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Is Sandoval Deja Vu All Over Again?

Minutes after stepping down from his lifetime appointment as a federal judge so that Barack Obama and Harry Reid could fill his seat with a hard-core liberal, Brian Sandoval declared himself a candidate for governor last night. He enters the GOP primary race against incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons, former state Sen. Joe Heck and former North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon.

Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette-Journal landed an interview with the man who sued the Legislature in 2003 as part of an effort to force conservative Republicans in the state Assembly to vote for what was at the time the largest tax hike in Nevada’s history. And on that issue, consider the following from Anjeanette’s story:

“(Sandoval) said raising taxes ‘right now is not the answer,’ particularly in the down economy. But he said he wouldn’t sign an anti-tax pledge that would ‘tie my hands.’”

Uh-oh. Where have I heard that before?

Oh, that’s right. It was the summer of ‘08. Then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio (who only a few months later became the Senate MINORITY Leader), running in a tight GOP primary against a conservative opponent, said he wouldn’t sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising voters to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

However, Sen. Raggio did say the following: “This is not the time to start talking about raising taxes. It is something we can’t even consider.”

As we regretfully found out later, the time not to talk about raising taxes was during the primary election. After the ballots were counted, Sen. Raggio immediately began negotiating for over a BILLION dollars worth of new taxes which were approved by the Legislature this year.

So when Brian Sandoval says that raising taxes “right now” isn’t the answer, red flags should go up and taxpayers better ask if “right now” simply means during the primary election the way it did for Sen. Raggio.

The truth is, if taxpayers and small business owners want to see government tighten its belt even further by completely eliminating non-essential programs, shed non-essential state workers, repealing subsidies and welfare benefits for organized labor, ending the government monopoly on education, and doing some serious surgery on the public employee benefits and retirement programs rather than having their taxes raised YET AGAIN, they absolutely, positively need to “tie the hands” of elected officials by getting them to sign the Tax Pledge BEFORE they get elected. Here’s why….

Consider the following statements, all uttered BEFORE last year’s general election by legislators who refused to have their “hands tied” by the Taxpayer Protection Pledge:

* When asked about taxes by a voter during his primary campaign, Sen. Bill Raggio declared, “Well, I’m not going to raise taxes, I can guarantee you that.” He then proceeded to vote for over a billion dollars worth of higher taxes.

* Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford said, Raggio-like, “I won’t vote for tax increases next session – not when the private sector is losing revenue and losing jobs.” Despite the private sector continuing to lose revenue and lose jobs, Horsford then proceeded to not only shove a billion dollars worth of higher taxes down our throats, he continued to push for a new business-killing corporate income tax.

* Assemblywoman April Mastroluca said, “I can’t see the people of Nevada being able to afford tax increases.” She then proceeded to vote for over a billion dollars worth of higher taxes on the people of Nevada.

* Sen. Allison Copening said, “I’m not an advocate of taxation in this climate.” Despite the fact that the economic “climate” only got worse by the time she was sworn in, Sen. Copening went on to vote for over a billion dollars worth of higher taxes.

* “There’s no appetite for new taxes,” said Assemblyman Paul Aizley, before chowing down on over a billion dollars worth of higher taxes.

* “I really have no appetite for raising taxes,” Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop said, before coming down with a major case of the “munchies” and voting for over a billion dollars worth of higher taxes.

* “I don’t see increasing taxes as an option,” said Assemblyman Mark Manendo, before his eyesight cleared up allowing him to vote for a billion dollars worth of increased taxes.

* “There’s no way we can have a tax increase,” declared Sen. Shirley Breeden. “People can’t afford it. No one can.” And yet, only months later, Breeden voted for over a billion dollars worth tax increases she said no one could afford.
 
* Assemblyman James Ohrenschall declared emphatically on the ‘08 campaign trail that “I won’t vote for tax increases next session.” Since he voted for over a billion dollars worth of tax hikes this past session, I guess he must have meant the next session. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Or….

Indeed and not surprisingly, every Democrat in the 2009 Legislature voted for over a billion dollars worth of higher taxes, and all but one has refused to have his or her “hands tied” by signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

But Democrats and Republican Bill Raggio aren’t the only problem. Republican state senators Dennis Nolan, Dean Rhoads and Randolph Townsend also voted for over a billion dollars worth of higher taxes. Not one of them had their “hands tied” by the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.

And Republicans in the Assembly – such as Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, who also refuses to have her “hands tied” by signing the Pledge – voted for almost $300 million in higher taxes this past session. As did non-Pledge signers Lynn Stewart, Joe Hardy, Pete Goicoechea, Melissa Woodbury and Tom Grady.

The second-worst Republican in the Senate on this issue was Warren Hardy who (thankfully!) has quit the Legislature. Hardy signed the Pledge and then broke his word by voting for over $780 million worth of higher taxes.

But the worst Republican in the Legislature by far was now term-limited (thankfully!) John Carpenter, who both signed the Pledge and voted for over a billion dollars worth of higher taxes, claiming at that end that it’s what God told him to do. No, really. That’s what he said.

Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons is the only candidate in the gubernatorial primary who has thus far signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. And while he’s overall been pretty good at honoring his promise, I think we can safely say – based on his rather creative efforts to justify his cheating on the Pledge by invoking loopholes which don’t exist – that if his hands hadn’t been “tied” by the Pledge, he would have caved on this issue far more egregiously and far more often.

So while signing the Pledge is no guarantee that a politician won’t break his or her word, failure to sign the Pledge, if history is any guide, almost guarantees higher taxes in our future. I mean, if Democrats and some Republicans could vote for over a billion dollars worth of additional taxes in the middle of the worst recession in state history, you know damn well it’s gonna be taxapalooza time once the economy turns back around.

The argument which will be made to Republican voters by establishment Republicans is that Brian Sandoval is the Republican who can beat Democrat Rory Reid in the 2010 general election. It’s the same argument establishment Republicans made in the 2008 presidential primary for moderate John McCain who refused to sign the Tax Pledge. And we all know how THAT turned out.

A full-court press to “anoint” Sandoval as the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee is already well underway. But if a Republican candidate can’t get something as simple and black-and-white as the tax issue “right,” why in the world should voters, especially conservative GOP primary voters, think he or she is going to get other important issues right – such as hard spending caps and school choice?

Before hurtling headlong over the “just win, baby” cliff by nominating Sandoval without a competitive primary, Republicans should call a time out, huddle up and conduct some serious try-outs by asking some serious, if inconvenient, questions of those wishing to toss overboard the man who vetoed almost a billion dollars worth of tax hikes this year.

Brian Sandoval might, indeed, turn out to be the GOP’s best option for beating the Reid Machine next year in the gubernatorial race. But if that might mean a repeat of the 2003 session – when another governor who refused to have his “hands tied” by the Taxpayer Protection Pledge led the charge for what was, at the time, the largest tax hike in Nevada’s history – what will Republicans, not to mention taxpayers and small business owners, really have won?

It’s a fair to ask if a Gov. Sandoval would have stood up against the Axis of Taxes – Raggio, Horsford and Buckley – just as Gov. Gibbons did in 2009, or if he would have used his untied hands to join the effort to pick our pockets. Let the inquisition begin!