Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge apparently shares some characteristics with flypaper. Once you touch it, you’re stuck.
The Norquist-founded Americans for Tax Reform was the birthplace of the no-tax pledge that many credit — or blame — for pushing the Republican Party toward intransigence on the issue of tax increases.
That issue is at the core of the budget impasses at both the federal and state levels and is a driving force behind the ongoing Minnesota government shutdown.
Perhaps, given the Norquist pledge’s infamy, it is surprising that relatively few state House and Senate members are signatories — only 12 of 67 senators and only 25 of 134 House members are listed.
What’s even more surprising is that a handful of Democrats are on the list, including moderate Bloomington Rep. Ann Lenczewski, the DFL’s House tax committee lead and its one-time chairwoman.
Lenczewski doesn’t deny that she signed the pledge, although she doesn’t remember exactly when she did it. It was in one of the seven-term House member’s early campaigns in the late 1990s or early 2000s.
You might expect her to plead youthful indiscretion, but Lenczewski doesn’t claim that. At the time, she says, she agreed with the Norquist pledge. “We had billions of dollars in surpluses,” she says.
Given the tenor of that time, she says, signing the pledge “was absolutely the right thing to do.” If the state were currently faced with huge surpluses rather than deficits, she says, “I would do it again.”
But of course, that is not the case. Lenczewski notes that in the intervening years, she has hardly held fast to the pledge — a fact that Norquist and his troops have apparently chosen to ignore. “I was the tax chair and carried the tax-increase bill for the Democrats,” she says.
She does not remember whether she ever asked to be taken off the list but indicated it wouldn’t matter if she had. “Once you sign it, they never remove you,” she says.
That is not strictly true, says Josh Cullings, state affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform in Washington, D.C. But it is not far off.
“When they sign it, we consider the pledge binding for the entirety of their tenure in the office for which they signed,” Cullings says. Signatories are removed only once they leave office, whether by choice or at the discretion of voters.
However, should a sitting office holder have a change of heart about the propriety of the pledge, Americans for Tax Reform is poised to assist them in getting the word out.
“Our response is we are happy to help set up a press conference to denounce the pledge and tell their constituents why they thought it was politically expedient when they had a budget surplus but now they want to raise taxes,” Cullings says. “So we’re a little bit tough.”
For her part, Lenczewski says it is no big deal that her name remains on Norquist’s rolls. Her constituents are not looking for pledge keepers, she says. They are looking for flexible leadership.
“I think part of the reason they leave people on the list is because they want to look bipartisan,” she says. “It’s for their own benefit.”
For the record, the other DFLers who have signed Norquist’s no-tax pledge and remain in office are:
• Sen. Charles Wiger (District 55)
• Rep. Mary Murphy (District 6B)
• Rep. Paul Marquart (District 9B)
• Rep. Gene Pelowski (District 31A)