A Q & A with Grover Norquist
Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, the nation's most prominent antitax activist, sat down recently with U.S. News to discuss his no-new-taxes pledge. The full story on state lawmakers' attempts to get off Norquist's pledge list is in this week's newsstand edition of U.S. News [A Taxing Pledge of Loyalty].
Q: While Americans for Tax Reform's "no new taxes" pledge has been signed by almost every Republican in Congress, state lawmakers have been slower to sign up.
A: We're pushing the Reaganization of the Republican Party from the federal level to the states. The consensus that the Republican Party is the party that will never raise your taxes exists now at the federal levelwe have won that fight. I'd thought you could educate state people more quickly, based on the failure of Bush senior [who broke his pledge by signing a 1990 tax increase]. Evidently, state legislators consider Washington such a completely different world that few of them seemed to go, "I got the memo."
Q: So George H. W. Bush lost because he broke his ATR pledge?
A: Having won the war in Iraq, managed the collapse of the Soviet Union and its pullout of Eastern Europethe successful foreign policy that any president would have given his eyeteeth to have managedthere was one hole in the bottom of his boat: He raised taxes. So he loses to some nobody out of Arkansas with a zipper problem.
Q: You introduced the pledge in 1985. How did you think of it?
A: I thought of it when I was 14, growing up in Massachusetts. I thought that we ought to have a pledge for no tax increases, period, and we ought to make it Republican doctrine. Then the Republican Party could win; they'd never lose. You'd walk into the voting booth and say, "Gee, I didn't have time to focus on this election, but I know if I vote for the Republican, they won't raise my taxes." Dogcatcher to president, you vote for Republicans. I figured that alone was good for 40 percent of the vote.
Q: In this week's Virginia primaries, the Republicans who signed the pledge and supported last year's $1.4 billion tax increase are facing light opposition. Are there real repercussions for breaking the pledge?
A: Six out of 17 tax increasers [in Virginia] are facing primary challenges. That's significant opposition . . . The other team is going to argue that because we didn't beat every one of their guys, that their tax increase is a vote winner. You show me the TV ad, the radio ad, the print ad where people stood up and said, "I voted for this tax increase and we did great things with the money, so vote for me." We sent a letter to every state legislator in Virginia who supported the tax hike, asking if they have included their vote for [Gov. Mark] Warner's tax increase in any campaign materials. Only two Democrats and zero Republicans have replied that they are. Any of these guys who stick around do it by obscuring their vote for the tax hike.
Q: Some state lawmakers say avoiding tax increases under any circumstances, even as education and Medicaid costs skyrocket, is unrealistic.
A: Sometimes the left goes, "The tax movement is antigovernment." No, we are pro-reform; we are for governing. There are two things a politician can do: raise taxes to do everything we used to do, or he can govern. Governing begins when you say, "I am not raising taxes. That is not an option."
Q: Some lawmakers say they didn't know when they signed up that the pledge is an office-long obligation. They say they answer to their constituents, not Grover Norquist.
A: People should keep the pledge because they're honorable. What those people are saying is, "In my district, liars could get re-elected." I hope they're proud of themselves. The point of the pledge is to give people, particularly challengers, who have no track record, the chance to say, "Vote for me: I've signed in blood that I'm not raising taxes."
Q: One Indiana lawmaker, Rep. David Wolkins, actually held a press conference this winter to get off the pledge list, offering to pay your way out there. Why not let him off?
A: Prior to the next election, we will go out, we will call everybody in his district, in the primary and the general, to let them know that he considered tax increases to be a good idea. Then if he wins, he's off the pledge. He's not a very honorable person.