Raye, a former GOP president of the state Senate, said signing the pledge is “not responsible.”
“I do believe that signing such a pledge is not responsible,” Raye said, according to the BDN.
Norquist sees things differently.
“It’s not responsible [to sign the pledge] if your goal is to raise taxes,” said Norquist. “That would be lying.”
“If you think Washington, D.C.’s problems can be solved by raising taxes, you shouldn’t take the pledge,” he said. “If you think the only way to solve the problem is to rein in spending, then you sign it.”
Norquist said there is a direct correlation between tax increases and spending increases and that efforts to both raise taxes and cut spending have historically resulted in only the former goal coming to fruition
“Sometimes people who don’t follow politics think that technically you could raise taxes and cut spending, but it doesn’t happen,” he said.
Norquist, who served as chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 1983 to 1984 before founding ATR in 1985, said Raye’s refusal to sign the pledge puts him at odds with Republican Party leaders and 90 percent of all sitting Republicans. He said Republican candidates sometimes refuse to sign the pledge in order to distinguish themselves from other more conservative candidates.
“They think it makes them sound moderate or thoughtful,” he said. “What it really says is, I’m not capable of reforming government… It’s an admission of defeat.”
In response to Raye’s suggestion that tax increases might be necessary in the event of a national crisis, a foreign war for example, Norquist said he doesn’t buy the excuse.
“That’s a rather weak argument given that there is a lot of savings to be made,” he said. “If you passed [U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)’s] budget, you save $5 trillion in the next decade. Is he planning on spending more than that on some war of his?”
“When we went into the Korean War we cut discretionary spending across the board,” he said. “During WWII, they set up a commission that was the opposite of the Appropriators Committee… It came up with ideas on how to reduce spending, and they saved $40 billion which helped finance the war effort.”
Norquist said it’s important to remember that the pledge is not made to him or to ATR, but to voters. “It’s a pledge to the citizens of the state,” he said. “If in the back of his mind he thinks he wants to raise taxes he should not sign the pledge,” he said.
Prior to 2012, few Republican candidates would dare to avoid signing the pledge, but since that time some Republicans have met success despite refusing to sign. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) did not want to be locked in by the pledge and managed to defeat six GOP primary opponents who had signed the pledge. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) has similarly advocated against ATR’s trademark initiative.
Mary Adams, a long-time tax reform activist from Garland, serves as the director of Maine’s center-right coalition, which is affiliated with Norquist’s group.
“The Taxpayer Protection Pledge is the only way I know of for voters to protect themselves from the pressures to increase taxes that will surely come to whomever they elect,” said Adams.
“When a Pledge signer is pressured to raise taxes all she or he has to do is shrug and say ‘I signed a Pledge that promised the people who elected me that I will not raise their taxes,’” she said.
“Government can never be turned around if we are forced to keep growing it by increasing taxes,” she said.
UPDATE: Hours after publication of this story, the Raye campaign issued a press release defending the candidates record on tax policy. “As President of the Maine Senate, Raye led the upper chamber to passage of the largest tax cut in state history in 2011,” the release states. Mike Leavitt, Raye’s campaign manager, states in the release: “The 2011 tax cut and pro-growth policies Kevin led to passage as Senate President have helped Maine’s private sector create nearly 18,000 jobs. Kevin’s record is clear: he doesn’t just talk about reducing taxes, he was a leader in making it happen.”
The press release does not indicate whether Raye has changed his mind about signing the taxpayer protection pledge.
Editor, The Maine Wire