Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the political dynamics that's fascinating to watch right now is the Republican Party's adamant refusal to raise taxes despite the enormous deficits states are facing. The GOP has long been an anti-tax party, but "no on taxes" had become even more of a party orthodoxy even as, it appears with the opening of the Obama era, that the era of small government is over.
In California yesterday, the state Republican Party voted to withhold funds from GOP legislators who supported last week's tax increase:
On Sunday, with more than 1,000 Republicans convening at the Sacramento Hyatt Regency for their spring state convention, delegates approved a watered-down measure aimed at chastising the six Republicans who broke ranks to vote last Thursday for a new state budget package, which included $12.5 billion in new taxes.
Although the original resolution called for censuring the six legislators, the final version says only that the party doesn't plan to provide financial support or send out mail for any of the targeted lawmakers during the 2010 campaign season. Two of the six are on the ballot in 2010: Assemblyman Anthony Adams of Hesperia (San Bernardino County) and state Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto.
California is not unique in this. Last year, after six Minnesota legislators broke ranks to push through a tax increase for transportation, GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty publicly castigated them. "If you are
going to be a team," he said, "then there are going to be some team rules and team expectations."
Several of the Minnesota legislators were confronted with primary challenges -- which is one of the main underlying dynamics. With groups like Club for Growth willing to fund anti-tax challengers against any who stray, it's tough to buck the party line.
Not all the primary challenges are successful -- they certainly weren't after Republican legislators in Virginia were targeted by national groups after supporting a big tax hike a few years ago. But it is a concern, obviously, for an elected official.
And, given the reality of partisan districts thanks to redistricting and "the big sort," Republicans have to worry more about appealing to their base -- the party adherents most likely to dominate a contested primary in a lopsided district -- than the general public. "Not everyone who strays gets defeated, but your chances go way up," says Grover Norquist, of Americans for Tax Reform.
The question is whether Republicans are painting themselves into a corner. Polling suggests that the public is with the Democrats on the stimulus, not with the congressional Republicans who nearly all opposed the package -- and perhaps not with the governors making noise about not accepting the money.
Most of those governors, though, are at least rumored to be looking at a presidential run in 2012. Playing to the base from this far off in time seems like a smart strategy. Republicans are certainly making every effort to position themselves just now as the low-tax, limited government party.
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