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The Pale Pastels of a Consensus Builder

There’s a GOP primary smackdown shaping up in the north for the seat of moderate term-limited Nevada State Sen. Randolph Townsend between Townsend’s hand-picked successor, Ben Kieckhefer, and conservative Assemblyman Ty Cobb.

As the 2011 Legislature will likely face yet another billion dollar budget hole and will vote on whether or not to make permanent the anti-business tax and fee increases passed by the 2009 Legislature, races such as this to replace legislators such as Townsend who voted for this year’s tax hikes will be extremely important to Nevada’s business community.

In his first two sessions as a legislator, Cobb established himself as an unapologetic, anti-tax, pro-business fiscal conservative. Kieckhefer, currently a government employee working for the state welfare department, is the mirror opposite, declaring himself a moderate “consensus builder” in his campaign announcement.

In other words, higher business taxes and fees will absolutely be on Kieckhefer’s table if elected.

Further indicating his pro-tax pre-disposition, Kieckhefer has refused to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes,” including making the 2009 tax hikes permanent. His excuse for not taking this solid pro-business position against tax hikes is that he wants to be able to raise “fees” – as if fees somehow aren’t taxes by another name.

But in addition to being wishy-washy on business taxes and fees, Kieckhefer is also as solid as jello on other issues. For example, his stated legislative goals are to “work on stimulating job growth, improving the state’s long-term fiscal stability, increasing the accessibility and quality of health care and addressing Nevada’s infrastructure and transportation needs.”

Could he possibly be any more vague?

I mean, that agenda could apply to ANY legislative candidate. What we really need to know are: (a) HOW would you stimulate job growth? (b) HOW would you improve the state’s long-term fiscal stability? (c) HOW would you increase the accessibility and quality of health care? And (d) HOW would you address the state’s infrastructure and transportation needs?

Oh, and this little question: HOW will you pay for it all? And its corollary: WHOSE taxes will you raise and by how much to pay for it all? After all, conservatives and liberals answer those questions very differently.

As his guiding principles to address such issues, Kieckhefer says “government should create laws that treat all its citizens equally, protect individual freedoms and be accountable for every taxpayer dollar raised and spent.“

Oh, good grief. Treat citizens equally? Protect individual freedoms? Account for every tax dollar you raise? That’s really going out on a limb, huh? Not exactly a Reagan-like agenda of bold colors.

But if you’re still not convinced that Kieckhefer is anything but a solid, pro-business fiscal conservative, get a load of this quote: “If the premise is that you can only be a Republican if you swear not to raise taxes ever in your life, even if that means releasing prisoners, letting roads fall into disrepair and closing schools, it’s going to be a small party.”

Puh-lease. Of course you can still be a Republican if you refuse to promise not to raise business taxes and fees; you just can’t be a good pro-business fiscal conservative.

The truth is there were PLENTY of non-essential government programs which coulda/shoulda been cut this last session; PLENTY of non-essential government “services” which coulda/shoulda been eliminated; and PLENTY of non-essential government employees (including Kieckhefer himself) who coulda/shoulda been laid off instead of letting prisoners out of jail, closing schools….or raising business taxes and fees.

Cobb voted against the 2009 tax hikes. Kieckhefer would likely vote to make them permanent. If only all business choices were this clear.